Dem Rep. Jahana Hayes Stands by Letter She Wrote Praising Hamas-Friendly Group CAIR

Islamic advocacy group's leader said he was 'happy to see' Hamas kill Jews on Oct. 7

Rep. Jahana Hayes (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
March 26, 2024

Connecticut congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D.) is defending a letter she wrote praising the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic advocacy group whose leader said he was "happy to see" Hamas kill Jews on Oct. 7. The group does valuable work "to educate the community about anti-Muslim hate," Hayes said.

On Sunday, Hayes touted an endorsement she received from the Jewish Democratic Council of America, saying, "My work on behalf of my Jewish constituents speaks for itself." When a strategist for her Republican opponent responded by noting Hayes's praise for CAIR, the congresswoman called the criticism a "lie" and stood by a letter she wrote to the group in 2019. In her letter, Hayes said she "deeply appreciate[s] the support of this distinguished organization."

"My letter to CT CAIR was in recognition of their work to educate the community about anti-Muslim hate," Hayes wrote in a Sunday social media post. "It is literally my job to meet with my constituents…even my Muslim constituents. Not letting you lie about me this time around."

Hayes's defense of CAIR puts her at odds with her party's leader, President Joe Biden. In November, CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said he was "happy to see" Gazans "break the siege" on Oct. 7. The Biden White House disavowed CAIR in response, with a spokesman saying Biden "condemn[s] these shocking, antisemitic statements in the strongest terms."

Neither Hayes nor CAIR responded to requests for comment.

Hayes's letter to CAIR came ahead of the group's 2019 gala in Washington, D.C. More than 100 members of Congress—all but 2 of whom were Democrats—penned messages of solidarity for the organization. CAIR used the letters to tout its support among congressional leaders.

"The Council on American-Islamic Relations has led the way in broadening the public understanding of Islam and strengthening relationships with the American Muslim community," Hayes wrote at the time. "For the past quarter of a century, CAIR's tireless defense of civil liberties has helped ensure that all Americans enjoy equal protection under the law regardless of their faith."

In addition to her letter, Hayes met with CAIR in early December, days before Awad's comments on Oct. 7 surfaced. Hayes also defended the meeting, with her spokeswoman telling Jewish Insider that Hayes "has held several meetings with all constituents who have deep concerns about the ongoing war."

"She has a responsibility to listen to all of her constituents, even if they disagree on serious issues," said the spokeswoman, Sidney Johnson.

Hayes is not the only Democratic House member to face criticism for praising CAIR, which blamed Israel for provoking Hamas's attack through its "apartheid policies."

Last month, Pennsylvania congresswoman Summer Lee (D.) agreed to speak at the annual fundraising banquet for CAIR's Philadelphia chapter, with the group praising Lee as a "leading advocate" for an Israeli ceasefire. When Lee's pro-Israel primary opponent, Bhavini Patel, called on the congresswoman to cancel the scheduled appearance, Lee did so. She nonetheless stood by CAIR, accusing her critics of trying to "demonize" the "country's largest Muslim civil liberties organization."

Hayes joined Congress in 2019 after defeating Republican challenger Manny Santos by 11 points. Hayes narrowly held on to her seat in 2022, defeating Republican George Logan by less than 1 point. Logan is again challenging Hayes in November.