The Council on American-Islamic Relations is defending one of its top officials who described mainstream Jewish groups and synagogues as "enemies" that "are working to harm you" in a recent speech to Muslim American activists, after Jewish organizations denounced her comments as anti-Semitic.
CAIR, which maintains close relations with some Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), praised its Bay Area director Zahra Billoo as a "widely respected civil rights activist" and said it was "so grateful for the courage she demonstrates in her civil rights work." The group claimed her speech was being mischaracterized and called the allegations of anti-Semitism a "blatant lie" and "smear campaign."
CAIR's defense follows outrage over Billoo's November speech to the American Muslims for Palestine conference, in which she labeled "Zionist synagogues," campus Hillel groups, and even liberal-leaning Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League as "enemies."
ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt slammed Billoo's comments as "wildly anti-Semitic" and "classic conspiratorial anti-Semitism."
CAIR denied that Billoo's comments were anti-Semitic, and said she was only targeting synagogues and Jewish groups that support the continuation of the Jewish state. The group said Billoo was in favor of fringe Jewish organizations that oppose Israel's existence, such as IfNotNow—a group that recently said Kaddish, the traditional Hebrew mourning prayer, for Hamas terrorists killed in action.
In the speech, Billoo urged the audience to reject "the polite Zionists, the ones that say, 'Let's just break bread together.'"
"We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League. We need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation. We need to pay attention to the Zionist synagogues. We need to pay attention to the Hillel chapters on our campuses," said Billoo, according to video of the speech posted by the blog Israellycool. "Oppose the vehement fascists, but oppose the polite Zionist too. They are not your friends."
"They are your enemies. They are organizations and infrastructures out there that are working to harm you. Make no mistake about it. They would sell you down the line if they could. And they very often do behind your back," Billoo added.