Rashida Tlaib and Biden Official Were Featured Speakers at Conference So Controversial It Lost Its Corporate Sponsor

McKinsey, which works with China, Russia, and corrupt South African authorities, dropped sponsorship over Linda Sarsour appearance

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) and Biden State Department official Sara Minkara
March 9, 2023

Democratic representative Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and a Biden State Department appointee spoke at Harvard University's annual Arab conference, even after the conference lost its top corporate sponsor due to the participation of anti-Semitic activist Linda Sarsour.

Tlaib and State Department special adviser Sara Minkara participated in the event, which saw speakers call to "end U.S. support for Israel." The pair appeared as others abandoned the conference—McKinsey & Company, the white-shoe consulting firm, pulled its sponsorship of the conference after discovering Sarsour "had a history of anti-Semitic comments," it said in a statement. The company was also scheduled to hold a recruiting session, and some of its employees were slated to speak.

The annual Harvard gathering is the "largest pan-Arab conference in North America" and draws over 1,000 attendees to "discuss key issues with the region's most prominent politicians, business people, and civil society leaders," according to its website.

Panelists at the conference over the weekend expressed support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Jewish Insider reported. One speaker, American Muslims for Palestine director of development Mohamad Habehh, reportedly denounced Zionism as a "very stupid ideology" and called to "end U.S. support for Israel."

Sarsour's participation comes nearly a year after the insurance company Geico dropped the liberal activist as a diversity speaker due to her inflammatory comments. Sarsour, who has claimed Israel was "built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else" and praised Palestinian supermarket bomber Rasmea Odeh, in 2019 stepped down as a leader with the Women's March following controversy over her statements. But Sarsour maintained ties with some anti-Israel left-wingers, working on Muslim outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) presidential campaign and attending events with Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).

McKinsey's decision to distance itself from Sarsour is also notable, given its willingness to take on controversial clients. The firm has a history of work with China, Russia, corrupt South African authorities, corporate fraudsters, and the opioid industry. McKinsey is a regular sponsor of Harvard events, including a Latinx in Finance and Technology panel last October and the African Business Conference later this month.

"When we learned late last week that a speaker at an event our recruiting team was sponsoring at Harvard University had a history of anti-Semitic comments, we immediately stepped away from the conference, canceled our in-person recruiting meeting, and withdrew two speakers from the program," said McKinsey in a statement. "We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and stand for inclusion and tolerance everywhere."

Sarsour and the conference organizers did not respond to requests for comment. Tlaib did not respond to a request for comment.

Sarsour and Tlaib spoke about creating an "Arab MENA category on the 2030 national census" and "health access and policy," according to an advertisement for the conference. Minkara, a Biden appointee serving as special adviser on international disability rights at the State Department, was also listed as a speaker at the event. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Other speakers included Lebanese TV host Ricardo Karam, who has called for a global boycott against Israel and accused the Jewish state of committing "apartheid against the Palestinian people," and Egyptian actor Amr Waked, who has claimed that Israel has "expansionist, apartheid, and genocide preferences."

Sarsour, a longtime anti-Israel activist, came to national prominence as one of the leaders of the 2017 Women's March, protesting then-president Donald Trump's election. She is a leading advocate for the BDS movement, spoke at a 2015 event for anti-Semitic Nation of Islam preacher Louis Farrakhan, and has defended cop-killer Assata Shakur.

President Joe Biden disavowed Sarsour after she attended a Muslim outreach event for his 2020 campaign, with a spokesman saying Biden "obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS."