A controversial U.S. Muslim leader who has been highly critical of Israel and said the Jewish state should be on the "suspect list" in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks participated on Tuesday in a White House summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) that featured Vice President Joe Biden.
Salam Al-Marayati, founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), tweeted out a photo of himself at the White House with Biden and bragged, "We joined VP @JoeBiden for a discussion at the @WhiteHouse #CVESummit which kicked off today."
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Al-Marayati has been viewed as a controversial figure due to past statements characterized by his critics as anti-Israel and soft on terrorism.
The White House CVE Summit, a three-day forum focused on countering radical extremism, comes in the wake of multiple anti-Semitic attacks across the globe and pressure for an increased military campaign against the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) released a detailed fact sheet that contained scores of controversial statements attributed to al-Marayati.
One of his more controversial proclamations came in the wake of 9/11, when al-Marayati pointed a finger at Israel.
"If we’re going to look at suspects [for 9/11], we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies," he said in a radio interview shortly after the attacks in 2001, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Al-Marayati also caused controversy in 2012, when he was selected by the Obama administration to represent the United States government at a human rights conference sponsored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Despite his past rhetoric, the State Department defended the selection of al-Marayati when contacted by the Free Beacon at the time.
Al-Marayati also has accused Israel of using the Holocaust to justify its security measures against the Palestinians.
"We’re against Holocaust denial, but we’re also against people who exploit that as a way of shoving this kind of war propaganda and dehumanization of the Arab peoples and the Muslim peoples as if they have to pay the price for what Nazi Germany did to the Jews back in the 20th century," he said in a 2006 radio interview cited by the IPT in its fact sheet.
Following the deadly 2001 attack on a pizza shop in Jerusalem that killed 15 Israelis and wounded many others, al-Marayati’s MPAC group released a statement claiming that the act of terrorism was "the expected bitter result of the reckless policy of Israeli assassination that did not spare children and political figures."
In 2012, he accused the United States of doing "dirty work" on Israel’s behalf, according to IPT.
"The other point here, which is very important historically, the United States has done a lot of dirty work that has served the interests of Israel," al-Marayati said during a debate on the Russian-government controlled RT. "It destroyed Iraq. It supported the destruction and crippling of Egypt. It has crippled the Gulf.
"And now, it is looking to Iran as the next target for crippling and destroying," he continued. "I think this is madness. Who is driving our foreign policy? President Obama or Prime Minister Netanyahu?"
He also has described attacks by the U.S.-designated terror group Hezbollah as a form of legitimate resistance.
"If the Lebanese people are resisting Israeli intransigence on Lebanese soil, then that is the right of resistance and they have the right to target Israeli soldiers in this conflict," al-Marayati said during a 1999 interview on PBS. "That is not terrorism. That is a legitimate resistance."
"That could be called liberation movement [sic], that could be called anything, but it’s not terrorism," he added.
Spokesmen for the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) did not immediately respond to requests for comment on al-Marayati and why he was included in the CVE Summit.
"Al-Marayati’s presence at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit tells us everything we need to know about the failure of the Obama administration to devise an effective counter-terrorism strategy," said Kyle Shideler, director of the Threat Information Office (TIO) at the Center for Security Policy "Here’s a man who just days after 9/11 said we ought to be investigating whether the attack was carried out by Israel, and has a history of apologizing for terror."
"If this is the kind of outreach partner that President Obama believes cities nationwide should be seeking out, then we’re better off not doing outreach at all, and returning to good old fashion police and intelligence work," Shideler said.
When contacted for comment about MPAC’s participation in the summit, al-Marayati dismissed his critics and said they are harping on statements from more than a decade ago.
"That was 15 years ago," he said by email. "Our [MPAC’s] track record is strong on anti terrorism. I work with local Jewish leaders including Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It’s time to move on and work together to counter ISIS."
Al-Marayati and MPAC were asked to participate in the summit due to its work with a CVE initiative called Safe Spaces, "which has been lauded by local law enforcement in LA," he said.
"LAPD first told me and asked that I attend because of the local work in LA," he said. "I’m also working on preventing young people from becoming foreign fighters on a task force with the Homeland Security Advisory Council."
Other al-Marayati critics, such as Patrick Poole, a national security reporter and terrorism expert, said his presence at the summit "speaks to how much of a farce" it is.
"This is exactly why he [al-Marayati] was thrown off the Gore Terrorism Commission back in the late 1990s," Poole said. "It speaks to how much a farce this White House summit is that in the face of an escalating global jihadist threat they rehabilitate a character like Marayati."