The State Department defended its selection of a controversial anti-Israel activist to participate in a human rights forum in Poland, praising the longtime Israel critic as "valued and highly credible."
Salam al-Marayati, founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), was selected by the Obama administration to participate in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) annual 10-day human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings (HDIM).
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Al-Marayati has been a vociferous critic of Israel, once suggesting that Israel should be put "on the suspect list" for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His organization, MPAC, has requested that militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah be removed from the list of United States-designated terrorist groups.
Al-Marayati’s inclusion in the U.S. delegation attracted the ire of Jewish leaders and others who feel he is the wrong person to represent America at a forum focusing on human rights and tolerance.
The State Department stood by al-Marayati Thursday, telling the Free Beacon that the Israel critic is "valued and highly credible."
"Mr. al-Marayati has been involved in U.S. government initiatives for almost 10 years and has been a valued and highly credible interlocutor on issues affecting Muslim communities," a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the OSCE told the Free Beacon in a statement. "He was invited to participate in this year’s HDIM as a reflection of the wide diversity of backgrounds of the American people."
Officials in the State Department and U.S Helsinki Commission selected al-Marayati after "consultations," the OSCE official said. The Helsinki Commission is a federal body that was established to liaise with the OSCE.
"The United States invites public members to join the U.S. delegation and make presentations to the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meetings (HDIM) in Warsaw after consultations within the Department and with the U.S. Helsinki Commission," according to the spokesman.
The inclusion of citizens like al-Marayati is normal, the spokesman said.
"Including public members as part of our delegation to the HDIM has been a consistent practice since early on in the Helsinki Process," said the OSCE official.
News of al-Maratati’s participation in the confab came as a shock to pro-Israel advocates.
"It is inexplicable that a person who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks and advocated for terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah—which has killed more Americans than any terrorist group in the world except al Qaeda—was chosen to represent the United States," Josh Block, a former Clinton administration official who now serves as CEO of The Israel Project, told the Free Beacon Wednesday.
Al-Marayati attracted the attention of pro-Israel leaders when he recommended that the U.S. "put the state of Israel on the [9/11] suspect list," according to the New York Times.
"If we’re going to look at suspects, 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," al-Marayati told a radio host, according to the Times.
The U.S. embassies in Poland and Brussels both praised al-Marayati’s participation.
"Much can be done to fight hatred without restricting speech, or prohibiting the ‘defamation of religion’," the U.S. Embassy in Brussels tweeted Wednesday, including a link to the speech al-Marayati delivered to delegates.
The U.S. embassy in Poland issued a similar statement Wednesday.
"The United States is proud to have Mr. Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Professor Ethel Brooks of Rutgers University, and Ms. Nida Gelazis of the Woodrow Wilson Institute serving as public members in the USG delegation to HDIM," the embassy said in a statement. "Their expertise will be invaluable in addressing these topics at the meeting."
Al-Marayati was invited to participate in the conference as a "public member of the U.S. delegation," according to MPAC.
"Al-Marayati was invited as a public member of the U.S. delegation to HDIM along with Professor Ethel Brooks of Rutgers University and Nida Gelazis of the Woodrow Wilson Institute," MPAC said in a statement.
The MPAC founder has a history of defending terrorist attacks against Israel.
He has called attacks by the terrorist group Hezbollah "legitimate resistance," according to a report by the Investigate Project on Terrorism.
Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) selected al-Marayati to sit on a 10-person commission "charged with reviewing U.S. policies on terrorism" in 1999, according to CNN.
Gephardt, however, withdrew al-Marayati’s name after it came to light that he was a unabashed critic of Israel who had expressed sympathy for certain terrorist acts, CNN reported at the time.
In recent years, MPAC—where al-Marayati still serves a president—has promoted fictitious articles claiming that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, the latest iteration of a centuries-old anti-Semitic blood libel.
The supposed reports that MPAC prominently promoted were immediately rebuked and debunked as anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League.
"The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a Los Angeles-based group that presents itself as a moderate voice of Islam in the U.S., called for an international investigation for alleged war crimes based on the original allegations in the Swedish newspaper," the ADL said in a report published at the time. "MPAC also suggested that Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the organ trafficking claims illustrated its tendency to bully critics of Israel with charges of anti-Semitism."
MPAC continued to promote the stories months after they had been discredited and retracted.
The OSCE’s human rights forum will conclude Friday. Al-Marayati presented his remarks on Monday.