President Obama and two of his senior advisers recently participated in a conference that was organized by an Arab-American group whose members and affiliates routinely condemn Israel, refer to its leaders as terrorists, and equate Zionism with racism.
Obama recently filmed remarks for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s (ADC) 2012 conference, which took place last week in Washington, D.C. The ADC bills itself as a civil rights organization that is focused on protecting Arab Americans from discrimination, yet it has often come under scrutiny for promoting views that are highly critical of Israel.
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In addition to filming remarks, Obama also directed two of his top advisers to speak at the confab: Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and Ari Matusiak, executive director of the White House Business Council.
The administration’s endorsement of a conference that featured a Palestinian advocate who has labeled Israel an "apartheid state" and presented an award to the author of an essay titled "Zionism is a Form of Racism" has raised eyebrows among advocates of the Jewish state. They worry that in its race to secure votes in a tough election, the administration is cozying up with those who aim to subvert the U.S.-Israel alliance.
"It just makes me very suspicious of the president’s past statements and platitudes when speaking before Jewish and pro-Israel audiences," one prominent Jewish official said when informed of the administration’s participation in the ADC event. "For a lot of Jewish opinion leaders, we’re left to wonder, ‘Is this an administration that is genuine in its statements regarding Israel or is this an administration that will say anything and do anything to get reelection—including speaking out of both sides of their mouths?’"
Also in attendance was the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the White House-backed Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as NAACP President Ben Jealous.
In his remarks before the ADC, Obama praised the organization and its members for standing "against discrimination"—though several prominent faces in attendance have long castigated Israel in public forums.
"You've stood against discrimination in all of its forms, and you help build a better America for all of us," Obama said before a crowd that included Phyllis Bennis, a co-founder and committee member of the "U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation," as well as Mustafa Barghouti, a founder of Palestinian National Initiative who has dubbed Israel an "apartheid state."
Bennis’ group has vociferously advocated in favor of BDS, otherwise known as "Boycott, Divestment and Sanction," a form of economic warfare meant to choke Israel’s economy and force its leaders to give land to the Palestinians.
The group is also the architect of a campaign that urges supporters to "Tell Your Members of Congress: Put U.S. Interests—Not Israel's—First." Multiple Jewish groups have condemned as anti-Semitic the accusation that Jewish people and members of Congress are unduly loyal to Israel. The charge has also cost officials at White House-aligned think tanks their jobs.
During a luncheon at the ADC ceremony, an award was presented to attorney Abdeen Jabara, who is known for penning the 2008 essay, "Zionism is a Form of Racism."
Two associates of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a controversial Muslim advocacy group, also addressed the confab. Federal prosecutors listed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in a legal case that exposed a network of organizations that funnel money to the terror group Hamas.
Both of the CAIR associates in attendance have publicly made radical statements either praising terrorism or blasting Israel.
CAIR’s Cyrus McGoldrick publicly urged "Allah" to "protect the revolution" in Egypt from benefiting Israel.
"My heart is with Egypt after yesterday's military coup," McGoldrick wrote in a post on Twitter. "May Allah protect the revolution & people from the military doing Israel's bidding."
Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar, CAIR’s former communications director, accused a former Israeli prime ministers of being a "terrorist."
"Let me state in the most categorical terms that I can that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is as much of a terrorist as Yasser Arafat, if not five times more," he stated in an essay titled, "Bush Ignores Israeli Terrorism."
The ADC was originally founded in 1980 Former Sen. James Abourezk, who has accused Israel of "high-tech ethnic cleansing" and claimed that the "American taxpayer is footing the bill for Israel’s criminal activities."
Abourezk, an Arab American, has also trafficked in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, accusing Congress of being controlled by Jewish people.
"Congress is pretty much reliant on money from radical Zionists, stopping the flow of American taxpayers’ money to Israel will not come soon," he told the website Counterpunch. "But the sooner it does end, the sooner the violence will stop."
The ADC also has sponsored a handful of anti-Israel rallies in Chicago, California, and Washington D.C. The Anti-Defamation League reported that at the D.C. rally, "one speaker declared: ‘from this podium I salute Hezbollah,’ which prompted loud cheers from the crowd."
The ADL, which has tracked the ADC’s anti-Israel activities, declined to comment on the administration’s participation in the conference.
Pro-Israel advocates condemned the ADC when in 2010, it held a gala to present a "courage" award to the anti-Semitic journalist Helen Thomas, who attracted ire after she stated that Jews should "get the Hell out of Palestine." Thomas later told Playboy magazine that Jews "own the White House."
Observers said that the White House disregarded the ADC’s controversial anti-Israel attitudes in a bid to maintain its support in a critical election year.
"This is their base, absolutely, and they need to engage the Arab American community for Obama," said the Jewish official quoted above. "They have the political benefit of being able to screw Israel and still get the Jewish vote. It’s a double win for them."
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.