Zahra Billoo’s Hateful Speech Reinforces CAIR’s Antisemitism Problem
December 16, 2021
Late last month, the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) monitored a vociferously antisemitic address delivered by Zahra Billoo — a Muslim civil rights lawyer who serves as the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — at an American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) convention.
In her Nov. 27th remarks, Billoo used bigoted and threatening rhetoric that typifies contemporary Islamist Jew-hatred.
Attacking mainstream U.S. Jewish groups, Billoo said, “When we talk about Islamophobia, we think oftentimes about the vehement fascists. But I also want us to pay attention to the polite Zionists. The ones that say, ‘Let’s just break bread together.’”
“We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League,” she added. “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, because just because they’re your friend today doesn’t mean that they have your back when it comes to human rights. So oppose the vehement fascists, but oppose the polite Zionists, too. They are not your friends.”
Billoo described Islamophobia as a “well-funded project to marginalize Muslims,” with “hundreds of millions of dollars spent on dehumanizing our community.”
“When we talk about Islamophobia and Zionism, let’s be clear about the connections,” she said.
“Know your enemies,” Billoo told the audience, referring to “Zionist organizations” and “foreign policy organizations who say they’re not Zionists but want a two-state solution.”
“I’m not going to sugarcoat that,” she said. “They are your enemies. There are organizations and infrastructures out there who are working to harm you.”
Billoo also propagated the false assertion that “the police officers in the United States who kill unarmed black men, women, and children are trained by the Israeli military.”
Billoo’s vilification of Jews, her reliance on classic antisemitic tropes about Jewish wealth and power, and her vitriolic slander of Israel should have no place in modern society, yet unfortunately are all-too-common in Islamist discourse.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Billoo has voiced her antisemitism. On June 9, 2015, she wrote on her Twitter account that she “worries more about police, the FBI, and the [Apartheid] Israeli Defense Forces recruiting youth to engage in violence & impunity than ISIS.”
Her language constituted clear examples of antisemitism under the widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition, the most authoritative, comprehensive, and representative tool to delineate all of contemporary manifestations of this age-old scourge.
Most notably, Billoo’s words fall within the IHRA category of “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective.”
Billoo tries to couch her antisemitism as “anti-Zionism,” which is a tactic used by many antisemites to avoid criticism. Anti-Zionism that denies “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is another IHRA category to help understand modern antisemitism.
Moreover, the fact that CAIR came to Billoo’s defense, rather than denounce her, only raises further concerns and illustrates how deeply embedded antisemitic ideology is in Islamist thinking.
What does it say about CAIR’s ability to speak on behalf of the American Muslim community at large when it won’t distance itself from an official representative spouting such abhorrent rhetoric?
If it had publicly rejected Billoo’s speech, CAIR could have demonstrated it was serious about addressing its longstanding antisemitism problem. Yet by supporting Billoo, and making allegations of an organized smear campaign against her, CAIR showed that Jew-hatred remains part of its core DNA.
It is unsurprising to see CAIR stand by Billoo’s statement considering its own Executive Director, Nihad Awad, has expressed blatant antisemitism in the past, including on his Twitter account (in Arabic). On October 14, 2014, he stated that the US would only recognize the State of Palestine when “America, itself, is free from the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.”
That core DNA extends to CAIR’s founders, which includes current Executive Director, Nihad Awad. Prior to forming CAIR, he held a senior role with the Islamic Association of Palestine, along with current Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzooq, to provide financial support to Hamas in the mid-1990s. In an April 28, 2009 letter to Senator Jon Kyl, the FBI stated that “until we resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and Hamas, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner.”
The Combat Antisemitism Movement will never tolerate the demonization of Jews, particularly at a time of surging antisemitism, with Jewish communities across the U.S. facing growing threats. Our global grassroots movement spans the ideological and religious spectrum, and we call out all forms of antisemitism irrespective of the ideological source of its perpetrator. We work to combat hate wherever it raises its ugly head, including Islamophobia. However, the weaponization of Islamophobia diminishes those that have truly faced it.
Even more abhorrent is CAIR’s attempt to define what constitutes antisemitism for the Jewish community. For this reason, we call upon Members of the House and Senate Bipartisan Task Forces for Combating Antisemitism to unequivocally condemn CAIR for supporting and encouraging such dangerous antisemitic incitement against Jewish Americans and their mainstream representative bodies.
We will work with our international, non-partisan coalition to ensure that anyone who engages with CAIR is made aware of its shameful role in fueling this rising hatred.