Defending anti-Muslim group, Israel’s envoy to US slams racism watchdog

Ron Dermer calls Southern Poverty Law Center – which tracks attacks on Jews, blacks and other minorities – ‘defamers and blacklisters’

Ron Dermer speaks on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Ron Dermer speaks on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Israel’s ambassador to the US launched a scathing attack on the Southern Poverty Law Center in a speech Tuesday, calling the American civil rights organization “defamers and the blacklisters.”

Ron Dermer was speaking at an award ceremony held Tuesday by the Center for Security Policy, a think tank which openly espouses anti-Islamic views and conspiracy theories.

The SPLC had urged Dermer to reject the invitation to be guest of honor, along with president of the Zionist Organization of America Morton Klein, at the Center for Security Policy’s annual Freedom Flame award.

The civil rights organization described the Center for Security Policy as a promoter of conspiracy theories. “In recent years the CSP has gone from a hawkish think tank on foreign affairs to a promoter of baseless conspiracy theories and groundless accusations,” it wrote in its Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, which included CSP head Frank Gaffney.

But Dermer instead blasted the SPLC for even having the field guide, noting that it included people like Daniel Pipes, who he called “one of the great scholars of the Middle East,” and former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

My speech last night at the Freedom Flame Award Dinner:Judge Jeanine, thank you for that kind introduction. – and…

Posted by Ambassador Ron Dermer on Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Somali-born Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, has been quoted as making comments critical of Islam. Ali was raised in a strict Muslim family, but after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s.

In 2014 Brandeis University rescinded a decision to award her an honorary degree, saying some of her previous comments were Islamophobic.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007. (photo credit: AP/Shiho Fukada)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007. (photo credit: AP/Shiho Fukada)

“Today, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the world’s great champions of freedom, pluralism and tolerance. And every self-respecting group that claims to value any of those things should be defending her not defaming her,” Dermer said.

“Yet in an Orwellian inversion of reality, a woman whose life is threatened every day by extremist Muslims is labeled by the SPLC an anti-Muslim extremist,” The ambassador said. “Have those who put Ayaan on that list no shame? Have they no decency?”

“Well, ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t stand with the defamers and the blacklisters. I stand with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. We all should stand with Ayaan Hirsi Ali,” Dermer said.

Based in Alabama, SPLC tracks hate groups and attacks on Jews, blacks and other minorities and targeted groups in the US. In the 1970s and 80s, it famously used the courts in a bid to bankrupt Ku Klux Klan affiliates and neo-Nazi groups.

The civil rights organization said it stood by its original comments on Dermer, to the effect that “the decision by the ambassador to accept CSP’s Freedom Flame award not only further legitimizes this organization, but could be read as an endorsement of anti-Muslim hate by the Israeli government.”

The liberal J Street organization condemned Dermer for his remarks and for accepting the award, calling it “just the latest sign that he is completely out of touch with the values and concerns of the vast majority of American Jews, who oppose rising Islamophobia and discrimination in our country, and worry about the future of the two-state solution.”

During his speech Dermer also defended Gaffney, the founder and president of CSP.

Gaffney was a top Pentagon official during the Reagan administration. He has made it his mission, he says, to expose creeping Islamism in the American establishment. He also has ties to conservative pro-Israel groups and websites.

“I have known Frank Gaffney for many years. And while I don’t agree with every single thing he says and believes, Frank is no hater and no bigot,” Dermer said.

Civil rights groups like the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League have condemned CSP and termed Gaffney a promoter of anti-Islamic conspiracy theories. “Frank Gaffney employs anti-Muslim bigotry as a tool to discredit political opponents,” the ADL wrote recently.

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