'CAIR’s assertions are gross falsehoods,' says CAMERA

US Muslim group accuses Jewish charities of funding Islamophobia

CAIR, which itself has faced accusations of bigotry, says foundations gave $106 million from 2017-2019 to organizations it considers ‘anti-Muslim’

People walk into the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC, on Thursday, December 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Illustrative: People walk into the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC, December 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

JTA — Charitable foundations with ties to Jewish federations and Jewish families feature prominently in a new report about the flow of tax-deductible donations to organizations that a leading Muslim civil rights lobby has identified as “anti-Muslim groups.”

Titled “Islamophobia in the Mainstream,” the report was published Tuesday by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group and political lobby that is critical of Israel.

It follows a different report from 2019 that identified some 1,100 groups CAIR identified as funding anti-Muslim activity. In the new report, CAIR used publicly available IRS data to analyze the top 50 charitable foundations in the 2019 report.

Among the foundations examined in the new report, 35 were found responsible for roughly $106 million in payments from 2017 to 2019 to 26 groups deemed harmful to Muslims. The figure is lower than in previous years but still indicates that funding for Islamophobia is alarmingly mainstream, according to CAIR.

At least five funders on CAIR’s list are explicitly Jewish and direct their funds according to the wishes of their donors. Several others are private family foundations also known for supporting Jewish and Israel causes.

The five are donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area — the biggest Jewish communities in the United States. These funds collect donations from individuals and disperse money according to donor recommendations. Donors get an immediate tax write-off and remain anonymous.

Illustrative: In this photo from September 26, 2016, Sheldon Adelson sits with his wife Miriam at a US presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Meanwhile, the Adelson Family Foundation, established by the late casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, made the list along with the Irving I Moskowitz Foundation, the Helen Diller Family Foundation and other entities with a focus on the U.S. Jewish community and Israel.

The Jewish groups appear alongside Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, which topped the list, and donor-advised funds run by major Wall Street firms such as Fidelity and Schwab.

One group cited in the report is the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. CAMERA ran afoul of CAIR by reportedly accusing several Muslim American organizations of being front groups for terrorists.

JTA reached out to the Jewish federations, CAMERA, and to the Adelson Family Foundation for comment.

“CAIR’s assertions are gross falsehoods seeking to deflect from CAMERA’s factual commentary about CAIR’s extremist activity, including its history as an unindicted co-conspirator in one of the largest terrorism-financing cases in U.S. history,” Sean Durns, CAMERA’s senior analyst said in an email.

“The FBI itself has suspended ties with CAIR which had no fewer than five former lay leaders or staffers arrested, convicted and/or deported on terrorism-related charges,” Durns said, referring to events in the 1990s and in the 2000s. “In an effort to intimidate, CAIR seems to want to smear any group that simply relays well-known facts about them.”

In an email, Rabbi Noah Farkas, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, did not directly address CAIR’s claims. “The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has always built relationships and partnerships with organizations that reflect the fabric and diversity of the Los Angeles region,” he said. “We believe that the preservation and security of the Jewish community of Los Angeles is predicated on deep connections with people from all backgrounds. It is part of our core value system to stand against all forms of hatred.”

A number of  Jewish-linked funders named in the report are connected to their support for certain hawkish and right-wing groups with a pro-Israel agenda that in CAIR’s view promote Islamophobia.

Examples include the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which engages in “anti-Muslim media lobbying and misinformation,” and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, led by activist Pamela Geller and known for “racist public ad campaigns,” according to CAIR. Those groups have long been widely criticized for peddling Islamophobia, including by the Anti-Defamation League.

CAIR itself has been accused of allowing its advocacy to veer into the realm of bigotry, with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accusing a CAIR leader of “textbook antisemitic conspiracy-laden garbage” in December. Zahra Billoo, director of CAIR’s San Francisco office had said in a speech that pro-Palestinian activists should oppose “polite Zionists” just as they would right-wing extremists, and she named synagogues and other mainstream Jewish organizations as examples. The speech earned widespread rebuke from Jewish leaders like Greenblatt.

Zahra Billoo delivers a speech, on November 27, 2021. (Screenshot/YouTube)

The flow of funding in the nonprofit world has come under intense scrutiny in recent years with accusations like CAIR’s that tax-deductible donations are boosting hate groups and extremists.

Concern over the issue has reached a crescendo following the Washington, D.C. rally on Jan. 6, 2021, that turned into an attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the recent presidential election. Since the rally, journalists, watchdog groups and lawmakers have been investigating the financing behind the event.

In a press release announcing the report, CAIR echoed calls to beef up controls on where donations can go.

“Today, more than ever, the philanthropic community must establish clear policies to prevent funds from going to hate groups and implement educational initiatives for staff and board members to help them understand the extent of anti-Muslim bigotry,” CAIR’s national research and advocacy coordinator Huzaifa Shahbaz said in a statement.

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