President Donald Trump pushed for congressional leaders to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week by citing a letter signed by organizations he described as “Jewish groups” calling for her removal.
But the coalition behind the letter — described by conservative media to be “leading Jewish organizations” — includes groups that maintain no relationship to the American Jewish community and peddle anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
One of the groups was once found to have ties to a longtime neo-Nazi.
“Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel. Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!” Trump tweeted Monday night.
Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel. Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2019
The tweet refers to a letter addressed to Pelosi and Chairman Eliot Engel of New York, arguing that Omar has shown “carelessness and poor judgement” in her criticism of Israel and “lacks the temperament for someone who is tasked with objectively addressing the volatile issues in the Middle East.” It calls for her ouster from the influential committee.
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Signatories include two organizations classified as anti-Muslim hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both have ties to the Trump administration: ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy.
Critics say the president’s promotion of fringe anti-Muslim groups with hawkish foreign policy views raises wider questions about the Republican push to unseat Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Both groups are linked to members of Trump’s foreign policy team who favor military intervention in the Muslim world: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. Omar is vocally skeptical of U.S. wars.
The letter was authored by the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which then circulated it among supporting organizations.
Asked to describe her criteria for selecting organizations to cosign, EMET founder and president Sarah Stern described the coalition as being made up of “hawks.”
“The groups that signed on to it are national security hawks and care about a strong and safe America and a strong and safe Israel,” Stern said.
Muslim and Jewish groups alike have questioned whether the push is motivated solely by rooting out anti-Semitism, or scaremongering against one of the first Muslim congresswomen ever elected.
“There’s no doubt that, rather than seriously confronting the issue of anti-Semitism, President Trump and his allies want to weaponize the debate to advance their own agendas — agendas rife with xenophobia and Islamophobia,” said Logan Bayroff, director of communications for J Street, a Jewish group that endorses a two-state solution.
Omar’s office could not be reached for comment.
But the Minnesota Democrat addressed how her identity might shape perceptions of her in a recent interview with The Intercept’s Deconstructed podcast.
“I believe that there are a lot of people who analyze my words differently because of their preconceived notions about who a Muslim is, who a refugee is, who ... this black woman is,” she said.
Act for America
Among the signatories of the letter calling for Omar’s removal from the committee is Brigitte Gabrielle of ACT for America.
Act for America has boasted about its relationship with the Trump administration, referring to Pompeo as a “steadfast ally,” in direct mail pieces. The group presented Pompeo with its National Security Eagle Award in 2016.
ACT bills itself as a “grassroots national security organization,” but the SPLC argues the group conflates national security with the denigration of Muslims.
“We’ve listed ACT for America as a hate group for some time,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the civil rights group’s Intelligence Project. “And the reason is that Brigitte Gabrielle has engaged in some really ugly rhetoric about Muslims and has held protests aligned with neo-Nazis.”
Beirich pointed to a series of rallies the group planned in 2017 under the banner “March Against Sharia” attended by white nationalists.
Longtime neo-Nazi Billy Roper organized the Arkansas event for the group, according to the SPLC. Roper once served as the state leader of the National Alliance, a now defunct neo-Nazi group that agitated for Jewish genocide. ACT subsequently disavowed Roper.
Thomas Hern, national grassroots director for ACT for America, said in an emailed statement that “anyone who traffics in prejudice, or advocates violence in any way towards any individual or any group, does not speak on behalf of, or represent, ACT for America.”
“As an organization that hosts events all over the country with over one million members nationwide, it is impossible to vet every participant, especially when it comes to public events held in public areas,” Hern continued.
Still, critics with the SPLC point out the organization’s president has over the years employed inflammatory rhetoric.
For example, in a viral video clip from a 2014, Gabrielle falsely claims one-fifth of Muslims believe in a violent ideology, and compares peaceful Muslims to peaceful Germans during the Nazi regime — “irrelevant.”
In response to that criticism, Hern called into question the civil rights organization’s credibility.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s continued fallacious and deceitful attacks will not prevent ACT for America from making a difference in local communities,” Hern said.
Center for Security Policy
The Center for Security Policy, the right-wing think tank founded by Frank Gaffney Jr., has advocated for U.S. wars in the Middle East stretching back to the 9/11 attacks.
The think tank is nonpartisan and adheres to the philosophy of “Peace through Strength,” according to its mission statement.
But the center has a history of stoking conspiratorial fears about the Muslim Brotherhood and “creeping Sharia” in order to make their case, according to the SPLC, which classifies the think tank as a hate group.
Gaffney has been accused of Islamophobic and xenophobic comments, including the denigration of immigrants and refugees.
In 2015 he described Somali refugees working at meat processing plants by saying, “I don’t know about you, but it kind of creeps me out that they are getting jobs in the food supply of the United States.”
Omar is a Somali refugee.
Gaffney recently stepped back from managing the think tank, which is now led by Fred Fleitz.
Fleitz most recently served as the chief of staff to Bolton, the hawkish national security adviser who has reportedly explored strategies for bombing Iran with the Pentagon.
“I was proud to sign this letter as President of the Center for Security Policy, an organization that is pro-Israel and has taken a strong stand against a dangerous surge in anti-Semitism on the Left,” Fleitz said in a statement. “I was very disappointed that Roll Call included as credible sources discredited far-left organizations to smear the signers of this letter such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and J Street.”
Asked about Act for America and the Center for Security Policy’s designations as hate groups, other groups that endorsed the letter calling for Omar’s removal from the committee have stressed the content is what is most important, not the signatures at the end.
Eric Rozenman, communications consultant to the Jewish Policy Center, argued the SPLC has been overzealous in its condemnations. Organizers were not aware of the other co-signers before the letter was published, he said.
Still, critics say amplifying anti-Muslim groups by falsely casting them as leading Jewish organizations is dangerous.
“The problem with elevating these group is it gives cover and sanction to their bigotry,” Beirich said.
Watch: Trump calls on Rep. Ilhan Omar to resign