According to its website, the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) held its 14th Annual Convention for Palestine in the US from November 25–27, 2021, in Chicago, Illinois. The AMP conference featured a number of problematic speakers, but it is Zahra Billoo, the San Francisco Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who has received the most attention following her address to the conference. In that address, which followed that of CAIR Director Nihad Awad, Billoo made a series of incendiary allegations, essentially designating large portions of the Jewish community in the US, as well as unidentified Muslim organizations as “enemies” who are plotting and scheming to harm Muslims. The allegations included:
- (34:50) Saying Islamophobia was a well-funded “conspiracy,” a term which she immediately corrected to “project.”
- (35:10) Saying “they,” appearing to refer to Islamophobic figures, opposed Muslims not only because “Muslims fight for Palestine” but because Muslims fight for a variety of social issues, including Black Lives Matter, homelessness and poverty, and the environment.
- (37:05) Conflating “our opposition” with “our Jewish friends” and claiming that Muslims mistakenly tried wooing Jews by fighting Islamophobia in the US while “ignoring the foreign issue.” She further said that “to ‘them,’” Muslims, Palestinians, Arabs, people of conscience, here and abroad were “a threat.”
- (37:35) Claiming that Zionist organizations promoting the “Zionist agendas” were the same ones who “want to ban Muslims.”
- (37:45) Saying, “the police officers in the United States who kill unarmed black men, women, and children are trained by the Israeli military,” a claim disputed by the organizers of US/Israel police exchanges.
- (38:32) Labeling a large part of the organized Jewish community in the US, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jewish Federation, Zionist synagogues, and university Hillel chapters as “polite Zionists” who will “… take your friendship and throw your Palestinian brothers and sisters under the bus.”
- (40:31) Labeling unspecified “Zionist” and “foreign policy organizations who say they are not Zionists but want a two-state solution” as “enemies” who are “working to harm you” and would “sell you down the line if they could, and they very often do behind your back.”
- (41:10) Urging listeners to “know the Muslim organizations that are out to harm you” and saying that, in some ways, they were worse than the Zionists because “at least the Zionists will tell you what they’re out for. But when Muslim organizations sell you out, they are doing it in your name.”
In her speech, Billoo further urged audience members to donate monthly to the AMP, saying that if they paid taxes in the United States, this meant they continuously financially supported “apartheid” in Palestine as part of the US foreign budget.
Israeli media is reporting that following the convention, Billoo is taking a sabbatical which she says is related to the stress of demanding work, but also said she is “still in the middle of a prolonged Zionist onslaught”:
They have twisted my words, lied about me, attacked me on social media, email, and by targeting our partners. They are writing letters to CAIR even today, as though they have not paid attention to our incredibly principled track record.
In December, CAIR National issued a ringing defense of Billoo, issuing a statement that read in part:
During a speech delivered at a conference in Chicago last month, Zahra spoke of the clear connections between Islamophobic hate groups and anti-Palestinian activism. She further criticized the Israeli government’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. She also encouraged American Muslims to avoid collaborating with any organizations that support the political ideology that the Israeli apartheid government uses to justify dispossessing, occupying, and killing Palestinians. In the wake of her speech, anti-Muslim websites misquoted Zahra’s remarks and falsely claimed that she had discouraged Muslims from working with Jewish groups at-large. This is a blatant lie. In fact, Zahra praised the many Jewish activists and groups that support human rights for all people, including Palestinians, and specifically encouraged Muslims to engage in interfaith collaboration with Jewish organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace.
In a review of her speech, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) could find no such praise or call for interfaith cooperation.
The AMP is a Palestinian advocacy group with strong ties to the Global Muslim Brotherhood (GMB) in the US and the US Hamas support infrastructure. The 2021 AMP convention, which took place in Chicago and was titled “On the Road to Free Palestine,” also featured appearances by several other individuals tied to the GMB and Hamas support groups in the US, including the following:
- Nihad Awad, CAIR National co-founder, and long-time Executive Director
- Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the US Muslim civil rights NGO MPower Change, which has cooperated with important organizations in the US MB. Sarsour has become known for her harsh criticism of Israel, and in 2012, our predecessor publication was the first to report Sarsour’s family ties to Hamas.
- Osama Abuirshaid, AMP Executive Director and US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) board member
- Taher Herzallah, AMP Associate Director of Outreach and former AMP Campus Coordinator
- Oussama Jamal, Secretary-General of the USCMO and long-time leader of New Jersey’s Bridgewater mosque, tied to the US Muslim Brotherhood and whose members were known to have raised funds for Hamas-linked charities.
- Lamis Deek, former board member of the CAIR New York chapter
CAIR is part of the GMB in the US. It describes itself as “a grassroots civil rights and advocacy group” and as “America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group” and was founded in 1994 by three officers of the Islamic Association of Palestine, part of the US Hamas infrastructure at that time. The organization has repeatedly joined other groups with ties to the US Muslim Brotherhood in engaging Muslim citizens to participate in consultative meetings with legislative offices and state senators, highlighting the need to combat Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.