Sign at the building entrance to CAIR headquarters. Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock.
By Benjamin Baird
(JNS) — A controversial “Muslim civil-rights and advocacy” organization experienced a major blow to its reputation last week after the Florida House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to denounce the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The rest of the county should follow suit and permanently blacklist this Hamas-linked Islamist group.
Introduced by State Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), House Resolution 1209 encourages all state and local government agencies in Florida to “suspend contact and outreach activities” with CAIR, citing the group’s extensive history of terror connections and anti-Jewish bigotry. The non-binding resolution, which was passed 98-15, comes as CAIR faces growing public disapproval over its extremist rhetoric and record of pro-Hamas sympathies in the aftermath of Oct. 7, when Hamas massacred more than 1,200 men, women and children in southern Israel.
CAIR is no stranger to public disgrace. Throughout its tumultuous history, the Muslim nonprofit has faced legal scrutiny and survived multiple scandals, yet somehow remains the media’s go-to Islamic organization for any topic dealing with Muslims or the Middle East. Until recently, CAIR even belonged to a White House taskforce dealing with antisemitism.
In remarks delivered from the House floor, Fine noted that “this resolution seeks to follow the lead of a number of other states, and the FBI, and other countries around the world,” which have implemented policies forbidding contact with CAIR. Legislatures in Arkansas and Louisiana passed similar anti-CAIR bills years ago, and the United Arab Emirates labeled CAIR as a terrorist organization in 2014, citing its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamic supremacist movement that includes Hamas.
The case against CAIR is laid out in 121 damning lines of text that make up HR 1209, which is supported by a robust staff analysis of the facts. The bill describes CAIR’s involvement as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a landmark terror finance case targeting the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a charity that was shut down and labeled a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization for funneling more than $12 million to Hamas. CAIR received startup money from HLF, and CAIR board member Ghassan Elashi was sentenced to a 65-year prison term for his part in the terror finance scheme.
Florida’s anti-CAIR bill does not mention how Hamas recently bartered for Elashi and his co-defendants’ release from federal prison with the lives of hostages captured in Israel.
The resolution provides details of other CAIR officials who were likewise convicted or deported for terrorism-related offenses. They include Randall (“Ismail”) Royer, who was “indicted on charges of conspiring to help Al-Qaeda and the Taliban battle American troops fighting in Afghanistan;” and Bassem Khafagi, a community-affairs director for CAIR who was convicted of bank and visa fraud and “deported to Egypt after he had funneled money to activities supporting terrorism.”
All told, seven CAIR officials have been arrested, convicted or deported for terrorism-related offenses.
Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attacks have only further radicalized CAIR and cemented its support for violent “resistance.” In a recent example, HR 1209 references a Nov. 24 speech from CAIR founder and executive director Nihad Awad, who told an audience: “The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege, the walls of the concentration camp, on October 7. And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land … .”
“I’m not the only one who found this statement offensive,” Fine told his colleagues. In fact, the White House publicly disavowed CAIR after a recording of Awad’s speech was publicized.
Reached by email, Fine said the bipartisan support for the resolution shows that CAIR has “no place in this state.” However, he is worried about those who refuse to denounce CAIR in the face of overwhelming evidence.
“What we should be concerned about is those who stood with terrorists by voting ‘no,’” he said.
Democratic Florida State Reps. Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) and Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) were among the 15 legislators who voted against HR 1209. The pair were recently targeted in a Florida GOP political advertisement that denounced their appearance at a CAIR press conference in November, where they called for a “ceasefire” in Gaza. A week earlier, Nixon and Eskamani were the only House members to vote for a ceasefire resolution that drew bipartisan fury from House members, who stood together and turned their backs on Nixon in a dramatic display as she defended a bill that some legislators complained was antisemitic.
However, the most outspoken opponent of HR 1209 was State Rep. Christopher Benjamin (D-Miami Gardens), who spent 10 long minutes defending CAIR from the House floor. His arguments appeared to be lifted straight from CAIR’s “dispelling rumors” webpage, which is filled with half-truths and inaccuracies regarding the nonprofit’s origins and involvement in terror prosecutions.
Benjamin isn’t exactly a dispassionate observer. He is a steadfast ally of the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF), a coalition of regional Islamic institutions that includes CAIR. In January, the two-term legislator was scheduled as a guest panelist at an SFMF conference that was canceled by the hosting Marriott Coral Springs Hotel following a backlash from locals. The two-day conference would have featured speeches from notorious antisemites and include a youth discussion about “finding hope from our past” in the Islamic “conquests of… Jerusalem.”
Benjamin agreed that Awad’s statement regarding Oct. 7 was “reprehensible and morally deplorable,” but insisted that his colleagues should condemn the individual, not the organization. Fine shot back that “if the heads of our organizations spoke like that, they’d be gone.”
“Six weeks after October [7th] — the deaths of 1,200 Jews, people who were burned, people who had their head (sic) cut off with farm equipment, babies that were lit on fire — he said it made him ‘happy’ and he still has the job,” Fine responded.
Many of the accusations set forth in HR 1209 are old news, Benjamin argued, and besides, “CAIR-National and CAIR-Florida are not the same things,” he added.
“[Y]ou can say that it doesn’t happen in Florida,” Fine answered, “but in 2020, CAIR-Florida invited a convicted terrorist — someone they knew who was a terrorist, someone who used to work, by the way, for our state university system — to be one of their featured speakers.”
Fine was referring to Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who was convicted of providing material support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a designated terrorist organization, and was later deported to Turkey. As the keynote speaker at a CAIR-Florida webinar in August 2020, Al-Arian slammed Muslim American groups that “dance with Zionists” and “infiltrate our community.”
Despite its checkered past, CAIR continues to enjoy a bewildering degree of respect from politicians and journalists. State legislatures from Texas to California have passed resolutions praising the Islamist nonprofit, and San Diego County regularly pays for CAIR’s fundraising banquets.
Reporters continue to ask CAIR to comment on issues involving hate crimes and anti-Muslim bias. In a bizarre twist, news outlets increasingly call on CAIR to provide expert commentary in response to antisemitic incidents.
“One of the things we need to realize is that much of the mainstream public has no idea how evil CAIR is,” Fine said in an email. “They hear an innocent-sounding name — Council on American-Islamic Relations — and think, ‘What could be wrong with that’?”
He continued: “It is incumbent upon the rest of us to make sure that these terrorist sympathizers find no quarter in Florida.”
Benjamin Baird is director of MEF Action, an advocacy project of the Middle East Forum.