To the FBI, Justice Department prosecutors, and at least one federal judge, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a dubious organization led by executives tied to a U.S.-based Hamas support network. To social media followers, CAIR officials include rabid anti-Semites – people who baselessly compare Israeli soldiers to ISIS and who endorse slogans calling for Israel’s annihilation.
To dozens of liberal foundations, however, CAIR is a deserving recipient of their largess, an Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) analysis finds.
Sixteen state CAIR chapters and its Washington, D.C.-based national office received at least 265 grants of more than $1,000 from non-Muslim foundations across the country since 2010, totaling nearly $5.47 million. Some of those funders paid for a study that, among other things, tried to cast the negative press that CAIR and other Muslim groups gained due to the 2008 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Hamas terror financing trial as Islamophobic. These non-Muslim sources provide a small, but significant percentage of the operating budgets for CAIR and its chapters. Many of the grants support CAIR civil rights litigation, programs supporting refugees and migrants and opposing “Islamophobia,” and bullying efforts.
“The Left sees Muslims as victims of Western racism, imperialism, and fascism, so it excuses their misbehavior, from hateful comments to genocide. The only exception is if Muslims are seen as Western lackeys, in which case the indulgence is righteously suspended,” said Middle East Forum (MEF) President Daniel Pipes.
“Travel Ban” Leads to CAIR Windfall
By investing in civil rights work as it advances its broader Islamist agenda, the foundations see CAIR as a legitimate mainstream organization and not the offspring of a Hamas support network.
To see a list of all the foundation grants to CAIR included in this report, click here. IPT research found that CAIR and its state chapters collected at least $2.95 million in 2017 from non-Muslim foundations. Much of this stemmed from opposition to President Trump’s travel ban, statements on funder web pages said.
The policy doesn’t ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., but that didn’t stop CAIR and its funders such as the Proteus Fund from calling it a “Muslim ban.” Proteus coordinated the #NoMuslimBanEver campaign in conjunction with CAIR’s San Francisco chapter. It also gave CAIR four grants in 2017 totaling $27,000 to counter the ban and its impact on travelers.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in June that CAIR’s argument that the ban was based on anti-Muslim animus was unconvincing.
“… [B]ecause there is persuasive evidence that the entry suspension has a legitimate grounding in national security concerns, quite apart from any religious hostility, we must accept that independent justification,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.
Reframing the Issue: CAIR Donors Downplay Hamas Ties
A 2013 report by University of California Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian and Farid Senzai of Santa Clara University provided detailed information about Muslim demographics in the San Francisco Bay area and surveyed 1,100 Muslims. The six-county area is home to 250,000 Muslims, the report claims, “one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States.”
It included a passage portraying Islamist groups named in the HLF trial, including CAIR, as victims. An endnote in the report called the prosecution “politically motivated.”
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) commissioned the report in conjunction with the San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (APIP) under the umbrella of the One Nation Bay Area Project, a partnership aimed at assessing best practices for funding Muslim groups.
The study advises philanthropic institutions to support social and legal services for American Muslims to counter “bullying and discrimination,” aid immigrants, and to counter Islamophobia. APIP said the study could benefit “philanthropists and foundations” and be an “important tool for advocacy and media purposes, given that data about the community has often been misrepresented.”
APIP members that have donated to CAIR include: Bank of America Charitable Foundation; Blue Shield of California Foundation; the Bush Foundation; California Community Foundation; Headwaters Fund for Justice; Levi Strauss Foundation; the Open Society Foundations; Medtronic Communities Foundation; Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Minneapolis Foundation; and the Boston Foundation.
Bazian is a founder of the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project, which churns out academic papers through its Islamophobia Studies Journal.
He also has smeared his fellow Muslims as “Islamophobic” if they supported the Egyptian military’s 2013 ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government.
In the 2013 report, he and Senzai tried to minimize post 9/11 terror support prosecutions, saying, “Muslim leaders locally, regionally and nationally … have been pursued legally for one reason or another. In addition, throughout the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) case the government listed other Muslim organizations as ‘unindicted co-conspirators’ and thereby tarnishing their image and creating a cloud of suspicion over both the organizations and their leaders.”
HLF’s agenda was “intended to continue to promote and move forward Hamas’s agenda of the destruction of the State of Israel and establishment of an Islamic state in its place,” prosecutors wrote. A 2008 trial ended with HLF and five former officers convicted of conspiracy and providing material support to a terrorist organization.
U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Solis, who presided over the HLF trial, ruled in 2009 that the evidence creates “at least a prima facie case as to CAIR’s involvement in a conspiracy to support Hamas.”
The FBI agrees. Formal policy since 2008 prohibits outreach communication with CAIR, which the FBI “does not view … as an appropriate liaison partner” due to evidence linking the group’s leaders to Hamas.
Support for Hamas by CAIR and its leaders is not something that can be disputed.
“I used to support the PLO, and I used to be the President of the General Union of Palestine Students which is part of the PLO here in the United States, but after I researched the situation inside Palestine and outside, I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.” CAIR co-founder and Executive Director Nihad Awad said in 1994. Just after its creation that year, CAIR was included in an internal list of groups self-identified as the “Palestine Committee.” The committee, created by the Muslim Brotherhood, was charged with supporting Hamas politically and financially in the United States.
Exhibits admitted into evidence during the HLF trial directly linked CAIR and its founders to the Palestine Committee. It is unlikely the foundations giving CAIR money consider this history. To them, CAIR is a civil rights organization out to protect Muslims from discrimination and challenge government policy. But its support for the Palestinian cause, continuing the Palestine Committee’s original charge, continues. CAIR’s leadership often engages in both activities almost simultaneously.
For example, CAIR Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid defined CAIR as “defenders of the Palestinian struggle” in 2014 outside a hearing for now deported Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist Rasmieh Odeh. Walid, like his CAIR compatriots, also brings civil rights lawsuits on behalf of Muslims.
Walid’s CAIR Michigan colleague, Asha Noor, who works on CAIR’s “TAKE ON HATE” program, proclaimed on Twitter that Israel engaged in “genocide of the Palestinian people” in a Dec. 6, 2017 tweet after President Trump announced he was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. It is a false charge aimed at generating hate toward Israel and its supporters.
Donors: CAIR Is a Mainstream Civil Rights and Educational Group
Such hateful rhetoric is unfortunately common among CAIR officials, however, but it has not given the foundations pause about underwriting CAIR operations.
The California Wellness Foundation, which gave CAIR’s San Francisco-Bay Area chapter a $350,000 grant in 2017, said its money goes to programs aimed at helping immigrant communities.
“Wellness touches upon the potential for healing that encompasses body, mind and spirit and honors the human desire for justice, equity and voice. We stand behind our decision to support the important work of CAIR California in advancing these values and beliefs,” foundation spokeswoman Sande Smith said in a statement to IPT. “The Council on American-Islamic Relations is in good standing with federal agencies and has not been tied to terrorism. The Council does vital work to increase understanding of Islam, protect civil liberties, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.”
Smith also justified her foundation’s donation on a perception that hate crimes against Muslims have spiked.
CAIR has spent recent years sounding alarms about increasing hate crimes against Muslims, but the FBI reports that, in 2017, the most recent year with available data, hate crimes targeting Muslims declined by 11 percent. Hate crimes overall increased 17 percent in 2017.
The SVCF – CAIR’s largest non-Muslim nationwide donor in 2017 –stood by CAIR despite its history and the anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist social media posts by some of its chapter leaders.
When asked for comment, SVCF spokeswoman Sue McAllister initially sent a statement issued last year after Pipes’ Middle East Forum raised concerns about its CAIR donations. SVCF’s statement slammed MEF for describing CAIR as an “extremist” organization with “ties to terrorism.” After IPT provided McAllister examples of extreme statements by CAIR San Francisco Bay Area chapter Executive Director Zahra Billoo, McAllister said that SVCF’s support for CAIR remains solid in response to the IPT’s emailed question and materials.
The examples IPT gave to McAllister included a 2014 tweet in which Billoo wrote, “Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at [Apartheid] Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist. #FreePalestine v @KathlynGadd,” and her Nov. 29 repetition of the slogan “From the river to the sea, #Palestine will be free” that caused CNN to fire Marc Lamont Hill. The slogan is commonly used by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists and amounts to a call for Israel’s destruction.
“Our stance on this topic has not changed. This is the only comment we have on this topic currently,” McAllister said in her emailed response.
The SVCF gave CAIR $734,106 in 2017. That March, Billoo said that she spoke with the SVCF about the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban” on behalf of CAIR SFBA, bragging that she was “now the Duchess of SILICON VALLEY COMMUNITY FOUNDATION.” Billoo also attended a “Faith leaders and activists roundtable” with Bazian and a SVCF representative in November 2016.
Billoo used her SVCF contacts to get a donor to give a $500,000 grant to CAIR’s national office through Solidarity Giving, a donor advised fund run by billionaire WhatsApp? founder Brian Acton, a source with knowledge of SVCF’s relationship with CAIR told the IPT. Solidarity Giving says the grant was given to “Strengthen chapters in 37 states and support all Muslim communities in the US.” Solidarity Giving also gave two additional $100,000 grants to CAIR’s national office in 2017 and 2018. Acton and his wife, Tegan, gave $290 million to the SVCF in 2014, which helped them create Solidarity Giving.
Solidarity Giving did not respond to the IPT’s request for comment.
Cummins Foundation spokeswoman Joyce Vyriotes declined to comment about CAIR’s support for terror or CAIR Massachusetts Youth Empowerment Coordinator Sumaiya Zama‘s anti-Semitism. Zama tweeted in February that “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot was “not a hero of all women” because she’s an Israeli. Zama also defended L’Oreal model Amena Khan, who was fired in January for a series of anti-Israel tweets. “Opposition to Zionism shouldn’t be something we have to apologize for,” Zama wrote.
The IPT contacted every donor discussed in this article seeking comment.
Those which provided responses are quoted by name.
The donors are unwilling to consider CAIR’s questionable history and bigoted Islamist rhetoric despite a long paper trail, said Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). To Jasser, CAIR’s civil rights work carries a public-relations benefit that fails to cover for its broader anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian terrorist propagandistic agenda.
“Hamas has clinics too,” he said. “That doesn’t absolve them of being Islamists and fascists and bigots. CAIR’s history is full of exploiting vulnerable victims to make some kind of anti-American, anti-Israel anti-Western point. If David Duke had an organization … or whoever it is who is the so-called Alt-Right is today, if they start to do interfaith work and defend the right of Christians to have beards in the military, hijabs on women and started to do things you thought were all about integration and interfaith would that change the fact it’s a fascist organization or a bigoted organization?”
While SVCF and the California Wellness Foundation denied CAIR’s ties to terrorists, Jasser pointed out that several CAIR leaders have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.
CAIR chapters actively lobbied in support of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to isolate the Jewish state economically, politically and academically. The BDS National Committee, international organization that coordinates the BDS movement, includes representatives from groups classified by the State Department as terrorists, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) under the banner of the Council on National and Islamic Forces (CNIF).
CAIR California stands completely behind BDS. Billoo posted the BDS National Committee’s logo on her Twitter feed in August 2016 and told her followers to email California legislators asking them to oppose an anti-BDS bill later signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. CAIR Los Angeles Executive Director Hussam Ayloush highlighted a national CAIR effort to fight anti-BDS legislation on the national level in a July 2017 tweet, calling it an attempt to “criminalize” speech.
“More #BDS – #CAIR Action Alert: Oppose Israel Anti-Boycott Act, Congress Must Stop Its Attempt to Criminalize Free Speech,” Ayloush wrote.
CAIR Florida also actively lobbied against similar state anti-BDS legislation to no avail.
CAIR California Rakes in the Cash Despite the Hate
The California Community Foundation gave CAIR California a $98,000 this year in two grants related to immigration and the 2020 census. The foundation has given CAIR California $339,175 since 2012. It helped underwrite the cost of CAIR California’s 2016 Civil Rights Report. It had no comment when asked about hate-filled invectives by CAIR California officials.
CAIR SFBA received a $75,000 grant from the Levi Strauss Foundation in 2017 as part of a $1 million pledge aimed at supporting organizations that fight for “civil liberties of highly vulnerable communities across the United States” including immigrants and refugees. The Blue Cross Foundation of California gave CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter a $50,000 grant in 2017 to address mental-health issues.
Billoo isn’t the only radical in CAIR California. Like Billoo, CAIR Los Angeles Executive Director Hussam Ayloush compares American Jews who join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with terrorists who join ISIS or al-Qaida.
“Do you know how many hundreds of Jewish American kids are recruited to join the Israeli occupation army?” Ayloush said last May. “No one has ever established a CVE program to see why normal American kids leave their homes to become part of an army committing war crimes… They go to the American Muslim community, although the number of Muslims who join ISIS and Al-Qaeda is … tiny.”
He explicitly called for Israel’s destruction last month, saying that everyone in the region would be better off if its regime was “terminated.”
Major donations also came into CAIR California and other chapters from foundations connected with George Soros’ National Security and Human Rights Campaign (NSHRC), which contributed tens of millions of dollars to subverting U.S. national security over the past decade.
This includes the Open Society Foundations (OSF), which gave CAIR chapters in New York, Florida, Texas and California more than $366,000 in grants during 2017 to fund hate crimes reporting, public relations and educational outreach. The Proteus Fund also is a NSHRC participant.
Most CAIR chapters only receive a small portion of their funding from non-Muslims, and CAIR California is not an exception. CAIR California had $3.8 million in revenues and $2.65 million in expenditures in 2016, its most recent annual report shows. The money was distributed to CAIR offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and the Sacramento Valley.
Of that $3.8 million, $435,177 came from non-Muslim foundations, representing 11.4 percent of CAIR California’s budgets.
Elsewhere, CAIR’s Minnesota chapter received a $100,000 grant from the Bush Foundation, and its Massachusetts chapter received a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation in 2017. Cummings gave CAIR Massachusetts a second grant for $100,000 in June 2018 to “support civil rights programming for the Massachusetts Muslim community.”
Bar foundations in Florida, California, Minnesota and Illinois also sponsored legal fellowships at CAIR. The Florida Bar Foundation gave CAIR Florida a $50,000 grant this year to sponsor a fellowship. CAIR SFBA received a $5,000 grant for a legal fellowship from the Asian American Bar Association in 2017. The Hennepin County Bar Foundation in Minnesota gave CAIR Minnesota a $7,000 grant for 2018 and $5,000 grants in 2014, 2015 and 2016. CAIR Minnesota also received a $2,000 grant from the Minnesota State Bar Association in 2016. And the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area Law Foundation gave CAIR Chicago $5,000 for a fellowship in 2017.
In 2016, tax records show that CAIR Minnesota had $357,566 in revenues and $291,517 in expenditures. It received a total of $73,907 from non-Muslim foundations for the 2016 fiscal year or about 21 percent of its revenue that year. Former CAIR Minnesota Executive Director Lori Soraya assembled a wide network of funders in the area around the Twin Cities that continues to fund the chapter.
IRS records show that the Minneapolis-based Bush Foundation – named for 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife, Edyth – gave the most to CAIR Minnesota in recent years, donating $167,500 between 2015 and 2017. CAIR Minnesota also received $57,200 from the St. Paul Foundation since 2012; $109,500 from the F.R. Bigelow Foundation since 2013 to fund free legal services; $25,000 in 2017 and another $25,000 in 2018 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota to challenge Islamophobia; and $60,000 from the Headwaters Fund for Justice between 2012 and 2016.
Money continues to flow to CAIR from non-Muslim foundations. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation gave CAIR Florida $89,000 on Dec. 26 to open an office in Fort Myers .The community groups donating to CAIR may be well intended. Fighting discrimination and standing up for a seemingly oppressed people is laudable. But in doing so, these groups ignore CAIR’s irresponsible rhetoric and documented connections to a terrorist-support network. In trying to do good, they empower an organization which often advances a very harmful agenda and marginalizes Muslims who do not share CAIR’s Islamist ideology.
Research Analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.