A controversial speaker advertised as sharing a podium later this month with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was removed late yesterday afternoon from the promotional materials for the event after my Washington Examiner piece (and a similar story by the Jerusalem Post) highlighted Omar’s scheduled participation.
Omar press aide Jeremy Slevin sent several Twitter direct messages to me last night asserting that the other speaker, one Yousef Abdallah, not only was not on the program, but had never been scheduled to speak at the dinner in question. Yet Abdallah had been prominently featured as one of the slated speakers both in flyers and in online advertisements for the event since at least Jan 31, in other words, for at least 13 days, possibly longer.
All of these questions arise as a result of statements last week by Omar so widely interpreted as anti-Semitic that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., publicly rebuked the freshman from Minnesota. The statements furthered the ongoing concerns that Omar traffics in “anti-Semitic tropes.”
The scheduled Feb. 23 event in question is billed as a dinner for relief of war-torn Yemen. It is sponsored by Islamic Relief USA, which has been identified by numerous governmental and banking entities as a financier or ally of terror-sponsoring groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. IRUSA disputes those characterizations.
When I asked Slevin to explain how Abdallah had been on the advertisements for so long if he had never been invited to speak and to answer whether Omar was aware of IRUSA’s status as an accused terror-financer, Slevin merely sent a link to a Jerusalem Post follow-up exploring the odd timeline of the dinner advertisements. That story was somewhat responsive to the first question, but not at all responsive to the second one.
To cite the Jerusalem Post report, “On January 19, Slevin said, Islamic Relief USA’s ‘Florida staff notified the marketing department to remove Yousef Abdallah from the flyer because he was not a speaker.’ But that was never done and the flyer was printed with Abdallah’s name. Slevin explained by saying the flyer was based on a template used for a previous event in which Abdallah participated. He also claimed that on February 6, Omar requested details of the program and topics, but said they ‘were not provided to Ilhan’s staff.’”
This is ludicrous. Web pages can be updated almost instantaneously. Yet by Slevin’s own account, it had been known not just since Jan. 31, but as early as Jan. 19, that the advertisement was (supposedly) in error. Nonetheless, the error was not corrected until after the Feb. 12 press coverage, a full 24 days later, questioned Omar’s judgment in participating in the event.
I then turned to Syed Hassan, a spokesman for IRUSA. I repeated, in detail, my questions about whether Abdallah was ever scheduled to speak, and why his name had remained on the flyers and websites for weeks, all the way until after the Washington Examiner and Jerusalem Post stories were published on Feb. 12. I also asked if Abdallah remains an employee of IRUSA despite his patently anti-Semitic social media posts, and if IRUSA either disputes the evidence of its support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood or disputes the categorization of those groups as being sponsors of terrorism.
Five hours later (after an intervening phone call), Hassan replied with a lengthy statement that again was partially responsive. He said Abdallah would not be a speaker and “was listed on the flyer due to an internal printing error. While it could not be corrected on flyers that have already been released, event details have been corrected on the event page on our website.” He did not directly answer whether Abdallah had ever been scheduled as a speaker for this month’s event, or why it took so long to take his name off the website and any subsequently printed flyers after the error was discovered so long ago.
Moreover, Hassan says Abdallah does indeed remain an employee of IRUSA despite his posts celebrating violence against Jews:
Islamic Relief USA does not condone or defend any statement made by Abdallah, or any individual, who promotes discrimination or violence of any kind. ... In accordance with Islamic Relief USA’s strict non-discrimination policies and standards of conduct, Yousef Abdallah was immediately subjected to internal disciplinary and remedial action following knowledge of his actions. Moreover, Islamic Relief USA continued to demonstrate its values by increasing its existing efforts in diversity and sensitivity trainings for staff. These efforts include visiting the Holocaust Museum to better understand the tremendous impact of hateful rhetoric and attending an international conference on anti-Semitism. Last year, Islamic Relief representatives visited Auschwitz and reflected on the evils of anti-Semitism and subsequently shared these experiences with staff.
As for all the governmental and banking entities that have cited Islamic Relief’s ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan wrote generically, rather than in response to the specific citations:
Islamic Relief USA has a demonstrable history of extensive engagement and collaboration with multi-faith and secular partners, including prominent Jewish American organizations, to implement its shared mission of alleviating poverty and human suffering in the United States and across the world. Islamic Relief USA categorically condemns and abhors discrimination and violence manifested in any form. Further, any suggestion that Islamic Relief USA is subject to undue influence or is affiliated with any external political or religious organization or entity, is unequivocally false and not grounded in fact.
Asked yet again to respond to the more specific questions about the timeline of the advertisements listing Abdallah as a speaker alongside Rep. Omar, Hassan did not reply. He had said in earlier communications that he intends to submit a guest column for the Washington Examiner’s consideration.
So let’s pause to put this in perspective. Rep. Omar has been accused for years of, at the very least, gross insensitivity to the dangers of anti-Semitism, yet she continues to promote anti-Semitic propaganda and to associate with entities credibly accused of support for anti-Jewish violence. When asked about yet another scheduled event along the same lines, her press aide offered obfuscations and not-very-believable excuses, but no straight answers.
Meanwhile, the group sponsoring the dinner, IRUSA, denies any anti-Semitic activity, but still employs a man whose tweets express approval for the act of killing more than 20 Jews and firing missiles into Tel Aviv, along with one calling on God to “destroy [Zionists] as you destroyed the peoples of Ad, Thamud and Lot.” And somehow, this IRUSA employee was mistakenly billed as a speaker at an event with Omar, due to ... an internal printing error?
Any sound-minded member of Congress would run for her life from the podium of such a group. And when caught participating in such an event, she would withdraw from it, not have her press aide offer absurd explanations and excuses.
At issue here is not merely Omar’s alleged bigotry, but her integrity as well. One can only get away with so many falsehoods. Her continued membership on key House committees should be very much in question.