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Barbara Boxer Rescinds Award to CAIR

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I’m about to write something quite unusual. I hope you’re sitting down. This may be the only time I ever give major LGF kudos to …

Senator Barbara Boxer. No. Really.

She apparently took a closer look at the radical front group calling itself the Council on American Islamic Relations, and rescinded an award to a CAIR official. (Hat tip: Snarking Dawg.)

Dec. 29, 2006 - In a highly unusual move, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has rescinded an award to an Islamic activist in her home state because of the man’s connections to a major American Muslim organization that recently has been courted by leading political figures and even the FBI.

Boxer’s office confirmed to NEWSWEEK that she has withdrawn a “certificate of accomplishment” to Sacramento activist Basim Elkarra after learning that he serves as an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). After directing her staff to look into CAIR, Boxer “expressed concern” about some past statements and actions by the group, as well as assertions by some law enforcement officials that it “gives aid to international terrorist groups,” according to Natalie Ravitz, the senator’s press spokeswoman.

CAIR, which has 32 offices around the country and bills itself as the leading Muslim-American civil- rights group, has never been charged with any crimes, nor have any of its top leaders. But a handful of individuals who have had ties to CAIR in the past have been convicted or deported for financial dealings with Hamas—another reason cited by Boxer for her action. The senator directed her staff to withdraw the certificate—which she routinely gives to community leaders in California—and asked that a statement she had previously made endorsing CAIR be stricken from the group’s Web site, Ravitz said in an e-mail.

Ironically, just last month, Boxer had sent CAIR a letter in connection with its 10th anniversary fundraising dinner endorsing the group as a “constant support system for the American Muslim community” and praising it for its work on civil liberties. “As an advocate for justice and greater understanding, CAIR embodies what we should all strive to achieve,” Boxer wrote in the Nov. 18 letter.

Boxer tells NEWSWEEK she never saw the letter to CAIR signed in her name or was even aware of the award to Elkarra before it was sent out. “I feel terrible about this,” she says. “We just made a mistake. I was not in the loop. That was an automatic signature [on the letter].” But Boxer stands by her decision to withdraw the award and to distance herself from CAIR, saying she was influenced by previous critical statements about CAIR made by her Democratic colleagues Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York. “To praise an organization because they haven’t been indicted is like somebody saying, ‘I’m not a crook,’” Boxer says. “I’m going to take a lot of hits for this. But I’m just doing what I think is right.”

CAIR responds predictably: it’s Islamophobia, spread by Jews!

The move outraged CAIR officials who charged that the liberal Democratic senator was responding to the writings of Joe Kaufman, a blogger who has expressed sympathy for slain Jewish extremist Meir Kahane in the past , and whose columns regularly appear on the Web site of conservative activist David Horowitz. CAIR has formally asked for a meeting with Boxer and demanded that she withdraw the action—which one top CAIR official said smacks of “Islamophobia.”

“This is an attempt to marginalize the largest and most mainstream Muslim organization in the country,” says Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s office in southern California. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Nihad Awad, CAIR’s top Washington official, vigorously denied the charges that CAIR has any links to terror groups and said the allegations are based on a “deliberate smear campaign” by individuals who cannot brook any criticism of the Israeli government. “We feel that the same crowd who is pushing these smears against CAIR is the same crowd as the neocons that pushed us into the Iraq war,” he says. “They are trying to smear the Muslim community and they are trying to silence its voice. This takes us back to the McCarthy era.” …

CAIR Executive Director Awad refuses to say whether he would also condemn Hamas—which has taken credit for similar attacks in Israel—as a group or even whether he considers it a terrorist organization like the U.S. State Department does. “We condemn these groups when they committed acts of terrorism,” he says. “But I’m not going to play the game of the pro-Israel lobby just so they can put words in our mouth. Our position is very clear.

“The entire issue is going back to Israel,” Awad adds. “If you love Israel, you’re OK. If you question Israel, you’re not. If that is the litmus test, no American Muslim and no freedom-loving person is going to pass that test.”

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