Shooting The Messenger: Silicon Valley Foundation Lashes Out At Middle East Forum

Gregg Roman Director, Middle East Forum
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The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) ranks as the country’s wealthiest community foundation, with more than $8 billion in assets. It has also enjoyed hugely positive press coverage during its 10-year history: “Why Silicon Valley Community Foundation doesn’t just donate. It advocates,” read one prominent headline last month.

At the same time, SVCF has come under criticism for lack of oversight, ignoring local causes in favor of high-profile national and global initiatives, and crowding out more deserving charities. Worse than any of these problems, the Middle East Forum has revealed that SVCF has provided eight donations totaling $330,524 to two extremist organizations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Relief.

Over a month ago, we privately contacted SVCF with evidence of the extremist links of CAIR and Islamic Relief. We sent letters explaining the bigotries of its officials and the clerics who speak at their events. But SVCF officials refused to discuss the matter.

The Middle East Forum is now publicly calling for an immediate and permanent termination of funding. As the Forum explained in its online petition and accompanying press release, it’s unconscionable that such a leading institution as SVCF, which claims to support “understanding and tolerance,” should help organizations that rely on ignorance and hatred.

To be precise, CAIR and Islamic Relief have a long history of providing platforms to speakers who denigrate and threaten women, Jews, Christians, the LGBTQ community, and Muslims belonging to minority sects.

Siraj Wahhaj, for instance, is a former member of CAIR’s advisory board, and a regular speaker at its conferences and fundraisers all across the country. He has called homosexuals a “disease in society,” “cursed,” and worthy of harassment. Other regular speakers at CAIR and Islamic Relief events include Omar Suleiman, who has rationalized honor killings, telling women thinking of promiscuity, “[Y]ou know what happens with a really jealous Dad? He kills you and he kills the guy. You are offending Allah.” Or Jamal Badawi, who has said that men have a right to beat their wives, while Abdul Nasir Jangda has argued that they have the right to rape them

It should not be politically divisive to state that these ideas are incompatible with SVCF’s self-proclaimed commitment to diversity and tolerance.

Responding to MEF’s revelations, SVCF released a press release that, oddly, did not contest the substance of these claims. Instead, it engaged in a flurry of ad hominem attacks on the Forum on a variety of different subjects. In contrast, we do not impugn SVCF’s leaders. We are interested not in harming their reputation but in educating them about the vile, divisive rhetoric promulgated by CAIR and Islamic Relief.

Next, SVCF’s half-hearted defense of these two groups notes that CAIR officials aren’t presently flagged on U.S. terrorism watch lists – a dubious fact, given that six of their predecessors have been convicted of terror-related charges. It also claims the organization is in “good standing with federal agencies,” despite the fact that the FBI and the Justice Department have blacklisted CAIR since it was named as an unindicted coconspirator during a terrorism financing case in 2008, a policy reaffirmed in 2013 under the Obama administration. Both CAIR and Islamic Relief are designated as terrorist groups in the United Arab Emirates. And the Anti-Defamation League has criticized CAIR for promoting anti-Jewish sentiment.

When the SVCF funds these groups, it is legitimizing Islamists as leaders of American Islam. SVCF is giving extremists the funds and prestige to speak on behalf of ordinary Muslims. It is actively working against those moderate Muslims who do not recognize the homophobia and other bigotries of these Islamist institutions.

SVCF leaders should skip the attacks on us and instead do some serious introspection about funding such ugly outfits as CAIR and Islamic Relief.  At a minimum, this should lead them to immediately and permanently terminate all aid to these two organizations. For the sake of moderate Muslims who fight every day to free their faith from the grip of Islamist groups, SVCF should also issue a public statement acknowledging the error of their prior ways.

If the foundation really wants to put its money where its mouth is, it should give funding to those moderate Muslim American groups working to fight Islamic extremism, advise other foundations to do the same, and spread the message that tolerating intolerance is not an unavoidable cost of doing charitable work with Muslims or any other ethno-religious group in America.