Steven Emerson appeared at the AIPAC conference on Sunday (Image via Jewsonfirst.org)
The annual Israel lobby confab has once again put its seal of approval on Islamophobia. A key member of what has been termed the “Islamophobia network” appeared Sunday at an officially scheduled session at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference.
Steven Emerson, the head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, has been a lead pusher of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. since the 1990s. On Sunday afternoon, he led a session at AIPAC titled “The Threat From Within: Islamic Radicalism in the United States.” Here’s the description, taken from AIPAC’s website:
Islamic extremists operating within the United States pose a serious risk to America’s security. Acts of domestic terrorism, as well as various attacks that have been thwarted by intelligence agencies and law enforcement, point to the severity of the threat. What can and should the United States do to combat these homegrown radicals?
Emerson, who has given testimony to Congress, also appeared at AIPAC’s conference last year, where he spoke on a similar topic. It’s unclear what exactly he said.
But the evidence that has come out in recent years about “Islamic extremists” in the United States points to the conclusion that Emerson’s session likely hyped the threat. The latest study released by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in North Carolina revealed that only 14 American Muslims last year were indicted for violent terror plots. That’s a decline from the 21 Muslim Americans indicted in 2011. What’s more, almost all of the plots from last year involved undercover agents and informants. Critics have called plots egged on by undercover agents entrapment, and many of the plots involve law enforcement agents targeting young, unemployed and/or mentally ill Muslims.
Unbiased evidence, though, is not a concern to Emerson, who has been pushing anti-Muslim politics since before the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 1991, the New York Times called one of Emerson’s books “anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian.” One of his most infamous moments came in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Emerson told a reporter that the bombing bore a “Middle Eastern trait” because it intended to “inflict as many casualties as possible.” It turned out the attack had nothing to do with Islamic extremists.
In 1995, Emerson said that “the level of vitriol against Jews and Christianity within contemporary Islam, unfortunately, is something that we are not totally cognizant of, or that we don't want to accept.We don't want to accept it because to do so would be to acknowledge that one of the world's great religions -- which has more than 1.4 billion adherents -- somehow sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine.” Emerson also opposed the Park 51 Islamic center in lower Manhattan.
What’s more, AIPAC is giving space to a man who engages in some questionable financial activities. In their landmark report on the “Islamophobia network,” the Center for American Progress took note of Emerson’s cash:
Emerson’s nonprofit organization IPT received a total of $400,000 from Donors Capital Fund in 2007 and 2008,133 as well as $100,000 from the Becker Foundation, and $250,000 from Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, according to our research. Emerson’s nonprofit organization, in turn, helps fund his for-profit company, SAE Productions. IPT paid SAE Productions $3.33 million to enable the company to “study alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism.” Emerson is SAE’s sole employee.
Even more intriguingly, a review of grants in November 2010 showed large sums of money contributed to the “Investigative Project,” or “IPT,” care of the Counterterrorism & Security Education and Research Foundation. An examination of CTSERF’s 990 forms showed that, much like the Investigative Project, all grant revenue was transferred to a private, for-profit entity, the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals...
This kind of action enrages Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog group. He argued that “basically, you have a nonprofit acting as a front organization, and all that money going to a for-profit.”
The increasing influence of Islamophobia donors to Emerson’s nonprofit and for-profit work has focused more recently on anti-Islam, anti-Muslim expertise. Indeed, according to an investigation by The Tennessean newspaper, the Investigative Project now solicits money by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims.
The appearance of a major fomenter of Islamophobia at AIPAC is a prominent example of how Islamophobia has become entwined with strong support for Israel--particularly the right-wing brand of Zionism, though more mainstream Zionist organizations, like AIPAC, also legitimize anti-Muslim sentiment.
Emerson’s appearance is in line with how the Israel lobby utilizes Islamophobia to further its own goals by trying to marginalize Muslim American political organizing and by casting the Israel/Palestine conflict as a civilizational clash between Christianity and Judaism on one side and Islam on the other. Yet another prominent example of how mainstream Israel lobby groups legitimize Islamophobia was exposed in this post, where I reported that a former member of the Israel Project’s board funded anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller in 2010.
AIPAC’s seal of approval for Emerson also runs counter to the Israel lobby organization’s pronounced goal of making AIPAC look “more like America,” as its president said on Sunday.
Ironically, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told the AIPAC conference--on the same day that Emerson appeared--that his main message was to “reach out to the churches in your community, to the African-Americans, the Latinos, to the mosques” to boost pro-Israel sentiment. Having Emerson as an official speaker at your conference is probably not the way to do that.
But support for Emerson serves a much more important political purpose--so don’t expect AIPAC to drop him any time soon.