cair concerns

Baltimore lawmaker seeks to remove CAIR from Md. hate crimes commission

Law creating the commission explicitly guaranteed CAIR, whose executive director praised the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, representation on the civil rights panel

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Zainab Chaudry speaks during a press conference at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., on February 16, 2015.

A legislative effort is underway in Maryland to remove the Council on American-Islamic Relations from a state hate crimes body after the organization’s Maryland director published a series of antisemitic Facebook posts after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel, a lawmaker confirmed to Jewish Insider

“We are working on legislation to remove CAIR from the [Maryland Hate Crimes] Commission,” Del. Dalya Attar, a Baltimore Democrat, said on Wednesday, a week before the start of Maryland’s 2024 legislative session. “Legislation will be drafted and submitted then.” Attar said she has the backing of several other Jewish legislators. 

CAIR Maryland’s director, Zainab Chaudry, was temporarily suspended from the commission in November after JI revealed that her Facebook posts after Oct. 7 had glorified Hamas and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. But she was reinstated in December when Maryland’s attorney general determined he lacked the power to formally remove her from the body. 

The law creating the commission, passed last year, explicitly named the organizations that would be represented on the body — and CAIR was named in the legislation, meaning even if Chaudry is removed, the group would still be represented by someone else. Several lawmakers have called for Chaudry’s removal. (Chaudry has said that her posts don’t violate the body’s standards.)

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said in November that he “was happy to see” the Oct. 7 attack, which he characterized as “self-defense.” Those comments earned a rebuke from the White House and a promise that CAIR would not be part of the ongoing Biden administration effort to craft a national strategy on Islamophobia.

The burgeoning legislative push, still in early stages, has earned the tentative support of some Jewish organizations who are represented on the body alongside CAIR, while other Jewish leaders are more hesitant.

“If lawmakers think it would be appropriate to remove CAIR as a designated organization, particularly given the White House’s decision on that as well, I think that’s something we would certainly be open to supporting as well,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, which is represented on the commission. 

The Anti-Defamation League is ready to support efforts to remove CAIR from the commission, ADL Washington Director Meredith Weisel told JI. 

“It’s CAIR as a whole, and also her individually as part of that organization,” Weisel said. “There certainly should be Muslim representatives on the commission. I think that there are other organizations out there that are probably more mainstream [than CAIR].”

CAIR has a history of trafficking in antisemitic tropes dating back before Oct. 7. In 2021, the group’s San Francisco director called synagogues, Hillel centers and other Jewish organizations that support Israel “enemies.” 

The Maryland activists and lawmakers who last year backed the bipartisan bill creating the commission told JI that there was no real debate at the time about whether CAIR should be on a body responsible for assessing the state’s response to bias incidents. Their argument rests on a degree of bureaucracy: They say the law creating the commission simply maintained (and expanded) the makeup of an earlier, temporary hate crimes task force, created in 2021 by then-Attorney General Brian Frosh, which included CAIR. (Frosh did not respond to a request for comment.)

“Nobody really looked at it as problematic because these were groups that were involved,” Weisel said. “At the time, even though CAIR has, certainly, a long history of challenges, it was nothing that rose to the level that we’re seeing now.”

Del. Joe Vogel, the lead sponsor of last year’s bill, told JI he “trusted the composition of the task force as it existed.”

“I had my concerns with CAIR. There was a conversation around that, for sure, and something that I had to consider,” Vogel told JI. “But ultimately I think that the way to be most fair in this process was to allow the groups that were already part of the task force to be part of the commission without us intervening and removing groups that had already been part of the process.”

Vogel plans to “at the very least” support legislation that will give the attorney general power to remove members. But Vogel did not say if he would back efforts to remove CAIR from the commission. 

“I think the way that CAIR has been vocal in advancing some pretty antisemitic rhetoric since October 7 has been deeply problematic,” said Vogel, who is also running for Congress in Maryland. But, he added, “at the same time we need to make sure that this commission maintains the viewpoints and the perspectives of the Muslim American community, since they’re also a community that has been disproportionately impacted by the surge in hate crime. We have to be strategic here. We have to consider the input of all different communities.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, expressed frustration with CAIR’s place on the commission but was skeptical that the legislature would be able to remove the group.

“It’s self-evident that [Chaudry] should not be on the commission itself and that CAIR should not be on the commission in their current constitution, but I don’t know if we can accomplish that legislatively,” Halber said. “Certainly we are looking for mechanisms to correct this issue so that a person who embodies these hateful values, and whose ideas are not conducive to the commission’s mission, are able to be removed.”

Del. Susan McComas, a Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, said she did not know enough about CAIR to say whether the group should be removed. “No one could have foreseen the latest war between Hamas and Israel when we voted for the Maryland Hate Crimes Commission. This war has created a further divide between two major faiths, ethnic communities and ancient civilizations,” McComas said. “I hope Commissioner Chaudry regrets her statement.”

A spokesperson for CAIR did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown, who has pledged to draft a code of conduct for the commission’s members, declined to comment. In a November press release, he said Chaudry’s posts “risk disrupting the work and mission of the Commission.” 

Brittany Marshall, senior press secretary for Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, pointed out that the governor has no say over the commission’s members. (Moore signed the bill establishing it last year.)

“Governor Moore strongly condemns antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech and discrimination. The governor believes that members of all state boards and commissions should be held, and should hold themselves, to the highest level of accountability and integrity,” said Marshall. She declined to say whether Moore would support efforts to remove CAIR.

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