Connecticut connections

Jahana Hayes defends meeting with CAIR chapter, praise for anti-Israel group

The congresswoman acknowledged inflammatory comments by CAIR’s national director while still defending her decision to meet with members of the group

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) speaks on gun legislation at the U.S. Capitol on December 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) doubled down this week on her decision to meet with the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as well as other past praise of the group, amid a renewed wave of criticism.

CAIR has a long record of antisemitic rhetoric, including condemning Israel on Oct. 7 without mentioning the Hamas attack, and its founder and executive director, Nihad Awad, has praised the Hamas attack and invoked antisemitic tropes. Following Awad’s comments lauding the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, the Biden White House pledged in December not to meet with CAIR. 

Hayes is facing criticism from a Republican state senator and an adviser to her Republican opponent, George Logan, over a December meeting with CAIR’s Connecticut chapter and a 2019 letter praising the group.

In response, Hayes acknowledged on a local radio show on Monday that CAIR’s “national leader made some inflammatory comments and showed some support of Hamas,” but argued that it’s “crazy” to accuse her of supporting terrorism because she met with CAIR’s Connecticut chapter.

“To associate me with a terrorist group is outrageous. It is completely outrageous, and they just create these narratives, so I am going to create a contrast, every chance I get,” Hayes said.

“Just like I said and have been saying all along, it is literally my job as the congresswoman to talk to people who have differing viewpoints, who have different opinions [than] me and these members of the Muslim community have family members in Palestine, that they were concerned about and they requested a meeting with their congresswoman that I took,” she continued. 

She said that the letter was “thanking [CAIR] for their work to combat Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate.”

She added that she had met with a range of groups after Oct. 7, including Jewish groups, AIPAC, J Street, local rabbis and Muslim groups. She compared the CAIR meeting to meetings with members of gun rights groups with whom she also disagrees.

Hayes said during the interview that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. She said she supports military aid to Israel, while calling on Israel to “be more careful about the death of innocent civilians in Gaza.” 

She also said the U.S. needs to insist on greater humanitarian aid for Gaza and gear further moves toward a two-state solution.

The battle has also played out on social media. It began when Republican state Sen. John McKinney appeared on local TV news to accuse Hayes of being aligned with “the antisemites who want to destroy Israel.”

Hayes responded on X on Sunday by highlighting an endorsement from the Jewish Democratic Council of America, calling the comments “outrageous and inflammatory” and demanding “a retraction and an apology.”

Liz Kurantowicz, the Logan adviser, responded by noting the letter and December meeting. Hayes beat Logan in the 2022 election by less than one point in a district that includes a significant Jewish constituency. The Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Democrat.”

“Tell the truth! My letter to CT CAIR was in recognition of their work to educate the community about anti Muslim hate. It is literally my job to meet with my constituents…even my Muslim constituents,” Hayes fired back. “Not letting you lie about me this time around.”

When Kurantowicz responded to Hayes with an article from the Washington Free Beacon that quoted Hayes regarding CAIR, but featured a cover image of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Hayes said, “That’s not me? I know you think we’re all the same…but that’s not me!”

The congresswoman later accused Kurantowicz of “having a meltdown” and brushed off the Free Beacon’s reporting, declaring “I’m out,” with a peace sign emoji.

CAIR’s Connecticut chapter offered a tempered defense of Hayes on X on Monday, arguing that she “has the obligation to meet with her constituents and listen to their concerns. That does not mean she agrees with our position or that we should agree with hers all the time.”

It called the criticisms of her “lazy and quite frankly racist,” while describing “Israel’s ongoing 75-year ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” as “ultimately the root cause of these troubles.” 

But CAIR Connecticut also criticized Hayes for failing to call for the immediate end of Israel’s military operations and for “committing herself to fully funding Israel with more weapons of destruction as it flouts international law,” describing Hayes as potentially “complicit in one of the largest war crimes of our century.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.