Jewish, pro-Israel groups slam National Press Club for renting space to ‘Hamas-adjacent’ group

Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff: ‘They would not rent, I would hope, to the Ku Klux Klan. They would not rent, I would hope, to Louis Farrakhan.’

UNITED STATES - MARCH 26: Flags blow in the wind at the National Press Building (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Jewish leaders are raising concerns about the National Press Club serving as the venue for a conference organized by Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) earlier this week.

The event, which took place on Tuesday, was titled “Unmasking the UAE: Transnational Repression & Lobbying Power” and placed a critical lens on the United States’ relationship with the United Arab Emirates. The NPC regularly rents out event space to groups that are unaffiliated with the venue itself, though the decision to permit DAWN to use their facilities was met with condemnation in the Jewish community. 

William Daroff, who leads the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Jewish Insider that allowing DAWN to hold an event at the Club gave the group unwarranted legitimacy. 

“There’s a reason people go to the National Press Club. They go to the National Press Club for events. It gives the imprimatur of the organization being a part of the sort of Washington media establishment – they’re having this event in the heart of the American media, with the coverage that comes from that, with the apparent stamp of approval that flows from that,” Daroff said. 

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told JI: “Legitimacy should not be granted to an explicitly anti-Israel organization which is extremely hostile to America’s ally.”

Reached for comment on its decision to rent space to the organization, a spokesperson for the National Press Club told JI that, “As we are also a business and we are open, same as a hotel or convention center, we are renting spaces and providing food and beverage to the client, like any rental business without discrimination.”

Daroff pushed back, saying, “The idea that they would rent to anybody is ridiculous, because clearly they would not rent to anyone. They would not rent, I would hope, to the Ku Klux Klan. They would not rent, I would hope, to Louis Farrakhan. Certainly, this organization, DAWN, is one that should be beyond the pale, and is, in fact, beyond the pale.”

“I am deeply disappointed in the National Press Club for either not having standards or having standards that are so low as to be useless,” he continued. 

“I’ve been attending events at the National Press Club for decades and have deep respect for them as an organization, but am deeply concerned that they would lease space to an organization that, charitably spoken is Hamas-adjacent, but which certainly has ties to dangerous anti-American and antisemitic elements. I would encourage the National Press Club to reassess their policy of renting space to ‘anyone.’”

DAWN holds the position that Israel is an apartheid state, and has penned letters calling for the U.N. to adopt sanctions and for the world to institute an arms embargo against the Jewish state. Both of those letters were co-signed by organizations including Al-Haq, Addameer and others, which Israel has designated as terrorist groups for their ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. 

It has also called for individual IDF officers to be banned from the U.S. and investigated by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. It also opposes the Abraham Accords, which it calls “regressive” and “an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the U.S. and authoritarian regimes…in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights.”

The organization  was started by dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents before the organization publicly launched in 2018. According to the DAWN website, it seeks to promote “the human rights, liberty, and dignity of every person in the Middle East and North Africa … upheld by democratically elected governments,” and focuses on “governments with close ties to the United States and on the military, diplomatic, and economic support the U.S. government provides them.”

The NGO has vowed to oppose Saudi-Israeli normalization efforts over the murder of Khashoggi.

Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, is formerly the director of MENA for Human Rights Watch. A 2010 article in The New Republic argued that fighting within the organization led its founder, Robert Bernstein, to conclude that HRW “has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields.” Bernstein named Whitson as the driver behind the group’s sharp anti-Israel turn.

Months after Bernstein’s op-ed was published, Whitson and others from HRW met with Hamas officials to assure them of the organization’s “neutrality and objectivity.” 

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, has described Whitson as having “trafficked in a toxic stereotype about Jews” and “suggest[ing] a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world politically, culturally and economically.”

Whitson has argued that Holocaust museums should be required to show footage of recent suffering in Gaza and evoked what experts have described as the blood libel of equating Israel’s military actions in Gaza with the Holocaust. She also spread the conspiracy theory that Israeli helicopters killed revelers at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, where Hamas massacred attendees.

DAWN has had an “Israel-Palestine program” since 2022, and in that short time, NGO Monitor, an Israel-based research institute that tracks the funding and activities of such groups, has compiled an extensive list of actions DAWN has taken against Israel. They found that the group has received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

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