Two weeks after Maryland’s attorney general suspended the staffer of an Islamist organization from the state’s hate crimes commission for promoting hatred of Israel on the internet, he reinstated her on the grounds that he lacked the legal authority to suspend her in the first place. The episode highlights the inherent incompatibility of including an Islamist organization on any commission tasked with fighting hate.
The incident began when Zainab Chaudry, director of the Maryland branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), responded to Hamas’s October 7 massacre by publicly likening Israel to the Nazis, referred to Hamas attackers as “freedom fighters,” and wrote on her Facebook, “I will never be able to understand how the world summoned up rage for 40 fake Israeli babies while completely turning a blind eye to 3,000 real Palestinian babies.”
In response, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown suspended Chaudry from Maryland’s Commission on Hate Crimes Response and Prevention on November 21, saying that her presence risked “disrupting the work and mission of the Commission.”
Brown then reinstated her on December 6. Oddly, the law establishing the commission, which Governor Wes Moore approved in May, required the appointment of a staffer from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to serve alongside 19 other stakeholder organizations voted by Maryland legislators to represent targets of hate.
A press release from AG Brown’s office states that he does not have the authority to remove or suspend members of the commission. “Upon further review, it was determined that the law establishing the Commission directs the Attorney General to appoint members to a 4-year fixed term but does not provide the Attorney General the authority to remove a Commissioner before the expiration of their term nor the authority to suspend a Commissioner during their term of service.”
CAIR, the organization which Chaudry belongs to, is a notorious purveyor of anti-Israel hatred. The organization has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and its leaders regularly defend Hamas, a designated terrorist organization regarded as the Palestinian branch of the MB. In 2008, federal prosecutors listed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation prosecution after they determined that HLF had funneled millions to Hamas. In 1994, the organization’s National Director, Nihad Awad, publicly stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” The Hamas Charter calls for obliterating Israel.
On October 8, Awad tweeted, “All Arab peoples must go out on Sunday, October 8, and every day, in demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and in rejection of normalization with the occupier and the apartheid regime,” a statement notably consistent with Hamas’s call for Jihad and rejection of “initiatives” and “so-called peaceful solutions.” In late November, Awad expressed joy over the Hamas attack on Israel while speaking at the American Muslims for Palestine annual convention. “The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege, the walls of the concentration camp, on October 7th. And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege,” he said, adding, “The people of Gaza have the right to self-defense, have the right to defend themselves, and yes, Israel as an occupying power does not have that right to self-defense.”
“We condemn these shocking, antisemitic statements in the strongest terms,” said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates in response to Awad’s remarks. “The horrific, brutal terrorist attacks committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 were, as President Biden said, ‘abhorrent’ and represent ‘unadulterated evil,’” said Bates. The White House also removed CAIR from its list of organizations gathered to fight antisemitism.
“Putting CAIR on this commission is tantamount to giving a seat to Hamas,” Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, a Rabbinic public policy organization headquartered in Baltimore told Focus on Western Islamism (FWI). “It’s simply mind boggling that Maryland put CAIR on the commission when they are one of the leading purveyors of antisemitism in the country,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that the AG had to re-instate Chaudry to the commission. His hands are tied. There’s no way that Chaudry belongs on that commission,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Maryland (which has a seat on the commission). “It’s preposterous that Chaudry, who purveys hate, should be part of a commission tasked with stopping it.”
The attorney general may have more authority under the law than he claims, reports David Bernstein, a professor at George Mason University’s law school. “The law says what the terms for members are but doesn’t say anything one way or another about removal,” he said. “I think one would have to look to precedents from other Maryland commissions.”
“We don’t know what kind of a deal was struck to get her back on the commission,” said Jeffrey Trimbath, President of the Maryland Family Institute, a Christian activist organization in the state. “The security of Maryland could be compromised because of this. It’s a win for antisemitism and it’s a win for terrorists.”
Following the AG’s November 21 suspension of Chaudry, seven Maryland lawmakers who voted against creating the commission sent a letter to AG Brown urging him to remove Chaudry from the body. “The aggressive antisemitism of this post is unseemly from any decent person but is especially objectionable from someone serving on a commission whose sole purpose is to prevent hate,” the letter stated, referring to Chaudry’s post that compared Israel to Nazis.
Two Maryland lawmakers who signed the original letter and voted against creating the commission, Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki, who both represent Baltimore County expressed dismay over Chaudry’s reinstatement.
“The government should not be in the business of establishing speech codes. It’s already illegal for an individual or group to threaten violence and/or incite violence upon another person or group,” Szeliga and Nawrocki declared in an email to FWI. “CAIR is an organization that supports the elimination of Israel, which by definition threatens/incites violence. Yet, CAIR is represented on the Commission? Why?”
“Anyone associated with CAIR on the antisemitism issue is the wolf guarding the hen house. If you’re not against hate everywhere, then you’re not against it anywhere,” said Menken to FWI.
Susannah Johnston is Focus on Western Islamism’s investigative reporter.