Activists and concerned citizens attending an August 17 Palm Beach County School District hearing called on two board members to return awards recently granted by the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF), a partnership of the region’s most radical mosques and Islamic nonprofits. The hearing occurred after a third board member, Vice Chair Karen Brill, agreed to renounce her award and pledged to “never” work with SFMF officials again.
“School board members, you like to talk about diversity, but by standing with the South Florida Muslim Federation, you are standing with the worst of violence and bigotry,” said Joe Kaufman, an associate with the Counter-Islamist Grid and founder of the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative. “Shame on you. Return the awards now,” he said.
In June, SFMF held an “appreciation lunch” honoring board members Brill, Erica Whitfield, and Alexandria Ayala. The trio received plaques recognizing their “efforts and support towards equity and inclusion” for giving Muslim students a day off of school on Eid Al-Fitr, the final day of Ramadan.
Prior to the hearing, Kaufman and other residents, including members of the Jewish and Hindu communities, contacted the awardees and warned them about SFMF’s extremism. “I am proud to say that Vice Chair Brill immediately committed to returning the award and never to have anything to do with the federation again,” Kaufman later told the school board. “Thank you, Vice Chair Brill.”
Contrary to local news reports, Kaufman and his allies did not attend the board meeting to protest Muslim holidays. Rather, they consistently pointed to the radical nature of SFMF member organizations and leaders, including individuals present at the federation’s award ceremony.
“Federation President Samir Kakli, the individual who gave you the awards, this past May posted on Facebook that Israel is the ‘world’s leading terrorist organization,’” Kaufman said during the hearing. “That same month, Kakli participated in a rally where he and others called for Israel’s destruction,” he told the school board.
One by one, locals took turns slamming the board for accepting commendations from the federation, outlining the group’s extremism while thanking Ms. Brill for standing firm and rejecting its award. However, before anyone was allowed to speak, Board Chairman Jason Barbieri introduced a special, unprecedented rule to muzzle the board’s critics.
“We ask that during your comments today that you do not direct any of your comments to any particular board member,” Barbieri said, noting that he was compelled to implement the censorship measure because of “some of the topics you’re going to be discussing today.”
As anticipated, the board’s new rule was not evenly enforced. Several non-agenda speakers who were there to discuss issues unrelated to the federation were permitted to name and shame board members at will. Only Kaufman, who started to mention that Whitfield and Ayala refused to discuss the awards in person, was scolded by the board and asked to censor himself.
Nevertheless, Kaufman’s group presented a convincing case for ending the school board’s relationship with SFMF.
“Now, let me give you one example, and there are many,” explained Louis Goldberg. “Imam Shafayat Mohamed … published an article entitled, ‘Tsunami: Wrath of God.’ He claimed that homosexuality caused the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami,” explained Louis Goldberg.
Shafayet is the founder and imam of the Darul Uloom Islamic Institute, an SFMF mosque and former place of worship for “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla. Other congregants have plotted terrorist attacks from Darul Uloom, and Al Qaeda’s highest ranking American member, Adnan Shukrijumah, led prayers there.
During a 3-minute speech before the board, Kaufman unloaded on SFMF, calling it “an umbrella organization for groups associated with terrorism and bigotry aimed at Jews, Christians, Hindus, gays, women, and even fellow Muslims who do not subscribe to their brand of extremism.”
There was no shortage of examples. “The federation’s Palm Beach Representative Abdul Rauf Khan has used his social media to post videos of Louis Farrakhan and videos vilifying gays and Jews,” Kaufman said. He also pointed to SFMF’s former Facebook manager, Abdul Rahman Al-Ghani, who slandered Jews as “demonic” and wrote that, “If you are gay, you are not a Muslim, you are a stone cold kaffir [a degrading term for non-Muslims] outside the fold of Islam.”
The Islamic Center of Boca Raton, whose leaders attended the award ceremony honoring county school board members, was founded by individuals affiliated with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and received “seed money” from an al-Qaeda-linked charity. Another SFMF member organization, Masjid Jamaat-ul-Mumineen, currently displays texts on its website that refer to Jews and Christians as “enemies,” mandate the death penalty for homosexuals, and instruct men to “beat” their disobedient wives.
Speakers opposed to SFMF were clear that their fight was not against Islam or the Muslim American community, but against Islamists. “To be clear, there should be no support for anti-Islam sentiments,” said David Brown. “In fact, commonality of kinship and moral values can ease eschatological tensions,” he added.
Federation leaders must have caught wind of their critics’ appearance at the August hearing, as several members spoke in defense of the coalition during the public comment session. Rather than dispute the allegations of bigotry and terrorist connections, SFMF representatives largely stuck to defending time off for Islamic holidays.
There were a few exceptions. “A lot of things were said today that misrepresented our community,” said Gibson Lopez, a Colombian convert to Islam and SFMF operations manager. However, he did not say how his group was “misrepresented.”
A most unusual rebuttal came from Corey Shearer, outreach lead for Emgage-Florida, a notoriously extreme Muslim political action group that is part of the federation umbrella. “I hope you’d be proud of those … who were named here tonight who may have said things that are inappropriate. Listen … I’ve probably said some things that were wrong,” Shearer admitted, adding, “I don’t think you should be able to talk about people’s speech, and vilify that and condemn them for that speech.”
To make his case, Shearer, an African American, pointed to the forgiveness over time offered to slaveholders and racists, including his alma mater. “Georgetown [University] itself is a school that sold 300 slaves in order to expand the school. Should they forever be vilified for that?” he asked. “This country itself saw me as one-third human. Should this country be forever vilified for those actions?”
Kaufman and his allies were not moved by this analogy. Following the hearing, they doubled down on their demands.
“Once more, we call on School Board members Alexandria Ayala and Erica Whitfield to follow their colleague, Vice Chair Karen Brill, and commit to returning the South Florida Muslim Federation awards and to never have anything to do with the Muslim Federation again,” Kaufman wrote. “Ayala and Whitfield should stop legitimizing extremism and do the right thing, both for the citizens they serve and national security.”
Benjamin Baird is the director of the Counter-Islamist Grid, a project of the Middle East Forum.