Bay Area Muslim Leader Has Her Award Rescinded by Interfaith Group After Pro-Israel Activists Objected

Greenwald, The Intercept, June 14 2018

executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, has had an award rescinded by an
interfaith group after pro-Israel activists vehemently objected to the
award due to her criticisms of the Israeli government and various pro-Israel
Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations San
Francisco Bay Area Office, photographed on July 27, 2017. ©Nick Otto for the
Washington Post/Getty Images

Billoo is a lawyer and longtime Muslim civil rights activist. She has led
CAIR’s Bay Area affiliate — the group’s oldest and third-largest chapter — for
almost nine years.

In March,
she was notified that she would be one of two honorees at the annual event held
by the group People Acting in Community Together, or PACT, which describes itself as “a
multi-faith, grassroots organization that provides leadership training and
experience to community members of many different ethnic, religious, and
socio-economic backgrounds.”
told the Intercept that when PACT, an affiliate of the PICO National Network,
notified her that they had chosen her for the award, they emphasized
that their intent with the award was “to build a stronger relationship with
Muslim community.” PACT then announced the award and began promoting the event
to its members and the public:

But in
late May, PACT’s executive director told Billoo that numerous pro-Israel groups
and synagogues were vehemently objecting to the choice of Billoo. These
individuals and groups specifically objected to several tweets Billoo
had posted that were harshly critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of
Palestinians, as well as her criticisms of the Anti-Defamation League for
defending Israeli aggression against Gazans.
those initial discussions, according to Billoo, PACT proposed possible
solutions, such as creating “dialogue circles” as part of the event and adding
a pro-Israel honoree. Billoo regarded both proposals as acceptable.
But such
proposals did not mollify her pro-Israel critics. PACT returned to Billoo and
suggested that they instead recognize CAIR rather than Billoo
specifically, or that they choose a different CAIR official to honor. But Billoo
refused, on the ground that they had already publicly announced the award and
that pro-Israel groups had no right to dictate which Muslim leaders are
acceptable and which are not.
suggested that Billoo withdraw from the event, but she refused, telling PACT
that they would have to take responsibility for their acquiescence to these
demands by publicly rescinding her award. So that’s what they did.
Last Tuesday,
PACT officials came to Billoo’s office to tell her that they were withdrawing
the award. They told her that they felt bad about doing so, but felt that their
funding would be in jeopardy if they proceeded to honor her. The page on
PACT’s website which once promoted Billoo as an honoree has now been
updated to delete any mention of her
Intercept submitted numerous questions to PACT by both telephone and email,
advising them of Billoo’s claims. In response, PACT’s executive
director, Akemi Flynn, submitted two separate statements that denied none
of Billoo’s rendition of events, but instead offered empty and vague
boilerplate language that addressed none of the questions.
In her
first statement, Flynn wrote, “PACT’s work is centered on building
relationships and bringing people together to build understanding across
differences. As we’ve expressed, we are committed to continuing to work
with Zahra Billoo, CAIR, and many others to build bridges in our
multi-faith and multicultural community.”
second statement was longer but similarly unresponsive:”We are a multi-faith
organization and seek to be responsive to all people affiliated with our
organization. After receiving widespread concern, we made the decision
to step back in order to engage in dialogue to help build
understanding. We acknowledge the pain of the situation and are sorry for
additional pain our decisions have caused. We regret that it has caused a rift
in our relationships with Zahra Billoo, CAIR SFBA, and others in our
multi-faith, multi-racial community.”
PACT is obviously free to honor whoever it wants, it is striking that an
organization devoted to interfaith unity would do something as divisive as
publicly extending and then rescinding an award to a longtime, respected
Muslim civil rights leader because pro-Israel groups demanded it. But for
Muslim activists in the U.S., such events are as common as they are ugly.