On Friday, Harvard University’s most influential and prestigious student-organization is set to honor the founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that has funded terrorist activities, and has ties to Hamas.
The Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) will be giving its Robert Coles “Call of Service” award to Nihad Awad, for his role in, “defend the rights of Muslims” and for advancing “justice and mutual understanding.”
An online petition that has over 500 signatures clearly outlines the concerns that some people have with Awad, including the fact that he and the organization he had created were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation’s terror-financing case. Five of the Holy Land Foundation executives were found guilty of funneling several millions of dollars to the terror group named Hamas.
Awad also had explicitly stated his support for the “Hamas movement” during a speech he gave in 1994, as per the petitioners.
Prior to founding CAIR, Awad had worked as the public relations director for the Islamic Association of Palestine, which the petition notes was directly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“While CAIR presents itself as a civil rights organization defending Muslims from discrimination, Awad’s organization has been criticized by many Muslims for claiming to speak in their name,” the petitioners wrote, citing a Gallup poll that had showed fewer than 15% of Muslims think of CAIR as their voice.
Zainab Al-Suwaij, the cofounder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress, had said she was surprised that a liberal university would give such an honor to an organization with CAIR’s history of ties with radical Islamism.
“Especially considering the moment we are in right now, where we are all concerned with violent extremism and radicalization, in particular that of radical Islam,” said Al-Suwaij.
Al-Suwaij said she had doubted any malice on the part of those who had decided to applaud Awad, chalking it up to a point of ignorance.
“But they had to educate themselves about the history of who they are dealing with,” she said.
Al-Suwaij believes that her organization, which was founded in the aftermath of 9/11 following what she described as disappointment with her community’s “very defensive response,” is more accurate representative of the average American-Muslim than CAIR.
“We have no history of supporting political Islam, and we don’t share CAIR’s victimhood [mentality],” she had said. “CAIR jumps at every occasion to play the Islamophobia card. We don’t.”
A CAIR spokesperson never responded to the request made for comments.
Hillel International, one of the world’s biggest Jewish campus organizations, also sent a letter to Harvard President Drew Faust on Friday, while urging her “to do whatever possible to reverse or speak out against” the PBHA decision, and for the student groups to rescind the award.
“To honor Mr. Awad with such a prestigious award validates and glorifies his extremist views and actions, and provides him a prestigious forum to further his harmful oratory,” the letter read, signed by Hillel International president and CEO Eric Fingerhut.
“We do not seek to ban any speech or speaker, but neither will we stand by when an institution as esteemed as Harvard honors a supporter of terrorist organizations and provides him with a prestigious platform to espouse his hateful views,” the letter said. “Until now, PBHA has developed a sterling reputation for public service. With its choice of honoree this year, PBHA is applying its good name and reputation to a normalization or countenance of support for terror. It is wrong for PBHA to teach by way of example that support of terror can be accepted or ignored.”
Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, executive director of Harvard Hillel, also wrote in his blog that the award “is dismaying—and more than that, it is truly dangerous.”
Steinberg further wrote that while he has “strong distaste for McCarthyism, slander, and conspiracy theories,” he still believes in this instance that the complaints of Awad’s detractors are fully justified.