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US progressive congresswoman withdraws from Muslim advocacy event after backlash

Summer Lee cancelled the engagement after other speakers at the event were accused of making antisemitic remarks in the past
Congresswoman Summer Lee talks to press outside her polling station at the Paulson Recreation Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 17 May 2022 (Jeff Swensen/AFP)

US Representative Summer Lee announced the cancellation of her planned speaking engagement at a Council on American–Islamic Relations (Cair) banquet after encountering backlash due to concerns over alleged antisemitic sentiments expressed by some participants involved in the event.

Lee, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said on the social media platform X on Tuesday that she had been unaware of the past remarks made by some of the people scheduled to appear with her at the annual banquet this coming Saturday.

“I wanted to join this event with other members of Congress and elected officials to support our Muslim neighbours, in the Commonwealth and across the country, who are desperate to be heard by their own elected officials and feel supported at a time of rising anti-Muslim hate and violence. I do not condone or endorse any of the other speakers’ previous comments," Lee wrote on X.

“To prevent the Muslim community from being the target of any more politically-motivated Islamophobia and to ensure my Jewish and LBGTQ+ constituents know their concerns are heard, I will not be attending this event any longer."

According to Cair-Philadelphia executive director Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, some of the remarks have been taken out of context and "pushed by right-wing circles".

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Tekelioglu told Middle East Eye that Lee has been a friend of the Muslim community in Pennsylvania, has called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and has stood up to Hindu nationalism. 

Since 7 October, Lee has been among a small group of legislators who have cast votes against pro-Israel resolutions in Congress. On 25 October, she voted against legislation that declared that the House "stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists".

“That is the real reason anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim voices have harassed, bullied and threatened Rep. Lee and others in recent days, not concerns about mischaracterised personal remarks some speakers made years ago," he said.

He added that they refused to be bullied in silence, and Cair, along with the rest of the speakers, will continue speaking up against the "Gaza genocide, discrimination our communities face, and false attacks against our communities until all of these come to an end, God willing."

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism 

In her statement, Lee did not specify what the other speakers had allegedly said. The other speakers include former basketball player, Ibrahim Jaaber. On a Facebook post, over a screenshot of an article titled "Israel and Palestinians blame each other for deadly blast at Gaza hospital", he wrote, "This is the best lie these demons could come up with the cover their horns?"

Another speaker was Yasir Fahmy, an Islamic scholar and cleric scheduled to give the keynote address at the banquet. According to Jewish Insider, he condemned Zionism as a “sick, sadistic cult” whose leaders are “bribing” social media influencers, media outlets and elected officials to sell “propaganda” and “lies.”

Another speaker, Nadirah Pierre, a stand-up comedian and Muslim social media influencer, posted on X, "May Allah destroy them even worse than they have tried to destroy others!” on 7 October. 

According to the US Department of State, "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic". 

Despite the criticism, the banquet will continue as planned on Saturday in Pennsylvania, but without Lee's participation.

“Cair-Philadelphia looks forward to working with Pennsylvanians of all backgrounds who are concerned about the Israeli government’s war crimes and rising hate against Muslim Americans to advance justice for all," Tekelioglu said.

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