CAIR director facing attack over Gaza comments

CAIR director facing attack over Gaza comments
The director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was recorded by a pro-Israel group making comments about Hamas's 7 October surprise attack on Israel, which he says were taken out of context
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
10 December, 2023
Nihad Awad said he was "happy to see people breaking the siege" of Gaza on October 7 [Getty]

The executive director of the Muslim civil rights group the Council on American-Islamic Relations is facing controversy over comments he made about Hamas's 7 October surprise attack on Israel, with Israel supporters accusing him of praising the event.

Nihad Awad, who made the comments in question at a conference last month, was speaking at the American Muslims for Palestine gathering in Chicago, when he was recorded by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an Israel-linked group.

Video footage of his speech saw widespread news coverage this week, including news that the White House had apparently removed CAIR from a website showing organisations that have been working with the US administration on antisemitism.

In the now-widely circulated video, Awad can be seen saying that he was happy to see Palestinians breaking the siege, walking free into their own land and that they, rather than Israel, have the right to defend themselves.

“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege, the walls of the concentration camp, on October 7. And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, that they were not allowed to walk in. And yes, the people of Gaza have the right to self-defence, have the right to defend themselves. And yes, Israel, as an occupying power, does not have that right to self-defence," Awad said, as the audience responded with applause.

Responding to this week's backlash, Awad said in a public statement that his words had been misrepresented and had not been given their full context.

“During my remarks at a conference two weeks ago in support of Palestinian human rights, I condemned violence against all civilians and all forms of bigotry, specifically including Islamophobia and antisemitism," he said.

He continued, "Despite my clear remarks, an anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian hate website selected remarks from my speech out of context and spliced them together to create a completely false meaning," he said in reference to MEMRI.

By the end of the week, however, the MEMRI video footage had made waves at the highest levels.

US President Joe Biden's spokesman, Andrew Bates, said, "We condemn these shocking, antisemitic statements in the strongest terms."

He continued, "The horrific, brutal terrorist attacks committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 were, as President Biden said, 'abhorrent' and represent ‘unadulterated evil.'"

This controversial video is one of many instances of public outrage over the words of Palestinian and Muslim activists since Israel's war in Gaza began two months ago.