It might have been just some local government scandal: A shuttered public school sold in a no-bid contract to a private buyer after officials told other interested buyers the building was not up for sale; residents up in arms and suing. … Nasty, but it could happen almost anywhere.
It turns out, however, that the new owner plans to turn the school into a mosque. And that among the buyers who were turned away was a religious Jewish school. And that the mosque-building group is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. And that the Anti-Defamation League – the nation’s largest Jewish defense organization – did nothing for the Jewish school, but is defending the mosque deal. This is not just some local corruption story.
The drama is unfolding in Michigan’s Farmington public schools, a district in the most affluent county in the state, not far from Dearborn and Detroit. The Islamic Cultural Association of Michigan (ICA) – the organization that got the inside deal – is affiliated with the North American Islamic Trust – which is, according to federal authorities, a Muslim Brotherhood front. The ICA invited the vicious anti-Semite Norman Finkelstein to lecture to its members. The Brotherhood’s recent massive rally in Cairo featured mass chants of “kill all the Jews.”
When the good citizens of Farmington Hills discovered what had transpired, they were angry but also perplexed. How did the ICA snatch up the school behind the public’s back? Some initial digging unearthed a set of circumstantial facts that might whet the appetite of a prosecutor:
The school district’s legal firm, Miller Canfield, funds an interfaith project that is closely allied with a state-wide Muslim umbrella group – the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, of which the ICA is a member. Miller Canfield was also the main sponsor of a speech by controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who had been banned by the Bush administration from the United States because of his ties to Hamas fundraising, but since allowed in on a visa. Ramadan was recently videotaped praying that Allah “strike the enemies of Islam” in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Miller Canfield provided a secret property appraisal that cinched the $1.1 million deal between the school district and the ICA. When Farmington residents asked for the details of the appraisal, the school board denied the request, claiming lawyer-client privilege between itself and Miller Canfield.
A local news outlet sifted through county records and found that two school board members up for re-election had received campaign donations from ICA members. One, Karen Bolsen, received almost half of her campaign funds from people at the ICA. Just two days before a critical school board decision on the sale, a self-identified ICA member donated $2,000 to Bolsen’s campaign, double the legal limit.
On June 14, at an explosive school board meeting lasting past midnight, residents questioned the district’s failure to follow normal and transparent procedures. Speakers, many of them from outside the district, supported the deal. They claimed their opponents weren’t really bothered by breaches of fiduciary duty, but instead were motivated by racism and Islamophobia.
Calling ICA members his “constituents,” Dawud Walid, executive director of the local branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), made that same accusation. CAIR is a radical organization, identified by federal authorities as a front for Hamas, a terror group with a charter that calls for genocide of the Jews.
School officials joined in the attack. Board member Bolsen complained of the “feeling of hate … directed at us.” Board member Timothy Devine called the opponents “abominable, juvenile.” Board member Sheilah Clay told the residents: “You made me disappointed. … I’m sure that when African Americans moved into Farmington you probably said the same thing.”
CAIR’s use of the “bigotry” card surprised no one. What did surprise was the seeming alliance between CAIR and some of Detroit’s Jewish leaders. Concurring with CAIR’s Walid in support of the deal were Betsy Kellman, ADL’s Michigan director, and Robert Cohen, executive director of the Detroit Jewish Community Relations Council. They accused Farmington residents of having “strong anti-Muslim feelings” and “making generalizations about Muslims.”
They said nothing about the proposed mosque’s radical links or its likely animus toward their own Jewish constituents. They said nothing about the board’s barring the Jewish school from buying the property. CAIR thanked them for their support and then falsely attacked the pro- Israel group StandWithUs for instigating the opposition. In a phone interview, ADL’s Kellman told me she knew nothing about other buyers being turned down. She did not know that ICA is linked to the North American Islamic Trust. She did not know that the Islamic trust is a Muslim Brotherhood front. She told me it was the Huda Muslim school that invited Finkelstein, not the ICA. She did not know that the Huda school is operated by the ICA. She told me that the whole issue is dead because a lawsuit by opponents of the ICA purchase was thrown out of court. This is also not true – the case is pending in appeals court.
When I asked why the Huda school would have invited Finkelstein, she said she didn’t know. When I asked how she could be sure that ICA was not tied to radicals, she referred me to the ICA Web site. “They pledge not to take foreign money.” Not exactly a vigorous vetting.
Kellman chairs the interfaith group ALPACT, which includes CAIR. She defends that by saying that law enforcement agencies and the NAACP also belong. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder caused controversy when he addressed an ALPACT meeting with CAIR present – despite an FBI policy not to deal with CAIR.
I would admire a Jewish leader who quit ALPACT and used the occasion to instruct the public on the dangers of Islamist Jew-hatred.
Abe Foxman, ADL’s national head, acknowledges that Islamic Jew hatred poses the biggest threat to Jewish life, yet he does little to educate and warn Jews about it: Over the last 15 years, for example, only 3 percent of ADL’s press releases focused on Islamic extremism and Arab anti- Semitism (see www.charlesjacobs.org). Foxman told The Advocate that his organization feels it must fight “Islamophobia” – so that the Muslim community “will stand with us.” Even if this were not as naively delusional as it sounds, why does opposing some presumed anti- Muslim bias require the ADL to support radical Muslim groups who invite Norman Finkelstein? Is inattention to radical Islam’s deadly threat to Jews part of ADL’s strategy to get Muslims to “stand with us?”
Finally, President Barack Obama himself just signed a law prohibiting the FBI from dealing with terrorism trials’ unindicted co-conspirators – groups like CAIR and the ICA-affiliated North American Islamic Trust. What in heaven’s name is the ADL doing?
Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, wrote this column with researcher Ilya Feoktistov.
Originally published in the Boston Jewish Advocate