US Condemns Muslim Charity’s Leaders Over Anti-Semitic Comments

January 6, 2021 Updated: January 7, 2021

The U.S. Department of State has condemned anti-Semitic attitudes and comments expressed by Islamic Relief Worldwide’s (IRW) leadership.

“Given the anti-Semitism exhibited repeatedly by IRW’s leadership, the State Department is conducting a review of the organization and US government funding,” said the department’s US Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Ellie Cohanim.

The department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism noted in a Dec. 30, 2020, statement that the IRW is a serious concern, given that it was established as an international charitable organization, has a tax exemption, an annual monetary allocation of approximately $100 million, and has shown “a consistent pattern of spreading the most vile anti-Semitic vitriol.”

The statement noted that Heshmat Khalifa, an IRW trustee and director, had called Jews the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs” in a post on his Facebook page, according to a mid-2020 exposé by London’s The Times and Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

Hamas militants, dressed as a "martyr," plays with a mock up of a suicide-bomber's "belt of explosives" during the funeral of their leader Abdel Rahman Hamad in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, on Oct. 14, 2001. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
Hamas militants, dressed as “martyrs,” play with a mock-up of a suicide bomber’s “belt of explosives” during the funeral of their leader Abdel Rahman Hamad in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, on Oct. 14, 2001. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

The department’s statement added that Khalifa is known to have called Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi a “Zionist pimp,” as well as praising the Hamas terrorist group as “the purest resistance movement in modern history.”

Khalifa then resigned and the organization made the promise of “reviewing our processes for screening trustees’ and senior executives’ social media posts to ensure that this will not happen again.”

But weeks later, The Times showed that another IRW administrator, Almoutaz Tayara, then-chairman of Islamic Relief Germany, had also voiced anti-Semitic comments and glorified terrorist attacks against Israel.

Tayara said that Hamas leaders were “great men,” answering the “divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In addition, Tayara also wrote in reference to Hamas’s military arm: “The al-Qassem heroes did not graduate from the military academies of the UK and the US, unlike the rulers and royals of the Arab world who, there, were nurtured on cowardice and allegiance to the foreigners—the UK and the US.”

Islamic Relief Germany decided to keep Tayara as chairman after he apologized and deleted the posts, along with closing his Facebook account.

Smoke rises during an explosion from an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early Saturday, the military said, widening a blistering assault on Gaza rocket operations by militants to include the prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Smoke rises during an explosion from an Israeli strike in Gaza City on Nov. 17, 2012. Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early Saturday, the military said, widening a blistering assault on Gaza rocket operations by terrorists to include the prime minister’s headquarters, a police compound, and a vast network of smuggling tunnels. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

As the comments on Facebook were drawing public scrutiny during the summer of 2020, IRW released a statement saying that they were “shocked by the anti-Western and anti-Israel content of the posts partially glorifying violence and terrorism,” but that the IRW leader had lent “outstanding support” to the group for more than 10 years, the State Department said.

Notwithstanding, more anti-Semitic comments by IRW leadership were found in recent weeks, according to the special envoy’s office, noting that IRW founder Hany al Banna called Yazidis “devil worshippers.”

The release concluded with the following statement:

“As we witness a rise in anti-Semitism in every corner of the globe, it is incumbent on all people of good conscience to stand strong and exhibit zero tolerance for the blatant and horrifying anti-Semitism and glorification of violence exhibited at the most senior levels of IRW. We encourage all government bodies currently examining IRW activities and their relationship with IRW.”

This article has been updated to include Ellie Cohanim’s comments.