Earlier this month, Harvard law student Husam El-Quolaq posed a question at a public conference to Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister. “How is it that you are so smelly?” Mr. El-Quolaq wanted to know. “It’s regarding your odor—about the odor of Tzipi Livni, very smelly.”
Harvard went out of its way to try to keep the questioner’s identity a secret, including by deleting the comment from its video of the event—a privilege, one suspects, the school would not have afforded a student asking a similar question of a black speaker. And Mr. El-Quolaq, who is active in a Harvard affiliate of Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, later offered an anonymous apology “to anyone who felt offended.”
Yet the exchange is another reminder of the anti-Israel, and increasingly anti-Semitic, environment students now experience on American campuses. That’s the doing of several groups, including some nominally Jewish ones. But none is so prominent as SJP, which has more than 100 chapters nationwide and has been canny in pairing itself with left-wing or minority student organizations to sponsor anti-Israel events, heckle pro-Israel speakers, and agitate for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions on campus.
SJP’s self-declared goal is to end Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” while “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” That’s another way of saying destroying the Jewish state.
Yet as prominent as SJP and the wider BDS movement have become, less is known about the sources of their funding. That changed last week after testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Mr. Schanzer, a former Treasury Department official and terrorism-finance expert, notes in his testimony that a prominent backer of SJP and like-minded groups is an organization called American Muslims for Palestine, based in Palos Hills, Ill., and led by UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, who also happens to be one of SJP’s founders. AMP claimed to have spent $100,000 on anti-Israel campus activities in 2014, including to SJP. An AMP conference that year at a Chicago Hyatt invited participants to “come and navigate the fine line between legal activism and material support for terrorism.”
FDD discovered that many of AMP’s leading members were previously active in some dubious former charities. The most prominent, the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation For Relief and Development, was shut down in 2001 by the federal government for providing millions in funds to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas; five Holy Land officials eventually were convicted to prison terms and two others fled the country.
Today, AMP’s leaders include at least three Holy Land alumni. One of them is Milwaukee furniture salesman Salah Sarsour, who last year told Al Jazeera that an AMP conference he chaired “aims to keep up with and support the Palestinian people’s continuous intifada.”
According to a November 2001 FBI report, Mr. Sarsour’s brother Jamil confessed in 1998 to Israeli officials that “some of the members of the Islamic Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his brothers Salah and Imad are involved in raising money in the name of HLFRD that is actually for Hamas.” Mr. Sarsour spent time in Israeli prison for Hamas-related activities but has not been charged with a crime in the U.S. He did not return calls for comment.
Then there is the Islamic Association for Palestine, which in 2004 was found civilly liable in federal court for supporting Hamas and was disbanded in 2010. At least four former IAP senior leaders are currently active in AMP, including its national policy director, Osama Abu Irshaid.
In a phone interview, Mr. Abu Irshaid insisted that “IAP has nothing to do with AMP” and dismissed claims that IAP had ties to Hamas as “definitely baseless,” at least as far as he knew. “I can only testify to what I experienced,” he added carefully.
But the verdict in the Holy Land case noted donation checks from the early 1990s that “were made payable to the IAP but deposited into HLF’s bank account and on which the donors had written on the memo line ‘for Palestinian Mujahideen only.’ ” The court also described IAP as a “media entity” created by Mousa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas leader who in 1995 was named a “specially designated terrorist” by the Treasury Department.
On Monday, I spoke to Mr. Bazian and asked him to address Mr. Schanzer’s specific claims. “This is about silencing any person or any group that speaks about Palestine,” he said, accusing Mr. Schanzer and the House Foreign Relations Committee of giving “McCarthyism a new lease on life.” As for the past ties of AMP’s leaders, he dismissed it as “guilt by association.”
Mr. Schanzer stressed in his testimony that FDD “had seen no evidence of illicit activity” by AMP, including raising money for foreign causes. And even unindicted co-conspirators in terror-sponsoring organizations have rights, including to assembly and speech.
Still, it’s worth thinking about who these people are and the politics they support. As Judge Richard Posner wrote in his 2008 decision upholding the judgment against IAP, “Anyone who knowingly contributes to the nonviolent wing of an organization that he knows to engage in terrorism is knowingly contributing to the organization’s terrorist activities.”
As Husam El-Quolaq might say, “very smelly.”