On October 2000, Maher Hathout attended a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His speech was captured on video for posterity by the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He told the assembled crowd that he was not surprised by what he called the "atrocities committed by the apartheid brutal state of Israel." After all, he reasoned, "butchers do what butchers do, and ... what is expected from a racist apartheid [state] is what is happening now."
Fast forward six years. The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations announced last Tuesday that Hathout, president of the Islamic Center of Southern California and a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (mpac), would receive its prestigious John Allen Buggs Award in luncheon ceremonies on October 5. The award is given annually for what the commission describes as "outstanding human relations work."
A man who called Israel a nation of butchers (he didn't stop there; he has also accused the United States of committing state terrorism) is about to be honored with a major award for effective practices in human relations work. Is this any different than giving, say, David Duke an award for healing racial relations?
Hathout's hatred of the Israel is well-documented, and it is often accompanied by extremely venomous remarks about the United States. After threatening Arab governments with a "general intifada" for holding summits with Israeli participation (he warned that their leaders would be "flushed down in the cesspools of history of treason"), Hathout addressed the American people directly in his Lafayette Park speech:
"You have been terribly disappointed and sadly misled. You have been manipulated. You are financing an apartheid state that is contrary to everything you ever dreamed for or approved of. You [are being] taken ... down a path of evil. ... You are making the face of America ugly all over the world. ...
They say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. This is a lie. Israel is not a democracy; Israel is a theocracy, and is an apartheid state against every fiber of the modern world. They say that Israel guards our interests in the Middle East. When did Israel guard the interests of America in the Middle East? Israel endangers the American interests in the Middle East."
Hathout has received mysteriously gentle treatment from the press. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington in 1998, he defended Hezbollah, declaring that the government-identified terrorist group "is fighting only for freedom, an organized army, limiting its operations against military people--this is a legitimate target against occupation." In a debate carried on a Los Angeles radio station later that year, he asserted that Hezbollah's activity in Lebanon "is very American, is what America did in the beginning against the colonizing of the British, is what all honorable people in the world are doing."
He often alludes to secret cabals of Israeli supporters that work conspiratorially to frame Muslims, implying that prosecutions in Detroit and Dallas against defendants affiliated with Hezbollah and Hamas were being exploited by "special interests." Writing in The Minaret (a former mpac publication), he complained that, with domestic terrorism prosecution, "The issue of real concern is the exploitation of these cases by special interest groups who push their own agendas. ... [W]hether the alleged violations of Muslims are real, false or exaggerated, such groups are always ready to spin the facts to serve their biased politics." He spelled out his conspiratorial view most clearly at a May 2001 conference at California State University at Fullerton:
"It is obvious that, at least from our perspective, the United States is also under Israeli occupation. And so we have a Congress that beats the Knesset in being pro-Zionist. And we have an administration that believes in this superiority/inferiority of the Jews. And exploitation. And we have a country, our country, the United States, that still needs to repent for what they did to their native people in their own land so that they appreciate the suffering of a parallel and similar situation. So it is very painful and agonizing, but not surprising, unfortunately."
In fact, Hathout frequently defends terrorist financiers by claiming that there is no proof they are linked to terrorism--and that the government is targeting American Muslims. In 2000, he assailed the government's prosecution of defendants charged in a Hezbollah financing case in North Carolina; the defendants were convicted in 2002 of laundering money to Hezbollah and providing material support for the terrorist group (some of them were actually pictured in Lebanon training with Hezbollah). In 2003, he defended former University of South Florida professor Sami Al Arian--who pled guilty to "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist"--and hinted that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft brought charges against Arian to suppress political dissent.
But his worst, most cynical moments have been when he charged the United States with committing terrorism or justified the use of it in Israel. In the wake of President Clinton's 1998 strike against Sudan and Afghanistan following the Africa embassy bombings, Hathout said, "Our country is committing acts of terrorism according to the definition. What we did is illegal, immoral, inhuman, unacceptable, stupid and un-American." Then, after the 2001 bombing of a Sbarro in Jerusalem--in which 15 people, including children, were killed and over 100 were injured--Hathout said, "What happened in Jerusalem is very regrettable. It is the bitter result of the reckless policy of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon. And it is about time that the Israeli public should exert some pressure on their government." In 2003, he stated, "We have an objection against squandering American resources to support the aggression of [the] Zionist entity against the Palestinian people."
Of course, none of this should sit particularly well with the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations' mission of "promoting positive race and human relations in an increasingly complex and multicultural county." The commission cites its own efforts to combat purveyors of "divisive attitudes that can lead to inter-cultural tension, hate crimes and related violence." Sound familiar?
Steven Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the author, most recently, of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (Free Press).