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US: Rights group condemns congressman's attack on Muslim university officer

CAIR says Lee Zeldin's attack on CUNY diversity officer is 'vile, defamatory and Islamophobic'
Zeldin has previously focused attention on Muslim leaders in the US (AFP/File photo)

New York Congressman Lee Zeldin has come under fire from a leading Muslim rights organisation after attacking the Muslim American official tapped to lead a probe into a complaint of antisemitism at a university in New York City.

Saly Abd Alla, a former civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) chapter in Minnesota, was chosen to lead an investigation into a complaint of antisemitism made by a CUNY Kingsborough Community College professor.

Abd Allah is the chief diversity officer at CUNY. After the news that she would be leading the investigation, Republican Councilperson Inna Vernikov accused her of being linked to antisemitism and terrorism.

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Zeldin, a Republican from New York and co-chair of the House Republicans' Israel Caucus, joined the attacks and said both the CUNY employee and CAIR were "pro-Hamas" and "antisemitic".

"CAIR’s leadership has a long history of spreading antisemitic conspiracies and pro-Hamas propaganda," Zeldin said.

CAIR National and its New York branch responded to Zeldin's statement, saying his "decision to launch a vile, defamatory and Islamophobic attack against a Muslim woman because she once worked for our civil rights organization is shameful".

"Mr. Zeldin, a poodle for Donald Trump with a history of smearing Muslim women, has reached a new low and sullied his office."

Zeldin has a history of attacking Muslim leaders in the US. In 2019, after prominent American imam Omar Suleiman delivered a prayer at the opening of a session at the US House of Representatives, Zeldin launched a scathing rebuke of the speech, followed by a flurry of articles that accused Suleiman of being "militantly anti-Semitic". 

At the time, Suleiman told MEE that the articles springing up in quick succession was "clearly part of an attempt to erase Muslim leaders from public life and also to keep deflecting from the real anti-Semitism of the right".


Earlier this year, Vernikov, a Ukrainian-born Jewish Republican representing parts of Brooklyn, was able to block $50,000 in CUNY's funding after claiming that professors at its School of Law were engaging in antisemitism following a decision to support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In a statement, Vernikov claimed CUNY, which enrolled more than 260,000 students in 2020, was rife with "antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment".

Students at the university condemned the decision, telling MEE they experienced no such antisemitism on campus, despite Vernikov's claims. The funding the councilwoman blocked had been due to go towards providing free legal services to the local community.

Zeldin himself introduced a bill in March this year targeting the BDS movement in the US. The bill, if passed, would bar US citizens and companies from providing information to foreign countries and international organisations that "have the effect of furthering" the boycott of Israel.

It would also bar the US from participating in boycotts, or requests for boycotts, of "a country which is friendly to the United States".

Middle East Eye reached out to Abd Alla for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.

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