You don’t have to be a scholar specializing in the study of antisemitism to realize that the idea that Jews enjoy doing evil is a fundamentally antisemitic notion. But like too many others, Zahra Billoo seems to think that as long as she substitutes “Zionists” or “Israel” for Jews, it’s terribly unfair – and indeed downright “racist” and “Islamophobic” – when she gets criticized for her openly displayed bigotry.
Billoo, who is the Executive Director of the San Francisco branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was obviously infuriated when the Women’s March swiftly rescinded her recent appointment to its board soon after her long record of social media posts that demonize Israel in clearly antisemitic terms caused an outcry.
Billoo seems to have embraced extremist views for more than a decade. In 2007, she proudly linked to an article quoting her “lil’ brother” Ahmed Billoo, who told The Jewish Journal that “the righteousness of suicide bombers needs to be evaluated on a ‘case-by-case basis.’” In an attempt to support his reluctance to condemn suicide bombings, Ahmed Billoo explained that he believed they were “something that Islam justifies,” adding that it was “very rare that I meet someone who says suicide bombings in Palestine are not justified.”
Then as now, Zahra Billoo had little reason to be proud of her brother, though she only recently declared once again: “My brother @AhmedIbnAslam makes me proud often.” Ahmed Billoo is now a cleric, and just in the week before his sister praised him again, he led a trip to Jerusalem for his employer, the “Institute of Knowledge” in California. While waiting for his return flight at Ben Gurion Airport, Billoo reportedly posted a no longer publicly accessible — but archived — Facebook update announcing that he was “feeling annoyed.” He added an invocation in Arabic that reads in translation: “Oh God, reduce their numbers, exterminate them, and don’t leave a single one alive.” The hashtag “Zionists” in English clarified whom Ahmed Billoo wanted exterminated.
But it is Zahra Billoo’s own openly displayed obsession with the world’s only Jewish state that leaves little doubt about her passionate hatred and unrestrained bigotry. While many people apparently assume that the intensity of her resentments might be explained by a Palestinian family background, Billoo’s parents immigrated to the US from Pakistan. In view of the fact that Billoo has precious little to say about Pakistan’s truly atrocious human rights record it seems justified to conclude that her hatred for Israel cannot be explained by a principled concern for human rights.
However, Billoo is a longtime close friend of the prominent Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who now rushed to her defense, insisting that “Zahra is more than a few tweets,” hailing her as “a long time champion of human rights and a steadfast ally and supporter of the Palestinian people.”
But it is deeply dishonest to pretend that this is about “a few tweets.” Anyone who tries to pick some examples to illustrate Billoo’s bigotry faces an embarrassment of riches. Billoo has repeatedly equated Israelis with Nazis and shown a measure of sympathy for Hamas, declaring that “Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at [Apartheid] Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.” She has also opined that “the Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, are no better than ISIS. They are both genocidal terrorist organizations.” In another attempt to convey her sense of Israel’s infinite and cynical evil, she tweeted: “‘Welcome to Israel. Where chanting “Death to Arabs” is democracy, running over children is equality, and firing on funerals is peace.’”
Then there is a whole series of tweets, posted between May 2011 and January 2015, that reflect the deeply antisemitic idea that Jews enjoy perpetrating evils that the rest of humanity abhors. In May 2011, Billoo declared: “Israel commits war crimes as a hobby.” A year later, she tweeted: “Apartheid Israel kills children as a hobby” and “Apartheid Israel violates international human rights laws as a hobby.” In 2013, Billoo once again returned to this theme, asserting “Apartheid Israel commits war crimes as a hobby, funded by US tax dollars,” which she also repeated in 2015: “#Israel commits war crimes as a hobby.”
Demonstrating that she has not changed her views, Billoo posted a thread at the end of September, denouncing Israel once again as “an apartheid, racist, terrorist state” that “commits war crimes as a hobby;” she also asserted that “American Muslims who work with Zionist institutions” should be held “accountable for their complicity in state terror” and insisted that there was no difference between joining the notorious Islamist terror group Daesh/ISIS and joining the Israeli army. Billoo further opined: “If we’re going to counter violent extremism, let’s start with those who support Apartheid Israel.” By beginning her thread with a quote from Islamic texts, Billoo indicated that she considers it her “religious obligation” to speak out against the “evil” that is the world’s only Jewish state, and she expressed the hope that this intolerable evil would eventually be eliminated: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will InshaAllah be free.”
The Nazis aptly summarized their Jew-hatred with the slogan “The Jews are our misfortune;” Zahra Billoo’s Jew-hatred could be summed up with the slogan “The Jewish state is our misfortune.” Moreover, her statement that “Apartheid Israel kills children as a hobby” unmistakably echoes the blood libel, and it is not the only time Billoo alluded to this enduring favorite of Jew-haters. In May, she linked to an article reporting about the opening of branches of the Israeli-founded restaurant chain Burgerim in the San Francisco area and commented: “When they say they sell halal meat, I can’t help but wonder, when [what] does it mean to drain the animal’s blood if your company’s identity is drenched in Palestinian blood?”
Several of the Twitter users who responded to Billoo’s tweet noted that she invoked the blood libel; one retorted acerbically: “I love my burgers dripping in blood and I also make my Passover Matzoh with the blood of children. It’s delicious and also Halal.”
Given that Billoo has almost 34 000 Twitter followers, she may not have seen the responses, and she may also not have seen a blog post that highlighted her updated blood libel. But it is also unlikely that she would have cared much if she had noticed the criticism. Like her good friend Linda Sarsour, Zahra Billoo despises anyone who dares to notice contemporary manifestations of antisemitism propagated by the left. That includes the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to which Billoo devoted a Facebook post and an almost identical Twitter thread last year in order to educate her followers about the ADL’s supposedly vicious record and odious history.
If you consider an organization that has been fighting antisemitism and other forms of bigotry for more than a century as an unmitigated evil that must be denounced and shunned, you shouldn’t be surprised when lots of people doubt that you’re just out to criticize Israeli policies.
In this context it’s particularly depressing that Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib decided to issue a full-throated declaration of solidarity with Billoo. Tlaib linked to a thread in which Billoo attributed her ousting from the Women’s March board to “an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists,” which she identified as mainly “right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies.” It seems fair to assume that Tlaib intended to endorse Billoo’s take when she wrote: “They won’t silence us for speaking out against human rights violations. They will lie, smear our names and call us anti this and that, but we always be pro- humanity & we have the truth on our side.”
Well, if you think it is “pro-humanity” to endorse the kind of blatant antisemitism Zahra Billoo propagates, you probably agree with all the Jew-haters who have thought for centuries that Jews are not quite human.
I can easily imagine that neither Rashida Tlaib nor Linda Sarsour nor Zahra Billoo would think I have any standing to define what’s “pro-Palestinian,” but if they insist that it’s “pro-Palestinian” to update age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes by substituting “Israel” or “Zionists” for “Jews”, their Palestinian cause can only attract vile bigots.
First published at my TOI blog.