Opinion

America’s first all-Muslim city council is riddled with antisemites

It’s no coincidence that the Hamtramck, Michigan municipal government decided to condemn Israel.

Pro-Palestinian students march through the University of Michigan chanting calls for an intifada on Jan. 12, 2023. Source: Blake Flayton/Twitter.
Pro-Palestinian students march through the University of Michigan chanting calls for an intifada on Jan. 12, 2023. Source: Blake Flayton/Twitter.
Benjamin Baird
Benjamin Baird is director of MEF Action, an advocacy project of the Middle East Forum.

On Feb. 28, America’s first all-Muslim city council in Hamtramck, Michigan passed a proclamation “opposing military aid to all repressive governments.” Although the bill makes ambiguous statements about “the right of every occupied nation to gain freedom, sovereignty and independence,” it specifically mentions the plight of “the Palestinian people.”

It was obvious that the resolution was a poorly-concealed attempt to demonize the State of Israel. Moreover, it came from a city government steeped in antisemitism and hatred of the Jewish state.

Surrounded by inner-city Detroit, Hamtramck is a century-old incorporated enclave with a growing Muslim majority. In 2021, the city made national headlines after electing an all-Muslim city council and a Muslim mayor. The new municipal leadership quickly set about implementing controversial reforms, passing an at-home animal sacrifice ordinance and discouraging the display of gay rights flags on city property.

The idea for a proclamation targeting Israel, however, came from outsiders. A husband and wife team of anti-Israel activists, Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, are well-known in Ann Arbor, where they are part of a group that since 2003 has harassed Jews every Saturday outside the local Beth Israel Congregation, carrying signs such as “Resist Jewish Power” and “End the Palestinian Holocaust.”

For over two decades, the pair have petitioned Ann Arbor City Council to divest from Israel, often while bearing swastika-laden signs that equate Israel to Nazi Germany.

Coleman and his associates found a more welcoming reception in Hamtramck, and in a matter of months, they succeeded where they had failed for nearly two decades with their own elected officials.

Although the lobby behind the Hamtramck resolution originated from outside the city, the resolution’s antisemitic undertones are quite at home at city hall. The mayor and several current and former city councilmembers are deeply immersed in anti-Israel activism and their social media accounts are flooded with everything from offensive conspiracy theories to hateful tropes about Jews and Israel.

For example, last July, Mayor Amer Ghalib was exposed in a Middle East Forum investigation (co-written by this author) that revealed startling anti-black and antisemitic Facebook posts.

Besides mocking George Floyd protestors as alcoholics and thieves, the mayor accused Arab leaders and their followers of being secret Jews and “liked” a Facebook comment referring to Jews as “monkeys” who tax “the air we breathe.”

On March 8, 2020, Ghalib posted a rant in which he admitted to persuading absentee voters to change their votes from Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He wrote that he “did their families’ ballot cards” himself, a potentially serious violation of election laws.

“Pray for the Jewish guy, don’t let him down,” Ghalib concluded the post, adding several laughing emojis to signal irony over his support for Sanders, who is Jewish.

When residents confronted the mayor about the offensive posts, Ghalib denied any wrongdoing and called his critics “parasites.” He subsequently deleted his entire Facebook history.

Ghalib’s city council includes Khalil Al-Refai, whose Facebook page documents his attendance at multiple “Free Palestine” protests and overflows with anti-Israel propaganda.

In a pair of images posted in 2014, for example, Al-Refai is seen carrying posters calling on “Zionist criminals” to “end the Palestine Holocaust.”

In at least two posts regarding Israel, Al-Refai offered a prayer to “plant firmly our feet and give us victory over the disbelieving people.” One of the posts includes an image of a masked Palestinian armed with a stone and a slogan that mocks Israel for failing “to win” against a poorly armed and under-funded enemy.

Elsewhere, Al-Refai promoted a speaking engagement featuring Norman Finkelstein, a notorious antisemite who calls Israel a “satanic state” from “the boils of hell.” The councilmember also accused Israel of using lethal airstrikes to target “babies, children, women and old.”

City council member Nayeem Choudhury shares his colleagues’ animus towards Israel. His social media account includes video of a burning Israeli flag and violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. His apparent role models include antisemites such as Finkelstein and George Galloway, a British politician who once declared an “Israel Free Zone” in his district and was fired from his job as a talk radio host for posting an antisemitic tweet.

In Aug. 2016, Choudhury shared a post claiming, “Jews are much safer under Muslims then (sic) Zionism.” More recently, he deplored “massacres, genocide and innocent children being killed by Israel every day.”

For his part, city council member Mohammed Hassan attended a “March for Jerusalem” rally and posted anti-Israel slogans during the May 2021 conflict in Gaza.

One deeply offensive image shared on May 16, 2021 depicts a monkey sporting Jewish sidecurls and wearing a cap with the Star of David next to text that reads: “Israel the real terrorist!!!”

In another post, Hassan criticized Senate Democrats from Michigan who opposed boycotts against Israel. “How much you guys get from Israel?” he asked, echoing a classic antisemitic trope about Jewish control over the U.S. Congress.

City council member Mohamed Alsomiri recently posted a speech by Louis Farrakhan, the rabidly antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam. Among dozens of hateful rants, Farrakhan has referred to Jews as “Satanic” and “termites,” while blaming “pedophilia and sexual perversion” on “Talmudic principles and Jewish influence.” He has promoted blood libels and promised that Israel will be “cleansed with blood.”

Support for Farrakhan has derailed the careers of celebrity activists. Public figures who echo antisemitic tropes about money and world domination have faced social and professional ostracization. This is not the case in Hamtramck, where a culture of antisemitism flourishes at the top of municipal government.

Collectively, Hamtramck city council members’ social media posts extend far beyond healthy criticism of a foreign government. From repeating tropes about Jewish power to making bombastic and blatantly false accusations of genocide and apartheid to depicting Jews as monkeys and infidels, the city’s elected leaders have embraced the worst forms of anti-Jewish bigotry.

Clearly, these bigots are unfit for public office.

Benjamin S. Baird is the Director of MEF Action, a project of the Middle East Forum.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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