After much criticism, the Women’s March movement announced last week that it was removing Islamist activist Zahra Billoo from its board because of her long history of anti-Semitism, much of which has been brought to light by the Middle East Forum.

Islamist activists and organizations, furious over Billoo’s removal, have now rushed to her defense while Billoo continues to insist she stands by the very words that led to her ouster.

Astonishingly, Billoo had been appointed to replace three former, equally problematic board members. In July, former Women’s March co-chairs Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour stepped down from the board of the Women’s March. Over the past year, all three had been embroiled in a controversy that arose from their documented anti-Semitic behavior. Bland and Mallory had expressed support for Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and notorious for his virulent anti-Semitism rhetoric, with Mallory referring to him as the “greatest of all time.” Sarsour then blamed the “Jewish media” for her and Farrakhan’s reputations as anti-Semites.

Despite the resulting furor, with several high-profile members and supporters of the Women’s March distancing themselves from the movement, it took a long time for the rest of the group finally to clean house. Once they did, it was logical to expect that they would choose more tolerant members.

Instead, the new board member was Zahra Billoo , executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the terror-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Billoo is among CAIR’s most publicly extreme members.

Justifying Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians, Billoo once said that “blaming Hamas for firing rockets at (Apartheid) Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.” She also described the convicted Florida terror-financier and Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Sami Al Arian as an “incredible and law abiding Muslim leader” from whom she draws “inspiration.”

In July, the Middle East Forum revealed that Billoo’s brother, a prominent California imam, called for the mass extermination of Jews in a Facebook post, writing, “Don’t leave a single one alive.” The post was “liked” by several of Billoo’s CAIR colleagues; Billoo herself stayed silent and offered no criticism of her brother’s genocidal prayer when asked. Instead, she later claimed that she was the victim of a “hit piece,” and that her work had “been misconstrued to fit a racist narrative.” She brushed off criticism of her rhetoric as retaliation for “hav[ing] an impact” and “disrupt[ing] the status quo.”

The Women’s March presentation of Billoo as its newest board member resulted in an uproar. So, as quickly as she was appointed, she lost her spot on the board, with an official statement explaining that the Women’s March “found some of her public statements incompatible with the values and mission of the organization.”

This was a welcome development, although it remains a mystery why she was chosen in the first place.

Leading Islamists have presented the matter in a rather different light: Billoo has been the innocent victim of an “Islamophobic smear campaign,” and the Women’s March has thrown  “Palestinians and those who advocate for their rights under the bus.”

CAIR-Los Angeles’s director Hussam Ayloush, who once called for Israel to be “terminated,” deemed the movement to be “like many other fake progressives.” CAIR’s national headquarters confirmed that it was standing with Billoo “in a moment in which she is being singled out under right wing, Islamophobic pressure,” and lectured the Women’s March “to include Muslim women of color.” CAIR-Oklahoma supported Billoo for speaking “truth to power” and expressed disappointment that the Women’s March “caved to right wing, Islamophobic pressure.”

The Hamas-linked group American Muslims for Palestine accused the Women’s March of failing its own agenda by “being progressive except for Palestine.” Islamist activist Debbie Almontaser shamed the Women’s March for “pandering to the Islamophobia industry.”

Sarsour used the opportunity to claim that she, extremist cleric Omar Suleiman and CAIR, among others, have also been victims of “Islamophobic smear campaigns” to “silence Muslim leaders advocating for Palestinians.” Even Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib joined the chorus, calling Billoo “sis,” and declaring that “they won’t silence us for speaking out against human rights violations […] we have the truth on our side.”

As for Billoo, she also claims to have been targeted by an “Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists” as a retaliation for her “support of Palestinian human rights.” She declared that her heart was broken upon seeing the leaders of the Women’s March “casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman.” She defiantly affirmed that she stood by her words, as she had “told the truth.”

While it should be obvious that Billoo, like her predecessors, was removed from the board for her extremist statements, Islamist organizations such as CAIR continue to present her as the victim of unjust “Islamophobia” and censorship of the Palestinian cause. This is not a new tactic. Islamist activists work hard to turn their own acts of extremism into furious claims of victimhood.

It’s important that the Women’s March has stood up to these hardline Islamists and has not, thus far, buckled to their cry-bully howls. Far too often, too many progressive organizations find it easier to ignore acts of bigotry for the sake of placating vocal Islamist demands.

Martha Lee is a research fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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