Palestinian American scholar and activist became the target of Islamophobic smears after delivering a prayer in Congress focused on interfaith harmony last week.
Imam Omar Suleiman, an American Muslim scholar, has responded defiantly amid a campaign targeting him as an anti-Semite.
The Palestinian American became the focus of intense criticism by pro-Israeli politicians and groups after conducting prayer in Congress at the invitation of Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"Let us not be deterred by the hatred that has claimed the lives of innocent worshippers across the world, but emboldened by the love that gathered them together to remember you, and gathered us together to remember them," Suleiman said in the prayer, referring to recent attacks on Jewish worshippers in the US city of Pittsburgh, Christian worshippers in Sri Lanka, and Muslims praying at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The sentiment was lost on many Republicans and pro-Israel figures who began attacking the civil rights activist for his past criticism of Israel, and an array of US and Israeli media outlets accused Suleiman of being an anti-Semite.
Others accused him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an accusation he said was meant to make him appear “particularly scary”.
Republican representative, Lee Zeldin, was a particularly enthusiastic participant in the campaign, labeling Suleiman a 'radical imam'.
A Muslim-American Imam of Palestinian descent - @omarsuleiman504 - with a long track record of interfaith work, speaks in Congress & offers a beautiful prayer, calling for love & unity.— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) May 12, 2019
What do Republicans do? Trash him as an extremist and an anti-Semite.
Those were in addition to an online campaign by social media trolls, some of whom appeared to call for violence against the Muslim scholar.
Suleiman, however, has refused to be intimidated. In an editorial for the Dallas Morning News, he dismissed suggestions that he was an anti-Semite, pointing to his long history of interfaith work.
“My parents were displaced Palestinians due to the occupation and ended up meeting in Houston. They were activists, and my late mother wrote poetry about the Palestinian catastrophe. But I was taught early on to not let championing the Palestinian cause descend into anti-Semitism in private or in public,” he said.
“When a politician who knows nothing about me leads the charge in trying to mischaracterize me, of course throwing in the islamophobic trope ‘supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’ to make me seem particularly scary, it's important to ask why I'm suddenly the target of these smears and not before in other similar appearances,” Suleiman wrote, referring to previous appearances, including sharing a stage with former US President Barack Obama.
“Would a faith leader from any other community withstand the same scrutiny of all of their old tweets and sermons?” He added.
Ever since giving an invocation on the House floor on Thursday, Imam @omarsuleiman504 has been subject to a barrage of right-wing attacks and accusations of anti-Semitism, including by New York Rep. Lee Zeldin. He eloquently responds here: https://t.co/AHl6dH7xEQ— مريم (@MaryamSaleh) May 12, 2019
In the midst of the campaign targeting Suleiman, there was a counter-campaign expressing solidarity with him and highlighting the perceived absurdity of criticising a Palestinian for speaking out against Israel.
“If I had to name the 5 most sincere, earnest, kind people on Earth, my friend & brother Omar Suleiman would be on that list,” wrote activist Shaun King on Twitter, adding:
“That he is having to defend his character against bigoted, Islamophobic attacks is outrageous.
“We love and support you brother.”
The smear campaign on @omarsuleiman504 have been immensely coordinated.— Azad Essa (@azadessa) May 13, 2019
The right wing will use any opportunity to vilify American Muslims with a personality and a perspective. pic.twitter.com/314WCdZXoJ