WASHINGTON – Nihad Awad, executive director and founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), argued that President Trump is “empowering Christian religious extremism in the United States” by announcing his intention to move the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Donald Trump does not own Jerusalem. He does not own Palestine. He does not own one acre, one piece of soil of Palestine. What he owns, he owns Donald Trump’s towers, and he can give away Trump Tower, but not Jerusalem to the Israelis. Donald Trump has been working hard to create controversy and headline news to distract the public here and around the world from his scandals in this White House surrounding the Russia probe,” Awad said during a protest outside of the White House on Friday.
“He’s trying to create controversy strong enough to distract the attention from the fact that he and many people in his administration have been dealing a blow to our national interests, to our systems of governance,” he added. “He has been an embarrassment to our nation, an embarrassment to this White House and an embarrassment to our democracy.”
Awad referred to evangelicals as an “extremist religious group” for supporting Trump’s decision to move the embassy under a 1995 law.
“Unfortunately, he appeased an extremist religious group in the United States, the evangelicals, who somehow erroneously believe that God commands injustice by recognizing the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We challenge these evangelicals who believe in God, how come they believe in injustice against Christians and Muslims in Palestine?” Awad said at the protest.
“We believe that Donald Trump is empowering Christian religious extremism in the United States and that has to be scorned. We believe also that we as a nation can work together as we have done for ages, for decades, to oppose injustice,” he added.
Awad said pro-Palestinian organizations must “organize” to remind Trump that he cannot put the interests of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. ahead of the American people.
“We have to work together to amplify the voices of the oppressed people here and abroad,” he said. “Don’t be discouraged. This is the beginning to put pressure against apartheid Israel the same way we put pressure for decades to end apartheid in South Africa – apartheid is alive and well.”
Pro-Palestinian activist and imam Omar Suleiman said Trump’s embassy declaration shows the U.S. has not been an “honest broker” in the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
“It never has been. Previous administrations were not. We have funded this occupation. We have emboldened this apartheid. We have shielded Israel from facing any consequences,” he said.
PJM asked Suleiman, president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research in Texas, what he thinks would be the ideal outcome of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“The status quo is unsustainable. If you want to have a two-state solution, you have to have a true sovereign Palestinian nation,” he said. “So if it’s not a two-state solution then it’s a one-state solution, it’s a democratic state where everyone has rights and we have to recognize that at this moment this is an apartheid state – you have disenfranchised, at this point, half of the population of indigenous people.”
Suleiman said Jerusalem is “occupied territory” right now and there is no meaningful peace process or negotiations taking place.
Trump said last week he would support a two-state solution if that’s what the Israelis and Palestinians want. PJM asked Suleiman if he is confident that White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner can strike a deal in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.
“I have zero confidence in any American administration, especially this one, to negotiate any fair deal – and certainly not Jared Kushner,” he said.
Oussama Jammal, secretary general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, called Trump’s announcement on the U.S. Embassy’s relocation a “reckless and provocative declaration” that’s helping mobilize supporters of Palestinians.
“Yes, he energized his own base, but we probably are thankful to him because he energized the entire world for the cause of Jerusalem. He really made it clear how irrelevant those countries around Jerusalem, around Palestine – that they are dreaming that one day they could do anything good for their own people,” he said.
“This is not about the Palestinian issue. There was no peace process to threaten or peace process to stop. This is no jeopardy for any negotiation because no negotiations are going on. This is to mount the entire region into another war and into another destruction that has already taken place, and therefore we ask the people to oppose and to reject this declaration,” he added.
Following Jammal’s speech, protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace”; “hey hey, ho, ho, the occupation has got to go”; “justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land” and “hands off Jerusalem.”
Hundreds of Muslims also knelt and prayed outside the White House during the demonstration.
Naeem Baig, director of the Islamic Circle of North America, said people in the Middle East feel like Trump’s declaration “basically killed” any potential peace agreement.
“It just hinders the process; that’s the problem,” he said.
Baig was doubtful that Kushner will be able to strike a deal.
“I’m not sure if Kushner has that kind of weight in the peace process. He’s maybe a friend of [Crown Prince] Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia or maybe some other people, but … does he have the respect of the Palestinian people? I’m not sure,” he said. “Even in Israel, it doesn’t seem like he has a whole lot of weight that he can bring people to the table.”