Republicans are blocking a Muslim Biden nominee because an advocacy group he's associated with criticized Israel

·3 min read
Republicans are blocking a Muslim Biden nominee because an advocacy group he's associated with criticized Israel
  • Biden nominated Dilawar Syed to serve in the No. 2 post at the Small Business Administration.

  • The nomination has been held up due to his association with a Muslim advocacy group that criticized Israeli policies.

  • Several religious advocacy groups, including Jewish groups, have denounced what they see as Islamophobia.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A group of Republican senators have been stalling a Muslim-American's nomination over his ties to a Muslim advocacy group that has criticized the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, POLITICO reported Wednesday.

Dilawar Syed - the CEO of a healthcare AI company and President Joe Biden's nominee to serve as deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration - would be the highest ranking Muslim in the Biden administration if confirmed.

The senators have seized on Syed's membership on the board of Emgage Action, a Muslim-American advocacy group. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri spearheaded a letter with other Republicans that specifically called out a line from one of the group's press releases that read, "this state of affairs is not a case of "both sides". Not when Palestinians are occupied and the State of Israel is the occupier."

"Emgage's history of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement combined with its overtly anti-Israel positions and rhetoric necessitates an additional hearing to ensure Mr. Syed's confirmation to be the second-most-powerful individual at the SBA would not jeopardize small businesses with close ties to Israeli companies or small businesses owned by Jewish Americans," said the letter.

According to POLITICO, another factor stalling Syed's nomination is ​​an email from an aid to Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho that noted the nominee's Pakistani roots.

"Until we can get some answers on that at least, then I'm not gonna vote for - I'm not gonna provide a quorum," Sen. Hawley told POLITICO. "I'm shocked that they haven't withdrawn his nomination. I really am."

In response, religious advocacy groups - including several Jewish groups - have defended Syed from the attacks.

"We are deeply concerned by the apparent anti-Muslim animus driving this unprecedented action against Dilawar Syed," wrote a coalition of organizations in an August 9th letter to the committee chairs. "Our constitution prohibits an ethnic or religious test for holding public office. To do so violates our nation's valued principle of religious freedom."

Signatories included the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at Jewish Theological Seminary, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Union for Reform Judaism.

"It's clear that what's being used against Mr. Syed is insinuation that is trying to exploit anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim animus. And we shouldn't allow that to stand," Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the deputy director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, told POLITICO.

"Accusations around Dilawar Syed's nomination based on his national origin or involvement in a Muslim advocacy organization are so base and unamerican [sic] that AJC is compelled to speak out," said the American Jewish Committee in a July 7 statement.

The group also noted that Syed "specifically disavowed support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement."

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