By The Electronic Entifada

As election day looms in the United States, one organization has jostled aggressively to become the go-to address for Democratic politicians courting American Muslim votes.

Emgage has enjoyed a rapid rise. But there has been little attention given to the group’s troubling ties to Israel and its lobby – including trips to Israel paid for by an organization with close ties to the Israeli army.

Emgage is not shy that it wants to be “the main civic organization for Muslim American communities.”

And the group, whose political action committee endorsed Joe Biden in April, scored a coup when the Democratic presidential nominee spoke to an online summit it organized this summer.

In July, The Washington Post described Emgage as the “largest Muslim American PAC” – political action committee – though it is unclear what that is based on.

The same article quoted a certain Farooq Mitha lauding Emgage on behalf of the Democratic nominee.

“Joe Biden is proud to stand with Emgage during one of the most challenging moments for Muslim Americans in recent history under Donald Trump’s presidency,” Mitha told the newspaper.

Based at a Florida motel

The Post identified Mitha only as “Biden’s senior adviser on Muslim American engagement.”

There was a glaring omission: Farooq Mitha is an Emgage board member. His father, Amin Mitha, also a board member, is Emgage’s registered agent in Florida, where the organization is headquartered.

Emgage’s official address is a Travelodge motel in Lakeland, Florida, owned by the Mitha family.

For Farooq to be boosting his own organization, run from his family’s business, on behalf of the Biden campaign, is a startling conflict of interest.

In a brief phone call on Tuesday, Mitha told The Electronic Intifada that he had “stepped away from Emgage formally,” but would not elaborate.

Mitha also did not respond to a question about previous attendance at conferences of AIPAC.

According to a past Emgage employee who spoke to The Electronic Intifada, Mitha told staffers he had attended the Israel lobby group’s conference and joined it as a member, justifying this as a way to learn about the organization. The former employee requested anonymity for fear of reprisals for speaking out.

Mitha said any comments to the media had to be cleared through the Biden campaign, however he did not respond to follow-up questions sent to the email address he provided.

The Mithas have promoted themselves as a plucky American success story, running small hotels across central Florida.

Amin was born into the Ismaili Indian community of British-ruled Tanganyika. He left in 1970, a few years after the country’s independence as Tanzania, because “the new socialist government made it difficult for Mitha to start his own business,” as a 2005 profile stated.

Farooq worked at the Pentagon during the Obama administration and took part in efforts to normalize ties between Israel and Arab countries under the banner of “Track II diplomacy.”

He also served as “Muslim outreach director” for Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 campaign.

Fundraiser for pro-Israel Republican

Emgage may be a convenient vehicle to parlay business success into political influence and appointments. Yet despite its sudden elevation by association with the Biden campaign, Emgage is not a new organization.

It was founded in 2006 as the Center for Voter Advocacy.

Under that name, it sponsored a 2010 fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican who had one of the most hardline pro-Israel records in Congress. A blast email promoting the fundraiser sent by Farooq Mitha listed Khurrum Wahid, now Emgage’s board co-chair, as contact person.

The group changed its official address to that of the Mitha-owned motel in 2011.

The Center for Voter Advocacy then changed its name to Emerge USA in 2013. It became Emgage in 2017.

Until at least 30 August, Emgage listed its 10 board members – all men – on its website. That page was removed shortly after that date without explanation.

Cozy with Israel lobby

Now, Emgage is organizing what it calls the Million Muslim Votes campaign, though there is little indication it has the infrastructure to pull off such a massive national voter registration and mobilization effort.

In 2019, Emgage did receive a significant injection of funds from the Open Society Policy Center, one of the funding arms of billionaire George Soros$75,000 to advocate against Trump’s Muslim ban and $1 million for “organizational support.”

Emgage did not respond to an inquiry about how many voters it has registered.

The effort is nonetheless backed by well-known national Muslim organizations such as CAIR, MPAC and MPower Change – the latter led by Palestinian American activist and lightning rod Linda Sarsour.

Whether they were aware of it or not, these groups have decided to partner with Emgage despite its coziness with the Israel lobby.

Emgage’s CEO Wa’el Alzayat worked at the State Department for more than 10 years. He did a stint at the American embassy in US-occupied Iraq.

Alzayat was also a senior adviser to Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s UN ambassador and a leading proponent of regime-change wars under the banner of “humanitarian intervention.”

Alzayat has also been marketed as an “expert” by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a cut out of the Israel lobby group AIPAC.

He has spoken in at least one Washington Institute event.

Alzayat did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s request for comment.

Junkets to Israel funded by Islamophobes

At least four Emgage personnel – including two board members – are alums of the Muslim Leadership Initiative.

MLI is a faithwashing propaganda effort run by the Shalom Hartman Institute, an Israeli think tank that works closely with the Israeli military.

The Shalom Hartman Institute and specifically MLI are funded by the Russell Berrie Foundation, one of the major financiers of extreme Islamophobic groups in the United States.

Emgage national board co-chair Khurrum Wahid was an early MLI participant.

Wahid was present during an altercation at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque when a fellow delegation member allegedly assaulted a Jerusalem resident who challenged them over their involvement in the Israeli-organized junket.

Wahid’s Emgage co-chair AJ Durrani took part in a later cohort, according to an MLI program document seen by The Electronic Intifada. Farrukh Shamsi, a board member with Emgage’s Texas chapter, went on the same MLI trip as Durrani, according to the document.

Durrani did not respond to a request for comment from The Electronic Intifada.

And as recently as 2018, Nabila Mansoor, Emgage’s Texas executive director, was promoted as a “Muslim Leadership Initiative Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.”

Alliances with Zionists

The Electronic Intifada has not seen evidence that Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayat has traveled on an MLI junket.

But in December 2019, Alzayat joined MLI alum Wajahat Ali at the founding event of the Inter Jewish Muslim Alliance, a faithwashing project backed by the German government.

This “alliance” is actually run by the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL), a Washington shop whose mission is to “mobilize, empower and unite millennial leaders and activists from the Middle East and Africa.”

AMEL’s “supporters and partners” include Bluelight Strategies, a public relations firm founded specifically to market Israel to skeptical Democratic and progressive constituencies.

Bluelight’s clients include the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Israel Action Network and the American Jewish Committee – all deeply involved in Israel’s efforts to crush the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Alzayat is also a member of yet another faithwashing outfit, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

His fellow members include David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, which is co-convener of the group.

Under Harris’ leadership, AJC has been one of the most hardline promoters of Israel’s agenda, including pushing for war with Iransmearing supporters of Palestinian rights as anti-Semites and demanding that humanitarian aid after August’s Beirut explosion be conditioned on Lebanon’s resistance disarming itself in the face of the ongoing threat from Israel.

The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council boasts of at least two members who are MLI alums.

Emgage has also partnered with the Anti-Defamation League, which campaigns against Palestinian rights and views the Black Lives Matter movement as a threat to US support for Israel.

Board co-chair Khurrum Wahid also boasts on his law firm’s website that he is a member of the ADL’s “civil rights committee for Miami.”

In August, some 100 anti-racist and civil rights groups called on allies to end relationships with the ADL because of its history of advancing a racist agenda while masquerading as a civil rights group.