Last year, Investigative Project on Terrorism head Steven Emerson quietly pulled out of the annual conference of Washington’s most influential pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He pinned the withdrawal on “an unexpected medical problem that required my immediate attention,” but it was impossible not to notice that it came amid reverberations of criticism for the latest of Emerson’s Islamophobic outbursts.
A couple of months before the AIPAC summit, Emerson had taken to the airwaves of Fox News to expound on so-called no-go zones in Europe, purported Muslim enclaves where governments dared not go. But there was a problem: “They don’t exist,” David Graham wrote in The Atlantic. And yet Emerson took the myth even further. In the United Kingdom, he reported on Fox, “There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims simply don’t go in!”
The Birmingham comment elicited ridicule from across the spectrum—”This guy is clearly a complete idiot,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said in an interview—and eventually Emerson and, perhaps more improbably, Fox News itself apologized. A few weeks later, Emerson was out at AIPAC.
Now, Emerson is back. His name appears on a list of confirmed speakers published by AIPAC ahead of its Washington, DC, conference later this month.
That Emerson is no stranger to AIPAC summits—he has appeared other times at the conference, including 2012, 2013 and 2014—does not mitigate the impression created by AIPAC that its quest to further Israeli interests involves relying on and stoking the anti-Muslim animus that has exploded into a national crisis in the United States. With the new invite to Emerson, AIPAC is showing how little it cares for reining in the hate that has come to characterize not only the right-wing pro-Israel milieu, but Republican Party politics as well.
Emerson has a long history of Islamophobic statements and what have been described as “anti-Arab” and “anti-Palestinian” sentiments—much of it, like the Birmingham claim, is of dubious provenance. The 2011 Center for American Progress report, Fear, Inc., names Emerson as a “misinformation expert” and “leading light” of the Islamophobia industry. “Emerson frames Islam as an inherently violent and antagonistic religion,” the report says. “Such wildly over-the-top portraits of Islam as inherently radical require some creativity on Emerson’s part. Proving he’s up to the challenge, Emerson boasts a history of fabricating evidence that perpetuates conspiracies of radical Islam infiltrating America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.”