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Tallahassee

Local legislators respond to House Resolution to cut ties with CAIR

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By
Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Sunday, January 7, 2024

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State Rep. Randy Fine "strongly encourage[s]" state and local government agencies to cut ties with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Other legislators say "that's the purview of the federal government."

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State Rep. Randy Fine of District 33 in Brevard County, Thursday filed House Resolution 1209 ahead of the 2024 legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Jan. 9. The resolution "strongly encourage[s]" state and local government agencies, including law enforcement and schools, to sever ties with the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR). In a press release posted on X, formerly Twitter, the Republican legislator called the organization an “American affiliate of Hamas” and its followers “monsters.” He accused the group of “fomenting hate and terror across our state.”


CAIR describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization” with a mission to “enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.”


[See sidebar: Is CAIR a Hamas front group?]


This is Fine’s second resolution pegged to the Israel-Hamas War. During the November special legislative session, he introduced a resolution, which passed 103 to 3, to express the “State of Florida’s unwavering support for the State of Israel and Jewish citizens in Florida and condemning Hamas and anti-Semitism.” Hamas attacked Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 civilians. Israel retaliated, killing more than 22,722 civilians, as of Jan. 6, according to AlJazeera.


In HR 1209, Fine lists several reasons to support his call to cut ties beyond the Israel-Hamas War: the FBI’s 2008 suspension of formal relations with CAIR; CAIR members’ alleged ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda and the group’s connections with Hamas umbrella organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Holy Land Foundation — a Texas charity shut down in 2001 for funneling $12.4 million to Hamas. Five HLF members were convicted during a 2008 trial and sentenced to varying prison terms, including Ghassan Elashi, the group’s treasurer, sentenced to 65 years in prison.


"No Benefit"

Asked for her reaction to the CAIR resolution, State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, of District 15, fresh off her election Friday as chair of the Orange County Legislative Delegation, said she saw “no benefit” to involving the state legislature in the matter.


“We're being asked as state legislators to weigh in on something that is really the purview of the federal government,” she said. “We've all already gone on record as supporting Israel. So I think this is another means of dividing this delegation. I have not seen the resolution, but my initial reaction is this is not the purview of the state government. It is the purview of the federal government.”


Thompson represents Winter Garden, Ocoee and Oakland.


“We can't control what happens across the globe, but we can control what happens in our districts and in our state,” said State Rep. Rita Harris of District 44 when asked about the resolution. Harris said her husband “was raised Muslim, so this is something that’s very close to my heart.” Harris pointed out that her district has large Muslim and Jewish communities. The Islamic Center of Orlando and the Rosen Jewish Community Center are across the street from each other.


“My job here is to make sure that both communities feel safe, welcome, that their fears, their concerns are all heard, and that they feel that we're doing our best to look out for them here in the state of Florida where we actually can impact what happens to our communities,” she said.


State Rep. Bruce Antone, of Ocoee, brushed off the resolution as political theatre. “We’re the State of Florida,” he said, chuckling. “We do not dabble in foreign affairs.”


Reached by phone, State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani said she'd like to see less overheated bombast from her colleagues. 


“This is not the time to further escalate tensions within our communities and around our communities,” she said, reading the resolution while on the phone. “I'd like leaders to take down the temperature and talk to one another, to have dialogue versus more finger pointing. That's what I try to practice in my day to day, and I really do encourage others to do that.”


The Orlando legislator added that  politicians on the Far Right, including Fine, “like to conflate the entire population of the Middle East with terrorism."


“It’s important not to match that level of rhetoric. My responsibility is to always take down the temperature and de-escalate, versus add more to it.”


State Rep. Doug Bankson, emphasized his support for Israel, telling VoxPopuli he's traveled there four times. 


“[Hamas] targeted civilians. And so there needs to be strong condemnation from different organizations. If an organization's not willing to condemn those acts, then I have a real problem with that organization,” said the representative of  District 39, which includes Winter Garden. “Now, I don't know if that applies to [CAIR]. I've had my concerns along the way, but never delved into it in that measure. So I'll look into that.”


State Rep. Carolina Amesty of District 45 did not respond to an email request for comment. After reading the resolution, State Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis of District 40 declined to comment.

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