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On Friday, December 29th, in coordination with the Middle East Forum, this author took a delegation of five leaders from the local community to meet with the General Manager of the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center, Mark Cherry. It was our goal to convince Mr. Cherry to cancel a conference and bazaar the center was to host a couple weeks later (January 12-13), organized by the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF), an umbrella organization for South Florida’s many radical Muslim groups. With the help of a public outcry, our mission was a success.
We had several concerns about this conference taking place, starting with SFMF itself.
Right after the October 7 massacre of over 1200 Israelis perpetrated by Hamas – literally on the same day as the attack – SFMF asked its followers on social media to donate funds to Gaza via the US chapter of Islamic Relief, a group that has been banned by a number of nations. Israel has labeled Islamic Relief a front for Hamas and previously arrested its Gaza leader. And regarding its US chapter, IRUSA, its ex-Chairman Khaled Lamada tweeted that it is “absurd” to classify Hamas “as a terrorist organization” and used his social media to promote Hamas.
Islamic Relief was to be the main sponsor (“Premier Sponsor”) of the SFMF conference.
The President of SFMF is Samir Kakli. He took over the job from Nezar Hamze, a former representative for the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is a member organization of SFMF.
In June 2020, Kakli promoted the Palestinian “Day of Rage,” large-scale protests that resulted in violence against Jews. In October 2020, he called for the release from prison of leaders of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), who were convicted of raising millions of dollars for Hamas. In December 2022, he questioned Israel’s nationhood, posting on Facebook, “[T]heir ‘nation’ is built on lies and fantasy.”
SFMF and its leader Kakli have both promoted events run by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that was recently banned from operating in Florida universities for its declared alliance with Hamas. In May 2022, SFMF co-sponsored an anti-Israel rally with SJP. During the rally, Kakli and others called for Israel’s destruction with shouts of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Death to Israel.”
We also had concerns about many of the speakers for the SFMF conference.
One conference speaker, Naima Khan-Ghany, was recently removed from the two committees she served on in the Broward County School Board, as a result of her making numerous anti-Semitic posts on social media. One post referred to Jews as being “Satanic.”
Another speaker, social media influencer Yasemin Kanar, a.k.a. The Real Yaz, three days after October 7, stated, “[A]ll of Hollywood is run by Zionist Jews and promoting pedophilia.” Kanar, as well, praised Hamas. She further posted, on her Twitter account, a video claiming the documented rapes committed by Hamas are fake. And she posted a video of rabid anti-Semite Lucas Gage saying, “You guys don’t know what Jewish supremacists will do to push a narrative. They will lie. They are called the ‘Masters of Lies’ for a reason… [E]veryone’s starting to see it, maybe our ancestors are right, maybe antisemitism isn’t this irrational hatred.”
Yet another speaker, founder and Imam of the Darul Uloom Institute (DUI) Shafayat Mohamed, was thrown off several Broward County boards for his vile rhetoric against the LGBTQ community, including claiming that natural disasters are caused by gay sex.
Our meeting with Marriott GM Mark Cherry lasted just over an hour. For the meeting, my non-profit, the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative, had created a 30-page PowerPoint presentation to show to Mr. Cherry. It contained all of the evidence against SFMF and its event speakers – their extensive and documented support for Hamas and an extreme hostility of Jews that went way beyond hatred of Israel.
The PowerPoint began with a page containing graphic images from the October 7 atrocities – a rape victim and bloodied and burned bodies. We felt it necessary to display these images, in order to convey the barbaric cruelty which was being justified by the SFMF speakers.
Well into the meeting, Mr. Cherry informed us of the fact that SFMF had already used his facility a number of times in the past and that the contract for the upcoming conference had been signed a year in advance. He also indicated that he shared our concerns regarding the material we were presenting to him.
This author also provided information showing that other hotels, including Marriotts, had recently cancelled similar conferences, due to issues related to safety and security. Given the anti-Semitic atmosphere following October 7 and given the terrorist element shadowing the SFMF event, I suggested he consider doing the same.
Following our Marriott meeting, an article that I had written regarding the situation was published in the Middle East Forum’s Focus on Western Islamism, titled ‘Coral Springs Marriott Set to Host Florida Gathering of Hamas Sympathizers.’ The piece sparked a public outcry from the community. Phone calls were made, including by city officials, emails were sent, and petitions were signed in the thousands.
The result of all of this was the Coral Springs Marriott’s cancellation of the SFMF conference.
The threats posed by the individuals and groups involved in this conference must be considered detrimental to both the local community and national security interests, especially in light of the current elevated threat levels, both in the US and abroad. As FBI Director Christopher Wray stated to the House Committee on Homeland Security, this past November, “[W]e cannot – and do not – discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here, on our own soil.”
Mr. Cherry and, by extension, the Marriott Hotel administration, are to be commended for taking the courageous step of refusing to let their facilities be used by pro-Hamas individuals and groups to promote jihad and the hatred of Jews. By canceling the SFMF event, they have helped protect the community and shown themselves to be on the ‘right side of history.’
Mark Cherry and the Marriott Corporation deserve everyone’s thanks.
Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.