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Footage is grainy and the voices are difficult to hear over the yelling in the background. The picture shakes as the camera gets closer to Joe Badran, who shouts about the Palestinian organization Hamas. The video, shot in March, shows Badran, a mustached man wearing a gray suit, saying "Hamas is not a terrorist organization," then "Hamas is a defender of the Palestinian people," and finally "Hamas is better than Fatah, because there's no corruption. Hamas takes care of the people." Controversial statements, sure, but the problem is that the man making them is a member of the Broward County School Board's Diversity Committee.
To Badran's critics, it seems that the School Board, in its efforts to be diverse, is including terrorism supporters.
"We believe this entire thing is cut and dried," says Joe Kaufman , a 38-year-old resident of Coral Springs and chairman of Americans Against Hate, a self-proclaimed terrorist watchdog group based in South Florida. "There is a man who supports terrorism — violent terrorism against Israel — sitting on the Broward County School Board's Diversity Committee. We don't think anyone who supports terrorism should hold a place on a government-sponsored committee, especially one that deals with children."
Badran's statements might be upsetting to some, but Kaufman has pursued Badran's removal with a vendetta-level passion, especially considering that the diversity committee is by no means a high-powered political office. Kaufman's efforts have also led to an internet-based subculture of anti-Arab racists who have attacked Badran in online posts.
Two weeks ago, Kaufman and five other members of his organization filed into the office of Broward County School Board member Robert Parks. They felt they had a simple problem with a simple solution.
Kaufman , who also writes for the David Horowitz Freedom Center (the group that promoted the "Academic Bill of Rights" protecting students from professors they've deemed too liberal), says he was optimistic when his group asked Parks to remove Badran, whom Parks appointed to the committee. Kaufman showed Parks the two-minute, 30-second clip of Badran, a representative of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim advocacy group in the country. The video was shot along the sidewalk during a demonstration in Fort Lauderdale. The clip opens with the Americans Against Hate logo and a woman's voice saying, "Help fight Islamic terrorism." Kaufman says he shot the footage himself. Before each of Badran's remarks, Kaufman can be heard asking Badran questions: "Is Hamas a terrorist organization?" then "Which is better, Hamas or Fatah?" A few times, he repeats the question until Badran answers, mostly defending Hamas and calling Fatah corrupt. The sun is bright in the sky at the start of the video, and by the end of the clip, the sun is setting.
According to Kaufman, Parks told his group that there are "two sides to every story." At this point, Kaufman says, the meeting got heated.
"We're absolutely not satisfied with that," Kaufman says. "Hamas is a terrorist organization that kills innocent women and children. I would like to know what the other side of that is."
Another member of Kaufman's group began shouting at the School Board member. Kaufman says Parks also raised his voice. Members of Kaufman's delegation again demanded Parks remove Badran from the diversity committee immediately, but Parks refused.
Established by the School Board in 1996, the diversity committee consists of 31 members, 27 of whom are appointed by board members. According to its bylaws, the committee promotes "respect for ethnic and cultural diversity" in Broward County schools. The committee has produced videos that extol the virtues of tolerance and acceptance. The videos were shown in every classroom — including elementary classes.
Kaufman says he isn't sure exactly what the diversity committee does, but he doesn't understand why Parks "won't just do the right thing and remove a terrorist supporter."
Parks, a resident of Pompano Beach and a former Broward high school teacher, says Kaufman and his comrades bullied him throughout the meeting. "There was no solution but theirs," says Parks, who has served on the Broward County School Board since 1986, including three stints as chair. "I told them that I was making changes based on my perceptions and not their accusations and philosophies. I do what's best for the district. But I've never seen hate like this. They should be called Americans for Hate. They've targeted this man, and it's just mean."
Parks says his office checked independently with the Department of Homeland Security. "If Joe Badran was a terrorist, he would be in jail right now, not sitting though diversity committee meetings. There's no substance to their claims at all."
Badran did not return messages from New Times, and nobody answered the door at Badran's Deerfield Beach home.
In Kaufman's video, which has been posted to YouTube and Technorati.com, Badran says, "I support CAIR. I support everything that CAIR does." Kaufman says he finds this statement particularly troublesome. He says that group has funneled money to terrorist organizations in the Middle East and that a South Florida mosque associated with the group was once visited by one of the 9/11 hijackers. Most of the members of Americans Against Hate, Kaufman admits, are also members of CAIR Watch, an organization Kaufman started to battle Badran's group. They sell T-shirts that say "No Jihad in our backyard."