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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."
In 2007, U.S. federal prosecutors named the Council on American-Islamic Relations as one of several "unindicted co-conspirator" organizations accused of funding Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, based in Texas. The 2007 case against the Holy Land Foundation ended in a mistrial.
CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper told New Times that the organization is dedicated to defending the civil liberties of Muslims who are discriminated against in America. As for Kaufman's accusation that Badran supports terrorism, Hooper said: "As a policy, we don't dignify allegations like this with a response." He continued: "There is a cottage industry of Muslim-bashers out there who spend their time spreading messages of bigotry and intolerance, and we hope that one day, eventually they will stop."
Kaufman, however, is relentless in his desire to see Badran removed from the committee. He points to a 2006 Sun-Sentinel article about South Florida Arabs being afraid to speak publicly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Badran is quoted as saying that "Hamas and Hezbollah are committing acts of defense against the acts of the Israelis" and that "the only weapons that we have are to strap bombs on our bodies and do whatever damage and destruction we can." Kaufman says Badran has made it clear he sympathizes with suicide bombers.
The 2006 article is posted on the same websites as Kaufman's video of Badran. On the site JewishPride.org, the blog moderator writes: "I certainly hope that terrorist [sic] like Joe Badran, who support suicide bombings, are afraid of being arrested and jailed... He got off lucky being deported instead of executed as a terrorist traitor. Hope Joe Badran won't be so lucky."
The website for Muslims Against Sharia, which apologizes for radical Islam, recently gave Badran its Distinguished Islamofascist Award.
Americans Against Hate created an online petition requesting that the School Board remove Badran. About 150 have signed the petition. And on the night before Rosh Hashanah, Kaufman sent a letter to every member of the School Board, the superintendent, and the Florida Department of Education. In it, he wrote, "Badran's support for terrorist organizations and violent views, along with his radical associations, are... a danger to the school children of Broward County... Please do not ignore it... The citizens of the public, especially the parents of Broward's children, have a right to know that their tax dollars are being used to harbor terror-supporting individuals in Broward's school system."
Kaufman says Parks told him that, though he would not remove Badran from the diversity committee, he wouldn't reappoint him when this term is over.
Kaufman , who has no children (or nieces or nephews) who attend Broward County public schools, says that's not good enough. He says the people of Broward County shouldn't have to wait another day.
But actually, they won't need to wait long. Kaufman's fight will soon become irrelevant, because Badran's term on the diversity committee is over next month.