UPDATE: The event has been canceled, according to Mark Cherry, general manager of the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center. Cherry confirmed the cancelation in an email Saturday afternoon.
By Kevin Deutsch
An organization with alleged ties to Hamas sympathizers and antisemites is scheduled to hold its annual conference next week at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center, raising concerns among community leaders and business groups.
According to the Middle East Forum, the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF), also known as “SoFlo Muslims,” is the “region’s most extreme alliance of Islamist organizations.” The hotel is set to welcome the umbrella group for its conference from Jan. 12-13, marking the second straight year the property has hosted the event.
A report published by the forum says the event “stands to tarnish the Marriott’s image as a global hospitality leader,” calling SFMF “a collection of mosques, charities, and civic action groups representing the faith’s most radical Islamist sects and movements.”
The scheduled gathering at the Marriott “promises to feature hateful speeches from some of the region’s most controversial Islamist voices,” the report states, including people “who regularly traffic in bigotry and possess alarming ties to foreign terrorists.”
The SFMF is promoting the conference as part of a family-friendly weekend gathering with food and 30 bazaar vendors taking part. Neither the group nor Marriott corporate responded to an email seeking comment Friday.
Critics say the conference will be a forum for extremist and antisemitic views.
Following the Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 Israelis by Hamas, along with numerous rapes by Hamas terrorists and the abductions of some 240 people taken into Gaza, SFMF leaders and guest speakers “have reacted by glorifying the jihadists and rallying for the destruction of Israel,” according to the report on the Middle East Forum site.
Among those who expressed concerns Friday about the planned Coral Springs event was Douglas Eaton, president of the Parkland Chamber of Commerce.
“It has been brought to our attention that the Coral Springs Marriott is hosting a meeting for pro-Hamas sympathizers, along with other anti-Israel and Palestinian groups, in January,” Eaton said in an email to chamber members.
“While we encourage and support free speech, it is our opinion that this type of rhetoric encourages violence against Jews,” Eaton said.
The chamber has held monthly breakfasts at the Coral Springs Marriot for several months, he said.
Keynote speakers at the SFMF conference will include Lobna Mulla, whose social media posts include maps erasing Israel and posts glorifying masked Hamas terrorists, the Middle East Forum report states. Another scheduled speaker is Naima Khan-Ghany, who was ousted from committees she served on at the Broward County School Board due to her ties to radical groups and history of antisemitism, according to the report.
Other scheduled speakers include social media influencer Yasemin Kanar, who has made antisemitic statements about Hollywood being controlled by “Zionist Jews” who, according to her, are spreading “pedophilia,” the report states.
SFMF’s members include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which was linked to a terrorism financing trial involving Hamas, according to the report. A video showing CAIR founder and executive director Nihad Awad lauding Hamas’s Oct. 7 atrocities drew condemnation last month from the White House, which called Awad’s statements “shocking” and “antisemitic.”
According to the report, SFMF also holds rallies in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group whose members have terrorized Jewish students on college campuses across the U.S. and advocated for the dismantling of Israel.
Three days after the Hamas terror attacks, SFMF President Samir Kakli co-wrote an op-ed in the Palm Beach Post declaring that “Violence will almost always be met with violence” and calling Israeli “occupation” “the root cause of this conflict,” according to the report.
A handful of state and local politicians are scheduled to participate in the conference in Coral Springs, including Margate Commissioner Anthony Caggiano.
Caggiano is slated to speak as part of a session that “aims at discussing how Muslims in South Florida can be a major political power” and informs attendees about “who is a champion for Muslim causes and concerns,” according to an online event flyer.
“I feel that you have to speak to people if you want to bring them together,” Caggiano told Coral Springs Talk. “If you don’t speak to people, they feel as if you don’t care about them, they get isolated, and then they don’t have the correct information…I speak anywhere where people ask me to come because it’s so important to me that everyone feels important and included, and nobody feels they’re being marginalized.”
“And that is why I accepted [the invitation to speak]. I accepted this months ago, way before any of this activity happened. And I just believe that the only way you can end this madness is by talking to people…I don’t want to radicalize people by making them think I don’t care about them.”
“I would never be with anybody who has ties to Hamas,” Caggiano added. “I would never be with anybody who preaches violence.”
Other local leaders criticized the SFMF and its being given a forum in Coral Springs.
“This group is really questionable in their intentions,” said Laurie Plotnick, president of the Broward Democratic Senior Caucus. “Anyone who does research would see that they condone the ‘river to the sea’ concept and support people who are not pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel, but who lean more to pro-Hamas.”
“I was taken aback that this group is in our own backyard being allowed to have a fundraising event,” Plotnick added.
Rabbi Avraham Friedman of Chabad of Coral Springs said the Marriott should not be hosting or giving a forum “to any group that has shown sympathies or support for the horrors of what occurred on Oct. 7.”
Friedman said standing up for what is morally right, including opposing Hamas and its atrocities, is essential for people of all backgrounds.
“When good people stand at the side and don’t protest and clearly object to evil, then evil is allowed to prosper. History has shown that often it begins with the Jews and does not end with them.”
- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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