After opening probe of pro-Palestinian group, Virginia AG sends supplies to Israel

‘This is a moment where I think moral clarity is needed,’ Miyares says

By: - November 1, 2023 3:26 pm

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares met with a crowd of volunteers helping load a truck with donated helmets, vests and other protective gear being sent to Israel. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

A crowd appeared outside the Virginia attorney general’s office on a chilly Wednesday morning to help load black duffel bags into a white truck that would handle the first leg of their journey to Israel.

The bags and crates were filled with surplus vest, helmets and protective plates donated by Virginia law enforcement agencies at the request of Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican who has taken an adamantly pro-Israel stance to the conflict unfolding in the Middle East.

“This is a moment where I think moral clarity is needed,” Miyares told reporters as volunteers helped load the truck with equipment that he said would “hopefully save some lives.”

Support for Israel has been bipartisan among Virginia’s political leaders.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced an executive order on Tuesday aimed at “combating antisemitism and anti-religious bigotry” that mostly coordinates state resources to prevent threats and violence in Virginia tied to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Youngkin emphasized it was meant to protect both Jewish and Muslim communities.

Miyares has arguably gone further in using the power of his office to pick a side in the conflict. A week after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Miyares sent a letter to the state’s higher education leaders urging them to take steps on their campuses — which have seen heated debate over how to balance Israel’s right to self-defense and the human rights of Gazan civilians suffering under Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes — to “promote public safety and ensure viewpoint diversity.” And earlier this week, Miyares announced his office was opening an investigation into the fundraising activities of Northern Virginia-based nonprofit AJP Educational Foundation, an arm of American Muslims for Palestine, that will look into accusations the group might be using its resources to support terrorism.

“The Attorney General’s Office has reason to believe that the organization may be soliciting contributions in the Commonwealth without first having registered with the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture,” Miyares’ office said in a release Tuesday. “In addition, the Attorney General will investigate allegations that the organization may have used funds raised for impermissible purposes under state law, including benefitting or providing support to terrorist organizations.”

The announcement of the probe drew denunciations from Muslim advocacy groups who called it an act of political posturing that could stoke further animosity at an already tense time.

In a social media post Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized Miyares for what it called a “dangerous and defamatory move.”

“Targeting Muslim and Palestinian American organizations with baseless and irresponsible smears threatens the safety of their staffers and the communities they serve,” the group said on X. CAIR said its legal team is working with the group being investigated by Miyares to “protect their rights.”

American Muslims for Palestine — which says its mission is to “educate the public about the just cause of Palestine and the rights of self-determination, liberty and justice” — called the attorney general’s announcement “an attempt to smear and silence Muslims.”

“If Attorney General Miyares has identified an issue with our license to fundraise in Virginia, that is a common and easily resolvable civil issue that many nonprofits face and fix,” the group said in a statement. “By publicly making this dishonest public announcement, Mr. Miyares is clearly attempting to score political points with hateful extremists.”

At Wednesday’s event, Miyares called those accusations “laughable.”

“My job as the attorney general is to be the people’s protector,” Miyares said. “And I also have the statutory authority overseeing charities in Virginia.”

Miyares declined to elaborate on the basis for his suggestion the group might be supporting terrorism.

“I do not, on an ongoing investigation, reveal both our sources and how we got this information,” Miyares said.

Volunteers load a truck outside the Virginia attorney general’s office with donated helmets, vests and other protective gear being sent to Israel. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

Every charitable group that registers to fundraise in Virginia must attest that no funds “have been or will knowingly be used, directly or indirectly, to benefit or provide support, in cash or in kind, to terrorists, terrorist organizations, terrorist activities, or the family members of any terrorist.” The law also prohibits the state from granting registrations to groups that raise funds to “benefit or support” terrorism.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group that monitors antisemitism, describes American Muslims for Palestine as “the leading organization providing anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations in the country” and says the group often promotes “inflammatory rhetoric and false accusations against Israel.” The ADL also said the group “has its organizational roots in the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), an anti-Semitic group that served as the main propaganda arm for Hamas.”

Miyares’ office also pointed to a pending federal lawsuit filed by an American family that has sought to hold Islamic groups partly responsible after Hamas gunmen fatally shot their teenaged son in 1996 while he was studying abroad in Israel. The family won a $156 million judgment it was unable to collect after the former groups shut down, but the recent lawsuit claims American Muslims for Palestine is substantially similar to the prior organizations involved in the case and therefore should be held liable.

It’s unclear how long Miyares’ investigation of the group might last.

His office pulled together the donation of supplies to Israel in just a few weeks.

In a letter sent to all 123 Virginia sheriffs last month, Miyares said his office was coordinating donations of surplus equipment from those who “want to help the Israel Defense Forces fight terrorism in Israel and Palestine.”

On Wednesday, Miyares said the equipment he was helping ship to Israel will eventually go to “first responders at the forefront of the conflict.” The attorney general’s office said the shipment will include 800 vests, 50 helmets and 75 protective plates used for body armor.

Some in the crowd of volunteers that helped load the supplies into the truck displayed Israeli flags and held up posters of people believed to be kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Amy Scharf, a Jewish resident of Richmond, said supporting Israel should be a “nonpartisan issue” because the country is a democracy that reflects American values.

“This is standing up to terrorism,” she said. “Pure and simple.”


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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.