Questions raised after US State Dept. tweet about Shi’ite charity

Criticism of the tweet has ranged from alleging that the US supports the Muslim Brotherhood to claims that it is trying to cozy up to Iran

Imam al-Khoei Foundation NY 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Imam al-Khoei Foundation NY 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“Al-Khoe’i Foundation is a well-regarded international charitable and educational organization that has been doing good work since its establishment in 1989,” read an unusual tweet, without context or explanation, posted by the US State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs on Saturday.
A search on Twitter for some background left many perplexed.
Journalist Mina Al-Oraibi said she was “not sure why the State Dept. felt the need to tweet this out.”
One response pointed to a recent report from the Alma Research and Education Center alleging the foundation is linked to Iran. “The civilian infrastructures in the form of Shi’ite religious, cultural and social centers consist of umbrella organizations that control branches in various countries around the world,” the report said. “Both the umbrella ‘Al-Ghadir’ Association and the charitable institution association named after the ‘Imam Al Khoei’ retain branches in France.”
It was unclear if the tweet was a response to this report. But no other recent reports could be found mentioning the foundation.
Many were perplexed by the tweet, and others mocked it, posting replies alleging “fake news” and other criticism of the US State Department and the Biden administration. This is because there are some critics who allege the US administration is seeking to work more closely with Tehran in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s tough sanctioning of Iran.
The criticism of the State Department tweet ranged from alleging the US supports the Muslim Brotherhood to claims this is part of Washington’s trying to cozy up to Iran.
“Doesn’t this seem like a bit of a random tweet from the US State Department? Why on earth is it tweeting about a Shia religious foundation that has links to powerful interests in Iraq,” one expert considered.
Another critic wondered why the US appeared to be supporting this organization or investment in it. Analyst Alireza Nader questioned why the State Department appeared to be promoting a Shi’ite religious foundation.
The Alma Research and Education Center is a nonprofit and bipartisan organization with the mission of making in-depth geopolitical knowledge about the Middle East accessible to English speakers, its website says. It is led by Alma CEO and founder Sarit Zehavi.
The article by Tal Beeri was posted on June 9 on the Alma website. It is titled “Religious Shi’ite Centers in France – An Iranian Establishment to Form a Potential Terrorist Platform on European Soil.”
In response to the State Department tweet, Zehavi said: “We have seen connections between Al-Khoei Foundation in London to money laundering for the Houthis in Yemen... there are connections between the foundation in the US and another banned in the US called Alavi foundation, which contributed and donated to Al-Khoei, and after it was banned, Al-Khoei tried to cancel the ban.”
The Paris branch of the foundation hosted a Shi’ite imam from the US who made controversial statements, she said. This is based on the Alma report that says the group hosted a visit by Imam al-Qazwini in 2014. “ISIS is a Zionist arm sent to murder Muslims and increase hatred against Muslims around the world,” he was quoted as saying, according to the report.
Qazwini has run into controversy in the past for support of US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), when reports of his past statements came to light.
“He used antisemitism, and he was a guest of Al-Khoei in Paris, which brings us to the conclusion that Al-Khoei is supporting values that are the opposite of Western values, promoting the Islamic revolution and antisemitism,” Zehavi said.
“Founders of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation in France denied on Saturday what was stated in a report prepared by the Israeli ‘Alma’ Center for Research ‘in full and in detail,’ their association with Iran, and the latter’s use of it in order to ‘spread the dangerous ideology of the extremist Shi’ite axis led by Iran to young people and adults,’” US-based Arabic TV station Al-Hurra reported.
Al-Hurra’s report includes denials by the foundation that it has links to Tehran.
In an interview with Al-Hurra, Mortada al-Khaliq, director of the Imam Al-Khoei Center in France and a professor in the field of civilization and Arabic language at Sorbonne University in Paris, drew attention to the center’s involvement in anti-terrorism activities in France, the report noted.
Online, the Al-Khoei Foundation notes that it has consultative status at the UN and was founded in 1989. It has branches around the world, including in the US, UK, Iraq, Iran, France and other countries.
In 2004, on the anniversary of the assassination of Sayyed Abdul Majeed al-Khoei, US secretary of state Colin Powell said: “The assassination of Hojjatulislam Sayyed Abdul Majeed al-Khoei nearly one year ago deprived the Iraqi people and the world of an activist and a leader with an inspiring vision for the future of Iraq. Through his leadership of the Al-Khoei Foundation, Sayyed Abdul Majeed was a powerful advocate for human rights and cooperation among communities.”
According to leaked US diplomatic cables, US officials have met with the foundation in the past. In 2006, a US official met the UN representative of the Imam Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation and “addressed how to build the Foundation’s ties with the US and the UN and explored what role the Foundation might play in Iraq.”
Education, democracy and other issues were discussed, the cable posted online said. Other meetings have taken place, according to the cables. According to those cables, Sayyed Abdul Majeed al-Khoei was assassinated in Najaf, Iraq, on April 10, 2003.
The US appeared at the time to be listening to members of the foundation about southern Iraq and perceptions of the US among Iraqi Shi’ites. The US cables also pinned the killing on supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr.