Top City Council Donor and Real Estate Magnate Has Ties to Islamophobic Think Tank

Philadelphia 3.0 founder’s role at the Middle East Forum raises concern

As one of Philly’s most influential real estate developers, Parkway Corporation CEO Joseph Zuritsky is often in the news. Most recently, it was for donating his Koi fish to Fairmount Park’s Shofuso Tea House. But news coverage of Zuritsky’s charitable, business, and political dealings have failed to mention his long-running relationship with the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank that has been designated as an Islamophobic organization by the Center for American Progress.

 Joseph Zuritsky with Koi Fish. Credit:  Michael Cogliantry

Joseph Zuritsky with Koi Fish. Credit: Michael Cogliantry

Zuritsky has been a member of the Middle East Forum’s Board of Governors since at least 1999. He is a former board Chairman.

Zuritsky is an influential business and political figure in Philadelphia. He is a founder and funder of Philadelphia 3.0, a dark-money political advocacy organization  that has been organizing  Philadelphians in the Center City and University City areas to run for city committeeperson. You can learn more about Zuritsky’s involvement in Philadelphia 3.0 in our recent report on the group.

Zuritsky also has a long and impressive record of campaign contributions to city council. He is the largest individual donor to City Council in the last ten years, donating over $113,000 to current councilmembers.

Given his level of involvement in Philadelphia politics, Zuritsky’s long-time work on the board of the Middle East Forum is concerning. The Middle East Forum is a Philadelphia-based conservative think tank designated as an “anti-Islam hate group” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and as a central organization in the network fueling Islamophobia in the U.S. by the Center for American Progress.

meflogo.png

According to its website, the Middle East Forum’s mission is to “promote American interests in the Middle East and protect Western values from Middle Eastern threats.” The Middle East Forum is led by Daniel Pipes, a well-known Islamophobic writer. In one 1990 article for the National Review, Pipes said “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene.”  He believes Islam “has nothing functional to offer” and that simply teaching the Arabic language to students is a means to “promote radical Islam.”

According to Fear Inc., the Center for American Progress’ 2011 exposé on the American “Islamophobia Network,” the Middle East Forum “relies upon its publication, the Middle East Quarterly, and a network of monitoring programs - including Campus Watch, Islamist Watch, and the Legal Project - to inculcate fears of “militant Islam” and to monitor the people and organizations whose views contradict Pipes.” The Middle East Forum has also provided funding to other organizations that promote Islamophobia, including Zuhdi Jasser's American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy; Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch; and Steven Emerson's Investigative Project on Terrorism.

The Center for American Progress outlines how the efforts of the Middle East Forum and other groups have contributed to growing Islamophobia in the U.S. since 2001:

“This network of hate is not a new presence in the United States. Indeed, its ability to organize, coordinate, and disseminate its ideology through grassroots organizations increased dramatically [since 2001]. Furthermore, its ability to influence politicians’ talking points and wedge issues... has mainstreamed what was once considered fringe, extremist rhetoric.”

To Philadelphians who are invested in the right to religious freedom it may come as a concern that someone connected to the Islamophobic fringe has such close ties to city government. Philadelphia is a city with a high population of Muslim residents. According to Billy Penn, about 150,000 to 200,000 people in Philadelphia—10-15% of all Philadelphians—are Muslim, with African Americans counting for a majority of that population.

Read more about the Middle East Forum’s contributions to American islamophobia in these reports by the Center for American Progress and CAIR.

For a full list of sources, please go to our sources page. 

Up Next: An analysis of Joseph Zuritsky’s political spending in Philadelphia.