Almost two weeks after coming under fire for issuing statements on the war in Gaza that some critics characterized as antisemitic, CASA, the Maryland-based immigrants’ rights organization, released a public apology Thursday, expressing regret for causing “dear friends and partners pain” and vowing to make amends.
The new statement was released two days after the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Baltimore philanthropy and CASA’s largest private donor, announced that it was pulling $150,000 in promised donations to the group and would not consider further funding requests until the organization made public attempts to demonstrate “a genuine understanding of the harm that it has caused, including substantive antisemitism training for the board and staff of the organization.”
CASA’s original statement, issued on Nov. 6, came after the organization’s leaders attended an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C., organized by groups generally aligned with pro-Palestinian forces.
“We specifically condemn the utilization of US tax dollars to promote the ongoing violence [in the Middle East],” the CASA statement and tweets on X — which were later pulled — said in part. “We call for an immediate ceasefire to save all precious life and halt the systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
Later, a screenshot emerged of a CASA social media post that showed showed a marcher with a sign that said “From the river to the sea,” which many people interpret to be a slogan that advocates for the elimination of Israel.
The question now is whether CASA’s new statement will satisfy all the critics who emerged after the initial controversy — including Montgomery County and state lawmakers who have threatened to scrutinize and possibly pull some public funding the group receives for multiple services that benefit the state’s immigrants.
Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D), chair of the Montgomery County Senate delegation, the lead signatory on a highly critical letter the county’s senators sent to CASA last week, called the group’s new statement a good first step, but that “there’s still work to be done.”
The new statement, from CASA’s longtime executive director, Gustavo Torres, reads in full:
“Dear family, friends, partners, legislators, and community,
“There is a humanitarian crisis in Israel and Palestine. With the mounting loss of innocent lives, we as a CASA community are calling for peace.“When we initially released a statement, we wanted to shine a spotlight directly on the innocent Israeli and Palestinian children and families caught in the midst of this horrendous conflict. We sought to condemn the violence and call for the protection of all civilians. This crisis echoes the violence CASA members have seen in their own home countries, from which many — myself included — have experienced horror, displacement and the loss of family members. “In doing so, we caused dear friends and partners pain. Our message was flawed, diminishing of Israeli people, hurtful to many of our Jewish allies, and counter to our goals of advancing peace. For that, I am sorry. We immediately took that statement down and removed the social media content. “We have apologized to our allies who have been harmed by our words and now do so to all of you. We wholeheartedly regret not reaching out to allies and communities grieving the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel when it occurred. In the weeks since then, we should have done deeper work to understand the crisis and the ways in which language is understood by people much closer to the situation. We grieve for all innocent lives lost in this latest conflict, no matter their faith or ethnic identity. “This has been a painful period of learning and growth, and we are grateful that so many of our partners have offered resources and guidance. And we are taking steps to put this learning into practice. We have upgraded our processes and will hold internal trainings on anti-Semitic, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim bias. “CASA has been a pillar for over 35 years in the community. For people forced to leave their home countries, a CASA office is one of their first stops for safety, community, legal services, English classes, youth education, and more. CASA’s health team kept people alive during the pandemic, leading COVID prevention efforts, participation in vaccine trials, and vaccine clinics that served tens of thousands. Many of you have hired CASA workers — day laborers who know how to paint or drywall your home or care for your children. “We believe in our organization, and CASA members truly believe in our work. As we move forward, we hope to regain the trust of those we have disappointed and hurt. We stand in solidarity with those advocating for peace and an end to the human suffering in Israel and Palestine. We hope to be able to do that together.”
In an interview Thursday, Kramer said, “I appreciate the fact that Mr. Torres has seen fit to issue the statement in recognition of the hurt [the previous statement] has caused and the harm it frankly has done to the Jewish community…I look forward to continuing to mend the relationship that was hurt by the statements they made.”
Kramer said he also hoped that “this is an opportunity to create a bond and an awareness of the complexities of the Middle East.”
Joanna Silver, a progressive activist from Silver Spring who was part of a group of Maryland Jews who wrote an op-ed in support of CASA earlier this week, tweeted Thursday that she hopes CASA critics accept the group’s apology.
“Jewish text commands us to accept sincere apologies and I hope Jews and non-Jews in our community will honor this tradition,” she wrote.
In a related development Thursday, the four state lawmakers from District 16 in Montgomery County — including two Jewish legislators who signed on to a letter this week asking CASA for an apology — issued a statement decrying the recent increase in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence in the community since the war in Gaza broke out.
“In this season of gratitude, we want to express our thanks for our neighbors, our constituents, and our community,” Sen. Ariana B. Kelly and Dels. Marc Korman, Sara Love and Sarah Wolek, all Democrats, wrote. “We are of different faiths, ethnicities, and identities, and strive to live together peacefully and respectfully in our district, county, and state. The trust and understanding we have built together surpasses tolerance. We are a community of empathy who cares for one another and stands by one another in times of joy and sorrow. This is unique and precious, and for that we are immensely grateful.
“The horrors and suffering that have unfolded for Israelis and Palestinians over the last few weeks are reverberating here at home. In no uncertain terms, we denounce and condemn the October 7th terrorist attacks by Hamas. We acknowledge that the Palestinian people are not responsible for the actions of Hamas and have a right to be safe. We hope for a safe return of the Israeli hostages and humanitarian aid for the innocent in Gaza. We denounce and condemn the Antisemitic, Anti-Muslim, and Anti-Arab hate that has surfaced around the world and here at home, including in our own community.
“Hate is an ugly and stealthy emotion that can creep in and take hold. All of us are keepers of our community, and we must safeguard what makes it so special. Respect, light, and love are a choice, and this Thanksgiving, we reaffirm each with gratitude.”