Did an Israel lobby front group organize McCain’s trip to Syria?

Maidhc Ó Cathail

The Passionate Attachment

June 6, 2013

In an attempt to dispel embarrassing reports that Senator John McCain’s “surprise” trip to Syria featured a meeting with kidnappers — including Mohammad Nour of the Northern Storm rebel group — behind the 2012 abduction of 11 Lebanese religious pilgrims, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin cited Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of a little-known organization called The Syrian Emergency Task Force:

“Nobody self-identified as Nour, and none of the guys who were standing outside were in the meeting with McCain,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit that helped organize the McCain trip. Moustafa is in the picture and was also inside McCain’s meeting with the rebel commanders, along with Task Force political director Elizabeth O’Bagy.

Rogin’s defense of McCain, of course, rests on the perceived independence of Moustafa’s “NGO.” The Syrian Emergency Task Force, however, appears to have close ties to one foreign government and its powerful American lobby. Not only is Mouaz Moustafa listed as one of the Washington Institute’s “experts,” he recently addressed the AIPAC-created think tank’s annual Soref symposium on the theme of “Inside Syria: The Battle Against Assad’s Regime.”

Even more intriguingly, one of the web addresses for Moustafa’s nonprofit is “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org.” The “torahacademybr.org” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel.”

Of course, none of this will come as any surprise to those familiar with John McCain’s lifelong service to the Land of Israel, a commitment that has invariably been at the expense of U.S. interests.

Update: Asked by a social media friend for his thoughts on my piece, Moustafa tweeted:

“utter BS I was born in a refugee camp denied entry to Palestinian territories by Israel even with American passport”

Perhaps his friends in the lobby can put in a good word for him.

After all, he helped organize their leading American asset’s trip to Syria; he’s a contributor to WINEP’s forum for Arab democrats; and for a dispossessed Palestinian refugee bears remarkably few grudges. “The Jewish American community here has always supported humanitarian causes and has always stood by the right thing,” he recently told the Jewish Daily Forward, “and I hope they’ll continue to do so.”

Update II: h/tip to @AsaWinstanley who informed me on Twitter:

@O_Cathail Most interesting report. You need to update though: WINEP have deleted his pages. They are on Google Cache. But video is private

Now that his pages have disappeared down the WINEP memory hole, it may be a little easier for @SoccerMouaz to deny his ties to the lobby with a slightly straighter face:

@AsaWinstanley @o_cathail call me terrorist/Qaeda/nazi as others have but not Zionist Im denied ever entering palestine but it lives in me..

Moustafa’s page can still be found on the WINEP-created Fikra Forum, however.

Update III: Progressive journalist Max Blumenthal appears to be uncharacteristically credulous of Mouaz Moustafa’s explanation of why the Syrian Emergency Task Force had the web address for a Torah Academy in Boca Raton at the end of its own URL. Tweeted ‏@MaxBlumenthal:

.@SoccerMouaz strongly disputes this report: https://thepassionateattachment.com/2013/06/04/did-an-israel-lobby-front-group-organize-mccains-trip-to-syria/ … Tells me url registration was due to dumb error by web designer.

Update IV: In response to the “explanation” above, I just tweeted:

@MaxBlumenthal @SoccerMouaz If the Torah Academy, BR part of SETF’s url was a “dumb error,” why wasn’t it corrected till I wrote my piece?

Update V: Blogger Phil Greaves has cited and expanded on my research into the Syrian Emergency Task Force:

Employing “political Directors”, that are affiliated with Neo-Con, and military contractor funded ‘NGO’ the Institute for the Study of War, seems somewhat contradictory to “improving the lives of average Syrian people”, and “supporting democratic aspirations” in the Middle East. Has it occurred to Moustafa and Obagy, that the vast majority of Syrian people want nothing to do with war criminals and pushers of all things US/Israeli militarism under the guise of “freedom and democracy”? One thinks this is out of the equation, and Moustafa’s ‘Syrian Emergency Task Force’ outfit is nothing more than a State Department/Neo-Con/Israel lobby initiated, propaganda outfit.

Update VI: It’s only appropriate that the Lobby ultimately behind Senator McCain’s trip to Syria should debrief him on his return:

The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted Senator McCain on the heels of his trip to the region (which included stops in Jordan, Turkey and Yemen). Brookings Senior Fellow Robert Kagan moderated the discussion and Vice President Martin Indyk, director of Foreign Policy, provided introductory remarks.

Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on and Twitter @O_Cathail.