A group of Republican senators is now holding up Dilawar Syed’s confirmation because of his involvement with the Muslim American advocacy group Emgage Action. Syed is US President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration.
A press statement released on July 21 by the AAPI Victory Fund expressed outrage at the “delaying tactics” of Senate Republicans because of the nominee’s religion. Many Jewish American organisations rallied in support of Syed.
“Dilawar Syed is an exemplary public servant with a long history of ensuring that all small businesses have access to the support they need— regardless of who owns them,” AAPI Victory Fund chair Shekar Narasimhan was quoted as saying in a statement in the press statement.
“He has driven civic efforts at the federal, state, and local level focusing on economic growth and entrepreneurship. He has championed inclusive entrepreneurship from California’s rural heartland to under-served regions and communities around the country,” he said, adding, “The blatant attack on his immigrant background and his faith is unconscionable and highlights the discrimination Muslim Americans routinely face in America. Putting Dilawar Syed through a loyalty or religious test is unconstitutional and un-American.”
A statement released by Cardin on July 15 in support of Syed’s confirmation, “The SBA continues to support millions of American small businesses navigating the economic effects of the pandemic, so it is disappointing that my Republican colleagues on the committee are playing politics with this critical nomination.”
“Dilawar Syed has spent decades building and scaling successful businesses, as well as advocating for under-served small businesses. The accusations that my Republican colleagues have levied against Mr. Syed are without merit and are a blatant attempt to score political points rather than do their job on behalf of American small businesses,” stated Cardin.
Syed, the president and CEO of Lumiata, co-founded the AAPI Victory Fund. This gave Joe Biden an early endorsement during his 2020 presidential bid.
Lumiata is a company based in the San Francisco Bay Area that aims to develop artificial intelligence for use in health care in an attempt to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.
Biden nominated Syed in March. He would become the highest-ranking Muslim American in the Biden administration if approved and the first Pakistani American to serve in a Cabinet role.
As many as eight senators, led by Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, sent a letter to Cardin, D-Maryland on June 30. The letter noted that Syed was involved with Emgage Action, and organisation which, according to them, was “vocally anti-Israel.”
The senators stated in the letter that Emgage had called Israel an “apartheid state”. They further said that it supported sanctions, divestment, and a boycott of Israel.
“If an individual who supports these actions were to be confirmed, it would hinder the close cooperation businesses in America and Israel in areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, medicine, bio-medicine, and more,” the senators stated.
The letter was also signed by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Josh Hawley, R-Missouri; Tim Scott, R-South Carolina; John Kennedy, R-Louisiana; James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; Roger Marshall, R-Kansas; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
A letter released by the American Jewish Committee on July 7 dismissed the senators’ accusations. “Syed has been an active partner of the San Francisco Jewish community, including taking part in a program for the national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, co-convened by AJC. He traveled to Israel with the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco and has been involved in other Muslim-Jewish dialogue efforts,” wrote the organisation.
“The unsupported accusation that somehow Jewish businesses or those with ties to Israel may not fare as well under Syed’s leadership in the Small Business Administration has no factual grounding. Indeed, he has specifically disavowed support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks the dissolution of Israel,” it added.
The AJC also noted Syed’s own statement: “Let me unequivocally state that I do not support BDS. Throughout my career, I have supported engagement with Israeli business. I have personally conducted business with Israeli companies and have mentored entrepreneurs based in Israel.”
“While AJC often disagrees with Emgage on matters related to Israel, its advocacy is done in the great American tradition of respectful public debate. AJC rejects the charge that simply an affiliation with Emgage would reflect negatively on an individual, organisation, or agency,” said the organisation.
The American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League rallied in support of Syed as well.
Syed has earlier served in former President Barack Obama’s administration as a member of the White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He has also chaired the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Economic Growth Committee.
Syed holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in economics and computer science from the University of Texas at Austin.