Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is scheduled to appear at a CAIR-sponsored event Dec. 21 at Westview High School. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A conservative group wants Poway school officials to cancel a talk by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Palestinian-American seen as one of Israel’s most vocal critics in Congress.

The nonprofit Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund — which represented plaintiffs suing to prohibit the Council on American-Islamic Relations from teaching about Islam in San Diego Unified’s anti-bullying program — is protesting the CAIR-sponsored speech in the Poway Unified School District.

Flier for planned talk by Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

CAIR is promoting the visit by first-term Democrat Tlaib set for 7 p.m. Dec. 21 in the theater of Westview High School in the Torrey Ranch area.

A flier for the $65-a-person event — “Defending Our Communities, a Conversation with Rep. Rashida Tlaib” — lists UCSD political science professor Tom Wong and Dustin Craun as participants.

Wong, a Democrat, is a recent entry in the race to replace Rep. Susan Davis in the 53rd Congressional District. Craun is executive director of CAIR California.

Daniel Piedra of San Diego, FCDF executive director, wrote Poway schools Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps that the event would pain a community that saw the April attack on Chabad of Poway in which Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three others wounded, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.

“Rep. Tlaib has a public history of making anti-Semitic remarks and espousing animosity toward the State of Israel,” he wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.

Further, he said, “Tlaib has compared the boycott movement of Israel to the American boycott of Nazi Germany, claimed that thinking about the Holocaust gave her ‘kind of a calming feeling,’ and decried the ‘racist policies of the government and state of Israel.’”

Latest IRS filing, for 2017, by the nonprofit Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund. (PDF)

Piedra, who is Catholic and was raised in Michigan, earned a law degree at University of San Diego School of Law.

He continued: “Our letter is a sign of support for the local Jewish community and a notice to Congresswoman Tllaib that anti-Semitism is not welcome in San Diego. Poway is still healing from the horrific massacre at the Chabad center. We hope district leadership will understand that CAIR and Rep. Tlaib’s divisive rhetoric would open fresh wounds.”

Requests for comments from CAIR and the Poway Unified School District were pending.

The FCDF was founded in 2012 by Rancho Santa Fe lawyer Charles LiMandri, who defended the Mount Soledad Cross in San Diego from challenge by the ACLU. In 2017, he was paid $117,000 by the nonprofit and also claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars more for legal work on behalf of the group.

“The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund specializes in defending consciences properly formed in moral principles by providing legal services at the trial level,” said a 2012 Christian News Wire release.

“As the United States continues its rapid moral decline, real threats to our religious freedom are increasing exponentially. FCDF is prepared to engage legal, legislative, and cultural issues on behalf of people of faith by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education, and litigation,” the release said.

LiMandri is a longtime Republican donor who once gave to Democrats, including $1,000 each to Iraqi-born state Sen. Wadie Deddeh (in 1992) and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (1989).

Rashida Harbi Tlaib, 43, represents the western half of Detroit and became the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress and one of the first two Muslim women elected to the House — along with Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Tlaib, a member of “The Squad” who belongs to Democratic Socialists of America, has called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.

In August, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned Omar and Tlaib from visiting the country and the Palestinian territories.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” President Trump tweeted. “Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Donald Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World, where a version of this report first appeared. He may be contacted via Times of San Diego’s Ken Stone contributed to this report.