Member of Maryland hate-crime commission reinstated after brief suspension


The Maryland Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday reinstated a member of the state’s Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention who had been suspended over social media posts about the Israeli government’s military actions in Gaza, saying in a statement that the office lacked the authority to remove her.

Zainab Chaudry, director of the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), returned to her role roughly two weeks after Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) swiftly suspended her, deeming her social media posts “disruptive” to the hate-crime panel’s work.

“Upon further review, it was determined that the law establishing the Commission directs the Attorney General to appoint members to a 4-year fixed term but does not provide the Attorney General the authority to remove a Commissioner before the expiration of their term nor the authority to suspend a Commissioner during their term of service,” a Brown spokesperson said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Chaudry is part of a 22-member panel created by the General Assembly earlier this year to combat escalating incidents of hate crimes recorded by the state in recent years, according to Maryland State Police, which compiles the data. She was appointed to the commission by Brown as the designee from CAIR, which, like other groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the NAACP, is guaranteed representation on the body.

Brown faced intense pressure to act last month as state lawmakers called for Chaudry’s removal. In the Nov. 21 statement announcing her suspension, Brown called the decision a “first test” with deep implications for a body that “must serve as a model for the entire State on how to respond to incidents of hate and bias.”

Chaudry at the time said she was being held to a different standard than other members of the panel.

“We welcome Attorney General Anthony G. Brown’s decision to reinstate the appointment,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy director of CAIR’s national office, said in a statement. “We also appreciate the productive conversations we have held with Attorney General Brown and his staff over the past few weeks. We agree that it is important for the commission to collaboratively develop additional guidelines and we look forward to upholding those guidelines, which must apply consistently to all commissioners.”

Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill to create the commission, said he plans to introduce legislation for the 2024 session that would give the attorney general the authority to remove and suspend commissioners based on a set code of conduct.

Vogel said he does not think that the commission, which is scheduled to meet next week, should convene until the attorney general has the new authority. “I don’t think we should give a platform for more hate to be espoused through this commission,” he said.

In one post, Chaudry directly compared Israel to Nazi Germany – a juxtaposition widely seen as antisemitic – with the caption, “That moment when you become what you hated most.” She said she could have included more context with that imagery, but she did not retract the sentiment.

“There are very chilling parallels between what we see occurring in Gaza with other very disturbing, terrifying moments in our world’s history,” Chaudry told The Washington Post last month during an interview.

Reached by email on Wednesday, Chaudry said: “Eradicating hate bias requires examining and working to fix injustices and protecting the rights for all our diverse communities. My focus has been to consistently and unapologetically advocate for Maryland’s Muslim, Palestinian and Arab communities, and all those who face intolerance, dehumanization, erasure and censorship. That has not changed.”

An increasingly bitter debate has been playing out across college campuses, on social media and among Democratic voters over the conflict and the U.S. response to it. President Biden has come under fire from liberal members of his party for the administration’s support of the Israeli military operation. And as the war continues, recent polls show a splintering in the party, with young voters and voters of color increasingly expressing sympathy with Palestinians.

About 80 percent of Gaza’s population of more than 2 million has been displaced, according to the United Nations, as Israeli forces continue responding to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.

After Brown announced Chaudry’s reinstatement, Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, called for her to resign.

“Ms. Chaudry remains a divisive and polarizing presence on the commission, which dramatically undermines its ability to carry out its critical mission,” Halber said.

Before the commission’s Dec. 13 meeting, Brown plans to distribute draft operating guidelines for review by the body that address balancing a member’s right to freedom of speech and the role of a commissioner.

“The draft guidelines will emphasize that appointees to the Maryland Hate Crimes Commission are public officials charged with specific roles and responsibilities under State law,” the attorney general’s office said in its statement. “In accepting these positions, appointees assume an obligation to put their own interests aside when coming to the table to serve as advisers on matters of such great public importance.”

The commission has had only one meeting since it was formed.

Minutes before the commission adjourned its first and only meeting in September, Chaudry, one of the more outspoken members of the panel during the nearly 90-minute meeting, expressed an eagerness to jump in, describing the commission’s charge to find ways to prevent hate and bias incidents as one of her priorities.

“I’m really excited. This is a long time in the making,” she told the panel, noting her organization’s push to advance the bill that created the commission. “I think the diversity here in this space is really important because it reflects so many different communities to deal with hate bias. And I just can’t wait to get to work.”



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