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Foundation pulls CASA funding as lawmakers seek formal apology

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, spoke at a rally in Annapolis in March 2023. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

A major foundation has pulled funding from CASA, the Maryland-based immigrants’ rights organization under fire for its recent pro-Palestinian tweets, and Jewish lawmakers are calling for a public apology.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the biggest and most powerful philanthropies in Maryland, announced the decision to pull funding Tuesday.

In a letter to Gustavo Torres, CASA’s longtime executive director, Weinberg leaders wrote that they would stop a promised $150,000 payment to CASA earmarked for 2024 and would seek to remove the Weinbergs’ names from two employment centers the foundation helped fund in the Baltimore area.

The letter, signed by Weinberg Foundation Board Chair Paula Pretlow and President and CEO Rachel Garbow Monroe, said the foundation has given CASA more than $5 million through the years and said it will redirect the $150,000 it was due to pay CASA “to another nonprofit committed to serving refugees and asylum seekers in Maryland.”

Pretlow and Monroe wrote that they met with CASA leaders earlier this month and discussed their disappointment with several of the statements CASA issued on Nov. 6 about the conflict in Gaza, after several of its members attended a weekend anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C. After the meeting, Pretlow and Monroe added, additional concerns surfaced, including a screenshot of a social media post that showed a poster with the slogan “from the river to the sea.”

Many, including the foundation leaders, interpret the pro-Palestinian slogan as a call to eliminate the state of Israel.

Pretlow and Monroe were also incredulous that CASA has yet to issue a promised public apology — though the organization did pull its original social media postings and acknowledged that their words “have caused hurt.”

“The Foundation is not a political organization, and we realize that events in the Middle East leave room for honest discussion, debate, and disagreement,” the Weinberg leaders wrote. “But there is no place in our world, or our community, for hate, and we refuse to support any organization promoting and standing by words of hate.”

In a brief statement issued Wednesday, Torres said “we deeply appreciate the 15-year partnership we’ve shared with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and are profoundly grateful for their long standing support.” CASA declined to answer additional questions. 

Weinberg said it would not consider future grant requests from the immigrants’ rights organization “unless and until the organization demonstrates a genuine understanding of the harm that it has caused, including substantive antisemitism training for the board and staff of the organization.”

That sentiment was echoed Tuesday in a statement by 19 Jewish members of the General Assembly, who forwarded their joint statement to CASA.

“We were deeply disappointed and hurt by the recent social media posts of CASA de Maryland and its Executive Director, Gustavo Torres, and found them to be inaccurate and ill-conceived,” the lawmakers wrote. “They displayed a profound misunderstanding of Middle East history, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jewish history, and antisemitism. While we are thankful that the posts were removed, and an acknowledgement that CASA’s words were hurtful, we believe more intentional actions are needed including a public apology, continued outreach to the community, and a commitment, within the organization, to dive more deeply into these issues.”

The letter stated that several of the lawmakers identify with CASA’s mission of “making Maryland a welcoming state for immigrants.”

“Many of us are immigrants or are from families only one or two generations removed from having arrived in this country, frequently seeking refuge in America from violent antisemitism abroad,” they wrote. “The struggles of being a new immigrant to this country are quite real and personal to us. That is why we have each worked so closely with CASA over the years.”

The letter concludes that the lawmakers “stand squarely against antisemitism and Islamophobia and believe in the rights of all people to live safely and peacefully, both here and in the Middle East.”

The lawmakers “stand ready and waiting to work for these values with all individuals and organizations willing to join us in these efforts.”

Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), who organized the joint statement, said CASA would continue to be included in that group. However, she also hopes for a deeper conversation about the organization’s statements.

“I hope — and my conversations indicate — that they realize the hurtful nature of their comments,” Hettleman said. “And I hope they will publicly explain them, apologize for them, and learn from this.”

The letter follows an earlier one signed by all nine of Montgomery County’s state senators suggesting that state funding for the organization — which receives about two-thirds of its money from local, state and federal governments — could be in jeopardy.

“We cannot and will not allow taxpayer money to subsidize hate speech. In light of CASA’s recent postings and statements, this might be an appropriate time to reevaluate the state’s mechanism for providing financial aid and support to our immigrant community,” the senators wrote.

The ACLU of Maryland issued a statement Wednesday that called the threat of defunding unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

“Publicly threatening to defund an organization because of its political position is exactly the kind of viewpoint discrimination that the Constitution forbids, and among the most dangerous kind of wrongdoing by public officials because it fundamentally threatens democratic institutions, and chills not only the direct target, but anyone else thinking about also speaking out,” the ACLU said.


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Foundation pulls CASA funding as lawmakers seek formal apology