Zahra Billoo speaks at the Jan. 2018 Women's March in San Francisco. (Photo/Wikimedia-Pax Ahimsa Gethen CC BY-SA 4.0)
Zahra Billoo speaks at the Jan. 2018 Women's March in San Francisco. (Photo/Wikimedia-Pax Ahimsa Gethen CC BY-SA 4.0)

Zahra Billoo removed as keynote speaker at San Mateo women’s conference

Zahra Billoo, a Muslim civil rights attorney and activist in the Bay Area who came under fire recently for controversial remarks attacking mainstream Jewish organizations, has been removed as a keynote speaker from San Mateo County’s RISE 2022 women’s leadership conference.

Billoo, the executive director of the local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was slated to be one of three keynote speakers at a two-day virtual conference organized by the San Mateo County Commission on the Status of Women, scheduled for March.

She was meant to join Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and co-founder of robo-advisor investment platform Ellevest; and Haleema Bharoocha, a Muslim social impact consultant. According to conference organizer and county employee, Tanya Beat, Billoo was dropped due to remarks she made on Nov. 27, 2021, in a speech at an annual conference of American Muslims for Palestine in Chicago.

In that speech, Billoo urged her audience to oppose not only extreme right-wing forces, but also “polite Zionists,” including the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations, Hillel and “Zionist synagogues.”

“They are not your friends,” she said.

“Ms. Billoo is no longer scheduled as the keynote speaker,” Beat wrote in a Feb. 7 email to J. “The San Mateo County Women’s Leadership Conference seeks to provide an inclusive space for women and girls from all backgrounds to connect freely and engage in open dialogue. Ms. Billoo’s remarks from November 2021 do not align with those goals or the core values of the Commission on the Status of Women or the County of San Mateo.”

Responding to a Twitter message from J., Billoo sharply criticized the women’s leadership conference decision.

“In a progressive region like ours, it is completely unacceptable that San Mateo County is censoring the supporters of Palestinian human rights and capitulating to bigoted pressure to exclude Muslim women from a discussion about gendered Islamophobia,” she wrote. “Doing so unfortunately serves as a real-life example of exactly what our keynote panel was intended to address.”

Bharoocha will also no longer be speaking at the conference, having “removed herself as a speaker,” Beat told J.

Now, Krawcheck and Lan Phan, the founder and CEO of Community of SEVEN, an executive leadership development program, are scheduled as the two keynote speakers.

Billoo’s name also no longer appears on the speakers list for an April 26 event at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, J. has learned. That event, “Social justice activism in the United States: Jewish and Muslim Perspectives,” is hosted jointly by GTU’s “Madrasa-Midrasha” Muslim-Jewish interfaith program, and the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

GTU did not respond to a request for comment from J. as to why Billoo’s name is no longer on the event announcement.

It is not the first time Billoo has been removed from a women’s leadership role. She was removed from the board of directors of the Women’s March in 2019 over past tweets she wrote that criticized Israel, including one that equated the Israel Defense Forces with ISIS.

Billoo recently gave a speech in an online panel discussion held virtually on Jan. 30 in honor of California’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The event was co-sponsored by the Santa Clara County superior court, which was criticized by some Bay Area residents for its decision to include her on the panel.

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.