Sanat Sethy, an Indian American running for mayor of San Ramon, California, has told indica News that allegations of Islamophobia against him are nothing but a “political stunt.”
Sethy said he feels hurt with the criticism he has received for not taking part in an election forum hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization.
Sethy, an engineer and businessman, is running for San Ramon mayor for the second time.
The other candidates in the fray for the November 3 election are city council members Dave Hudson and Sabina Zafar, Aparna Maddireddi, Susmita Nayak, and Dinesh Govindarao.
Nayak and Govindarao also did not participate in the CAIR event held on September 30, citing scheduling conflict.
In conversation with indica News, Sethy called the criticism against him a “political stunt.”
Sethy, who ran for mayor unsuccessfully in 2018, said he participated then in a debate hosted by the San Ramon Valley Islamic Center (SRVIC) “because it’s a community organization and local.”
He said he had asked the person who approached him this time if there were any local organizations sponsoring the debate.
“CAIR said no,” Sethy told indica News.
However, in a media release, CAIR said the debate was sponsored in coordination with the San Ramon Valle Islamic Center and the Muslim Community Center of the East Bay (MCC).
Sethy told indica News that the local organizations may have joined later.
Sethy issued a press note that said that he was opting out because “previous positions of the Council on American-Islamic Relations do not align with his person values or values of San Ramon residents. Some of these positions include anti-Semitic comments made by members of CAIR in the past.”
He also stated that CAIR focuses on national issues as opposed to municipal issues due to the fact that CAIR is a national organization. As a mayoral candidate his priorities will always be centered around San Ramon and so attending centered around a national organization is unnecessary counterproductive, he added.
“There are so many local issues, from crowded schools to city budget, traffic, creating jobs and bringing businesses and a mayor’s job should be focused on that,” Sethy told indica News.
Contacted, Zoha Raza, communications coordinator at CAIR, told indica News: “The forum and participating candidates discussed local issues including Covid, housing and homelessness, economic development, the question of defunding the police, racism and hate incidents, and traffic and pedestrian safety.”
“Our local office has been hosting candidate forums for over a decade,” Raza said.
The CAIR-SFBA along with local Muslim and Jewish organizations condemned what they called Sanat Sethy’s Islamophobia and fear-mongering rhetoric.
The CAIR statement said: “Sethy chose to forego the opportunity to connect with voters deflecting from his unwillingness to do so by attempting to pit Muslims and Jews against each other by raising false allegations of anti-Semitism and claiming the debate and CAIR’s work were exclusively national in focus.”
Sethy told indica News: “The truth is, this whole situation has come as a little bit of a shock to me, and I feel hurt by the nature of CAIR’s allegations.”
“I love San Ramon and its residents. I care for every person in our city. Our diversity, our backgrounds, races, religions, are what makes San Ramon such a vibrant city to live in. As a person of color and immigrant, I passionately condemn racism, discrimination, and prejudice beliefs against all persons,” Sethy said.
“After seeing the evidence of San Francisco CAIR executive director Zahra Billoo’s’s anti-Semitism for myself, I knew it was wrong to give voice to a platform that allows such a blatantly prejudiced person to maintain the position of executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter.”
He added: “October 5 was the first official day of elections in San Ramon. On October 5, a series of seemingly coordinated press releases were released from several sources including CAIR and JVP, along with many social media posts, and statements that condemned my candidacy and my character.”
“To pull off coordinated attacks of that magnitude takes planning. Is it a coincidence that all this occurred on October 5? I don’t believe so. This is clearly a political stunt.”
On social media, Sethy posted: “ I can only hope that the leaders of CAIR realize the real-world implications of false allegations of bigotry. Spreading false and baseless accusations of Islamophobia takes attention away from authentic issues that need media coverage.”
He told indica News: “I would never refuse to attend a debate because of the religion of the host. That being said, I did and would refuse to go to debate if the host refused to condemn prejudice or racist views. I think it’s really ironic that I’m the one who’s getting called a bigot in this situation while CAIR continues to employ openly prejudiced members. There are countless instances of anti-Semitic comments made by members of CAIR.”
“Billoo was actually voted off the board of the Women’s March, Inc due to anti-Semitic comments. My personal reason for not attending the debate is directly related to Billoo,” he added.
He cited some of Billo’s social media posts, including ones that accused Israel of committing “war crimes and terrorism as a hobby”, called Israel “an apartheid, racist state,” and one tweet that said: “No need for a holocaust museum, seeing as Israel has taken it upon itself to recreate it. #Israel #Nazis”.
“Referring to the only Jewish state on Earth as terrorists and Nazis and making sardonic jokes regarding the Holocaust goes beyond the line of insensitivity,” Sethy said.
Billoo acknowledged the tweets to sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com, but said that Sethy was conflating a critique of Israel and anti-Semitism..
“I stand by those stated critiques of the apartheid and violence perpetrated by Israel, and funded by US tax dollars,” said Billoo.
“This ordeal was simply a PR stunt,”Odisha-born Sethy insisted. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that you do your own research on my points and don’t believe the lies spread by CAIR against my character.”
He added: “I would also like to call all other candidates running for mayor to condemn Billoo’s comments. This isn’t a left or right issue. It is a right or wrong issue.”