South Florida Hotel Cancels Muslim Conference Citing Security Worries Amid Protest Calls

Marriott Hotel in South Florida Abruptly Cancels Muslim Group’s Conference Amid Controversy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In a sudden turn of events, the Marriott Coral Springs Hotel and Convention Center in South Florida has canceled a highly anticipated conference organized by the South Florida Muslim Federation, a coalition comprising approximately 30 mosques and Islamic groups. The decision came after a protest group accused the coalition of promoting terrorism, antisemitism, and its alleged affiliation with Hamas.

The South Florida Muslim Federation expressed its disappointment, stating that the cancellation was attributed to security concerns raised by the hotel. The federation claimed that it had received an onslaught of more than 100 phone calls demanding the exclusion of the group from the event. The conference, which was expected to draw over a thousand attendees, had been scheduled for this weekend.

This incident is not an isolated occurrence, as Muslim conferences in Arizona and Virginia have also faced cancellations since the recent attack by Hamas in Israel. The attack prompted Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, escalating tensions in the region. Moreover, Florida has imposed restrictions on a pro-Palestinian student group, prohibiting their activities in public universities.

President of the South Florida Muslim Federation, Samir Kakli, expressed his shock and frustration regarding Marriott’s decision. Kakli emphasized that the Muslim community in South Florida has previously held numerous conferences, weddings, and events at the Coral Springs Marriott without any incidents or concerns. In an attempt to address the hotel’s security concerns, the federation had already hired Coral Springs police officers and private guards for protection. However, their offer to enhance security measures was reportedly declined by Marriott.

Kakli recounted how the hotel management drew parallels between the potential risks associated with the conference and the tragic shooting that transpired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School six years ago, where 17 lives were lost. Regardless of the setback, Kakli affirmed the coalition’s determination to find an alternative venue to host the conference, stating, “We are going to stand up and keep doing the work we have been doing, which is to practice our right to freedom of religion and gather as a community with our peaceful, family events.”

Efforts to obtain comments from both the Coral Springs Marriott and the hotel chain’s corporate offices proved unsuccessful, as they did not respond to phone or email messages. The Coral Springs Police Department also refrained from providing a comment in response to an email request.

Joe Kaufman, the organizer of the protest against the conference, accused Kakli and the groups affiliated with the coalition of supporting terrorism, including the recent Hamas attack. Kaufman argued that some of the conference’s planned speakers had made antisemitic remarks and advocated for the destruction of Israel. However, he clarified that his concern was not against Muslims but against anyone promoting antisemitism.

Dismissing the allegations, Kakli vehemently denied endorsing terrorism or antisemitism. He contended that such accusations are often employed to delegitimize Muslims who criticize Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and its treatment of Gaza. In his response, Kakli asserted, “These are words that have been used by (Kaufman) for 15 years. They are anti-Muslim tropes that are no different than tropes that are used against other communities of color. They are shamelessly used to label our entire community as terrorists.”

Wilfredo Ruiz, spokesperson for the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Florida, contextualized the cancellation of the conference as part of a broader effort by both Governor Ron DeSantis and private businesses in Florida to suppress criticism of Israel. Ruiz highlighted recent incidents, including the state’s ban on the group Students for Justice in Palestine from public university campuses and the termination of Muslim doctors from Florida hospitals for expressing support for Palestinians.

Ruiz expressed concern about the erosion of free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution, stating, “This is not the way we are supposed to live, where our speech is protected by our Constitution here in America. It’s like we are in a different country.”

The South Florida Muslim Federation remains resilient and determined to uphold their constitutional rights, vowing to continue their work within the community and organize future events that promote peaceful gatherings and freedom of religion.

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