Trump nominee to lead UN migration agency IOM Ken Isaacs eliminated from race

Ken Isaacs, who faced serious allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry, was eliminated after three rounds of voting, said a source.
Ken Isaacs, who faced serious allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry, was eliminated after three rounds of voting, said a source.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Member states of the United Nations migration agency on Friday (June 29) rejected President Donald Trump's nominee for director general, repudiating historic American control of the organisation.

Ken Isaacs, who faced serious allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry, was eliminated after three rounds of voting, said a source with direct knowledge of the results, leaving the contest between Portuguese politician and former EU commissioner Antonio Vitorino and current IOM deputy chief Laura Thompson.

The UN migration agency was electing a new director general in a vote testing US influence in a major international organisation.

The head of the IOM has been an American throughout the agency's 67-year history with one exception from 1961 to 1969.

Trump's hardline stance on migration - from the so-called Muslim ban to his "zero tolerance" policy on the southern US border that led to separating parents and children - has jeopardised Washington's traditional right to choose the world's top migration official.

Trump's "America First" administration has also levelled ferocious attacks against multilateral bodies and undermined IOM's core global function - refugee resettlement.

Isaacs, an executive with the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse, had hardly been a lock to win. He has published numerous tweets describing Islam as an inherently violent religion, including after the 2016 attack in the French city of Nice that said "Islam is not peaceful".

 

He has also retweeted xenophobic material, like a post last year from Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, which argued "peaceful Muslims" and "Jihadis" were indistinguishable.

Isaacs made his Twitter account private amid the uproar that followed his nomination in February.

But he has not denied responsibility for any of his inflammatory comments and has apologised for any offence caused.

He told AFP in March that his decades-long record of humanitarian work in majority Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Iraq and Sudan proves he is not a bigot.

But for some, like the head of the NGO Refugees International Eric Schwartz, Isaacs's past comments were enough to disqualify him.

"Imagine, for instance, had a candidate for this position made a similar succession of disparaging remarks about Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians or any other religious group," Schwartz wrote in an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post.

"Would anyone seriously suggest that such statements should not present a bar from assuming such an important office as director general of IOM?", added Schwartz, who served as an assistant secretary of state under former US president Barack Obama.