By Steven Emerson,
The Investigative Project
The Jewish Voice and Opinion
Islamists on Capitol Hill have few better allies than Rep. Bill Pascrell, (D-NJ), who is currently running against fellow Democrat Rep Steve Rothman in what will be a tough primary on June 5.
A former mayor of Paterson, Mr. Pascrell, 75, is in his eighth term representingPassaicCountyinNew Jersey’s 8th Congressional District. He is an outspoken critic of congressional efforts to investigate Muslim radicalization in the US and a top ally of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has long been accused of supporting Islamist terrorists and the implementation of Sharia law in the US.
Like Mr. Pascrell, Mr. Rothman (whose old district was dismantled in redistricting) is a liberal Democrat who entered Congress in 1997.
But the two men have very different records on Israel. Mr. Rothman is a strong supporter of the Jewish state. Mr. Pascrell has been a strong supporter of Islamists whose goal is to destroy it.
Just last year, at a House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee hearing on radicalization within the Muslim community, witnesses discussed the dramatic increase in jihadist terror plots on American soil. Mr. Pascrell attacked the premise that radical Islamic terror deserved any special focus, stating that “some pretty bad people come out of Catholic churches.”
One witness at the hearing was Melvin Bledsoe, whose son, Carlos (AKA Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad), was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for shooting to death one soldier and wounding another outside a Little Rock, Ark. military recruiting center in June 2009.
Melvin Bledsoe testified about his family tragedy, specifically about his son’s transformation from a normal American teen-ager into a jihadist. The elder Bledsoe’s call for Americans to unite against jihadist recruitment efforts drew a sharp rebuke from Mr. Pascrell, who denied any divisions existed.
“When you say ‘the other side,’ I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Mr. Pascrell told Mr. Bledsoe. “We are all in this together.”
Letters for Hamas
Mr. Pascrell’s history of support for the Islamists is nothing new.
In 2009, he was one of 62 lawmakers—including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA)—who signed a January 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting that Israel was to blame for denying “critically needed aid” to Palestinian residents of Gaza.
After the letter was sent, CAIR’s New Jersey chapter (CAIR-NJ) issued an “Action Alert,” urging supporters to thank signers of the letter for “their support of human rights” by “address[ing] the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
The letter neglected to mention the role played by Gaza’s ruling Hamas regime in creating the humanitarian crisis by provoking war with Israel, sending rockets into its civilian centers, and exacerbating the situation through its extensive use of civilian human shields.
In 2010, Mr. Pascrell was one of 54 House members (including Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison), who signed a one-sided letter to President Barack Obama accusing Israel of imposing “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”
The Hill reported that after Mr. Pascrell signed the 2010 letter, Mr. Rothman (at that time a political ally) defended his colleague’s record on Israel. These days, Mr. Rothman and his supporters are singing a different tune about Mr. Pascrell.
Although Mr. Pascrell has portrayed himself as pro-Israel, his efforts to do so in the current campaign have been marred by missteps. He won the endorsement of NJ real-estate mogul David Steiner, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), only to learn that, in 1993, Mr. Steiner was forced to resign in disgrace after publicly exaggerating the organization’s power to choose President Bill Clinton’s cabinet.
“I’m not sure why Pascrell proactively calls attention to how little support he has within the pro-Israel community,” an unnamed NJ Democrat recently told the Washington Free Beacon. “First, he bragged about the endorsement of a one-term, 80-plus year-old congressman [former Democratic Rep. Herb Klein] and now the endorsement of a former president of AIPAC who embarrassed AIPAC so much when he was president that they forced him to resign.”
Mr. Pascrell’s bid for Jewish votes has been further undercut by his refusal to denounce local Arab-American activist Aref Assaf, who responded with accusations of dual loyalty to reports that Orthodox-Jewish Republicans were changing their party registration in order to vote for Mr. Rothman in the Democratic primary.
“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice: Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” wrote Mr. Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum (AAF) which posted the op-ed, printed in a local newspaper, on its website.
Many of Mr. Rothman’s supporters demanded that Mr. Pascrell disavow Assaf’s comments, but he refused. Mr. Assaf termed complaints about his column “Islamophobia” and “deplorable blanket racism.” He published another op-ed on the primary suggesting Mr. Pascrell was under fire from “Jewish sources” because he is not regarded as “a perfect example of an Israeli loyalist.”
“While some of Rothman’s supporters put the flag and the security of another country above ours, we place America first and unconditionally,” Mr. Assaf wrote. “While they put Israel first, we place America second to none.”
Asked about Mr. Pascrell’s refusal to repudiate Mr. Assaf’s comments, veteran Democratic Party activist Joshua Block didn’t mince words.
“The unwillingness to directly confront and condemn this antisemitic invective and bigotry is despicable,” said Mr. Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC. “Silence in the face of this kind of hate speech says it all.”
But Passaic County Democratic Party leaders view the matter differently. On March 24, party executive leaders unanimously endorsed Mr. Pascrell. He “was the best choice and had the most experience on the diverse issues that affect Passaic County,” said county Democratic Party chairman John Currie.
Mr. Assaf is not the first political ally Mr. Pascrell has refused to condemn for making antisemitic comments. Speaking at a Pascrell fundraiser in 2002, Lebanese-American businessman Sami Merhi likened then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler and said he “can’t see the comparison” between the 9/11 hijackers and Palestinian suicide bombers.
When Mr. Merhi ran for a seat as Passaic County freeholder in 2006, senior NJ Democrats, including Sen. Robert Menendez, repudiated his remarks and said they could not support his candidacy. Mr. Pascrell called Mr. Merhi’s comments a “mistake,” but refused to abandon Mr. Merhi, a friend who had raised money for the congressman’s previous campaigns.
“He’s a well-vetted candidate,” Mr. Pascrell said of Mr. Merhi. “I believe he’s a good man, and he’ll represent all the people of Passaic County.”
But Mr. Pascrell’s support wasn’t enough to save Mr. Merhi. One week after endorsing his nomination, the Passaic County Democratic screening committee reversed itself, voting 20-3 to withdraw its support.
“Political lynching of Arab Americans is now an accepted practice,” Mr. Assaf said at the time. “Every Arab American is now Sami Merhi.”
Mr. Assaf went on to accuse a Jewish official who supported Mr. Merhi’s ouster of seeking “to transform [sic] the conflict between Arabs and Jews from the streets of Jerusalem to the streets of Passaic County.”
Connections with Mr. Assaf and CAIR are not just an embarrassing problem for Pascrell. Last month, Gary Schaer, a prominent Democratic NJ state assemblyman whose endorsement prompted 15 local Orthodox synagogues to back Mr. Rothman, blasted Mr. Assaf for impugning the motives of Jewish voters.
But as recently as last December, Messrs Assaf and Schaer were on much friendlier terms. They appeared together at CAIR-NJ’s annual banquet, where Mr. Assaf made a “special presentation” to Mr. Schaer, giving him the “CAIR-NJ 2011 Public Leadership Award” for “his dedication to protecting the civil and religious rights of all citizens.”
While he has avoided repudiating antisemites and conspiracy-mongers, Mr. Pascrell has shown less reticence about criticizing the New York Police Department (NYPD) for using “religious profiling” in surveillance at NJ mosques.
Considers CAIR “Preeminent”
Over the years, Mr. Pascrell has been a leading congressional ally of CAIR, which has established roots in the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization found to be a front group for Hamas. Prosecutors designated CAIR an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). CAIR was so designated because of its associations with the US Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee.
Prosecutors charged that the Palestine Committee was created to provide Hamas with financial and political support in the US. Five senior HLF officials were convicted of all charges for funneling approximately $12 million to Hamas and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years.
The FBI cut off contact with CAIR in 2008 based on evidence in the HLF case, writing that “until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner.”
But longstanding concerns about CAIR’s radical record haven’t prevented Mr. Pascrell from forging close ties with the organization.
CAIR’s website contains this glowing testimonial from the New Jersey lawmaker:
“With over 30 CAIR Chapters spread throughout the United States and Canada, it is clear that CAIR has become the preeminent organization representing the concerns of Muslim Americans. I want to personally commend CAIR for its work on issues including civil liberties and opening dialogue with various communities in America.”
Mr. Pascrell was one of 23 members of Congress who printed proclamations in the program at CAIR’s 12th annual national banquet in November 2006.
He was one of nine members who printed proclamations at CAIR’s 2008 national banquet. “Since 2003, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ NJ Chapter has encouraged progressive dialogue throughout my district and throughout many NJ communities. The NJ Chapter’s hard work does not go unrecognized by this office,” Mr. Pascrell wrote. “I want to offer my heartfelt congratulations … to wish you the same success in the future you have had in your past.”
Mr. Pascrell joined three other members of Congress in publishing proclamations at CAIR’s 2009 national banquet.
Giving CAIR a Room
In March 2007, Mr. Pascrell created a stir after he reserved a conference room in the US Capitol for a CAIR panel discussion entitled “Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations: US Policy Implications.” The panel included Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, who analyzed polls on relations between Muslims and the West, and CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.
Mr. Pascrell’s spokesman Caley Gray said the forum “opens up an important dialogue about global public opinion concerning the US.”
“We see it as a simple room request,” said Mr. Gray. “We did receive a room request and evaluated it and approved it.”
Not everyone on Capitol Hill regarded it as an ordinary request. “It does happen all the time, but usually it is the United Way or some constituent group or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, not a group with supposed ties to terrorism—in the Capitol no less,” a Hill staffer said at the time.
“We know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (NY), a member of the party’s Senate leadership. Mr. Schumer has criticized CAIR for its “intimate links with Hamas.”
Pascrell and Corzine
In February 2004, CAIR’s NJ office issued a statement praising Mr. Pascrell and then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J) for condemning NY Republican Rep. Peter King’s assertion that most American mosques were controlled by radicals.
Messrs Pascrell and Corzine both spoke at the Annual Community Brunch held by the American Muslim Union (AMU) on Feb. 21, 2004, which was cosponsored by 10 other organizations, including CAIR-NJ and the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC).
According to a report by Joel Mowbray in the Boston Sun, Magdy Mahmoud, co-founder and president of CAIR’s NJ chapter, was another cosponsor of the AMU brunch.
Mr. Mahmoud served on the executive board of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) from 1993-98 and directed MAYA’s chapters committee. During Mr. Mahmoud’s tenure, the organization hosted a 1995 event in Toledo where Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi praised Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Our brothers in Hamas, in Palestine, the Islamic resistance, the Islamic Jihad, after the rest have given up and despaired, the movement of the jihad brings us back to our faith,” Mr. Qaradawi declared.
In the same speech, Mr. Qaradawi advocated killing Jews. He said that “the balance of power will change, and this is what is told in the Hadith of Ibn Omar and the Hadith of Abu-Harairah: ‘You shall continue to fight the Jews and they will fight you, until the Muslims will kill them. And the Jew will hide behind the stone and the tree will say: Oh servant of Allah, Oh Muslim, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him!’ The resurrection will not come before this happens. This is a text from the good omens in which we believe.”
Mr. Qaradawi vowed that Muslims would conquer Europe and the US. “Islam will come back to Europe for the third time, after it was expelled from it twice,” Mr. Qaradawi said. “We will conquer Europe; we will conquer America! Not through sword but through da’wa [proselytizing].”
Other Brunch Sponsors
Another sponsor or the 2004 AMU brunch was The Dar-ul-Islah Islamic Center. Its co-founder Waheed Khalid has defended Hamas and declined comment when asked whether he believed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were forgeries. Asked by The Record in 1998 about Hamas activities, Mr. Khalid replied: “They are trying to get the occupiers out of their home.”
In 1989, Mohammed El-Mezain, one of the five HLF officials convicted in 2008, co-founded another sponsor of the brunch, the ICPC, and served as its first imam. According to a memorandum written by former FBI Assistant Counterterrorism Director Dale Watson, Mr. Mezain (now serving a 15-year prison term for his HLF conviction) claimed in a 1994 speech at the mosque that he raised $1.8 million in the US for Hamas.
In February 2003, the ICPC reportedly hosted Islamist militant Abdelhaleem Ashqar, later sentenced to 11 years in prison for criminal contempt and obstruction of justice after refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Hamas support in the US.
No Radical Islamists Here
Mr. Pascrell described allegations that any cosponsors of the February 2004 community brunch were radical Islamists or linked to terrorist organizations as “pure crap.” Asked by Mr. Mowbray if he believed he was providing legitimacy to radical organizations by appearing at the event, Mr. Pascrell replied: “I’m not going to deal in rumors. The rest is crap. I know these men as fine family men.”
A spokesman for Mr. Pascrell later clarified that his boss was not referring to Alaa al-Sadawi, former imam at El Tawheed Islamic Center in Jersey City (another sponsor of the event), who was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to five years, three months in prison for attempting to smuggle $659,000 to Egypt. Mr. Sadawi raised money for the Global Relief Foundation, designated as a terrorist financier by the Treasury Department for its links with al-Qaeda. Mr. Sadawi later pleaded guilty to lying in order to obtain US citizenship.
“That guy should be in jail,” the spokesman said of Mr. Sadawi. “But you can’t hold the members of the mosque responsible for his actions.”
Another imam at the ICPC, Mohammad Qatanani, was accused of lying on his US immigration documents when he failed to disclose his confession to Israeli authorities that he was a member of Hamas, and his Israeli court conviction for membership in the terror group. Federal Immigration Judge Alberto Riefkohl ruled in favor of Mr. Qatanani in 2008, but the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned part of the order the following year, holding that Judge Riefkohl had erred in downplaying Israeli evidence showing Mr. Qatanani’s links with Hamas.
There was plenty of evidence in the US. Mr. Qatanani spoke at a November 1999 IAP conference, an organization to which Mousa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas official and former IAP board member, gave $490,000. Evidence at the HLF trial showed the IAP played a central role in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee—in essence, serving as Hamas’ US-based infrastructure.
In a September 2004 article in the NJ Herald-News, Mr. Qatanani advocated supporting the children of suicide bombers. During the HLF trial, he publicly prayed for the Hamas-linked defendants and delivered a sermon condemning Christians to eternal hellfire. In another sermon, Mr. Qatanani suggested all of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza were part of “Greater Syria” and that fighting to conquer these lands is a divine commandment for Muslims. These sermons were available in English on the mosque’s website.
Supporting His Friend
None of this stopped Mr. Pascrell from praising Mr. Qatanani and lobbying on his behalf. When the imam faced deportation, Mr. Pascrell submitted a court affidavit calling Mr. Qatanani “peace-loving” and “magnanimous.”
“As a religious leader, Imam Qatanani has had an enormously positive impact in my district,” the congressman wrote. “Our community would suffer a serious loss should he be required to leave.”
The Record published photos of Mr. Pascrell warmly greeting Mr. Qatanani during a 2009 interfaith event marking the start of Ramadan.
Hours after Judge Riefkohl’s initial 2008 ruling that Mr. Qatanani could remain in the US, Mr. Pascrell joined Gov. Chris Christie and other officials in paying tribute to the imam. At a breaking of the Ramadan fast in Paterson that evening, Mr. Pascrell gushed about Mr. Qatanani: “You put so much time into bringing peace for all of us. Thank you imam, for all you’ve done for America since you’ve come here.”
Others attending the celebration included Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano and Weysan Dun, FBI special agent in charge of the Bureau’s Newark office; the director of the NJ Office of Homeland Security; and various sheriffs and county prosecutors.
After the Board of Immigration Appeals held that Judge Riefkohl had erred in downplaying Israeli evidence showing Mr. Qatanani’s links with Hamas, the imam is still in the US pending the outcome of deportation proceedings.
Islamists’ Reliable Ally
In 2008, Mr. Pascrell defended controversial New York City subway ads promoting Islam. The ads, financed by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), featured phrases like “Head Scarf?” and “Prophet Muhammad?” on one side, with the words “You deserve to know” and “WhysIam.org” on the other.
NY’s Rep. King urged transit officials not to run the ads, citing the high-profile role in promoting the ad campaign played by radical Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a former CAIR advisory board member and a frequent speaker at the group’s events.
Mr. Wahhaj was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1995 federal trial of Omar Abdel Rahman (“the Blind Sheik”), who was convicted of conspiring to bomb NY landmarks, including FBI headquarters, and is serving a life sentence in prison.
Mr. Wahhaj testified in defense of the sheik, whom he called a “respected scholar” and “bold, as a strong preacher of Islam.” Mr. Abdel Rahman was convicted also of plotting to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Mr. Wahhaj has also called for the establishment of an Islamic state in the US and has urged Muslim involvement in American politics because “politics are a weapon to use in the cause of Islam.”
When Mr. King pointed to Mr. Wahhaj’s radicalism, Mr. Pascrell expressed disappointment that “any public official” would oppose the subway advertisements. Mr. Pascrell described Mr. Wahhaj’s ad campaign as “exactly the kind of dialogue we need,” one that would “bridge the gaps in our collective knowledge.”
Small wonder that CAIR’s NJ chapter sent out a July 31, 2008 “Action Alert” urging American Muslims and “other people of conscience” to thank Mr. Pascrell for “standing up to those who seek to marginalize the American Muslim community.”
Mr. Pascrell can sound strident when the facts don’t completely match his Islamist-supporting political narrative. When ABC Television announced plans to broadcast a “docudrama” criticizing the Clinton administration’s handling of the al-Qaeda threat, Mr. Pascrell denounced the film at a September 2006 Capitol Hill press conference, suggesting it was little more than fiction aimed at advancing the Republican Party.
Mr. Pascrell insisted the 9/11 Commission had found no evidence of “retreat or negligence” by the Clinton administration.
But Mr. Pascrell neglected to point out that the commission’s report was sharply critical of both the Bush and Clinton administrations’ handling of the threat. It found that the Clinton administration had as many as four chances to capture or kill Osama bin Laden from December 1998 to July 1999 but failed to act.
There is no public polling data to indicate whether Mr. Pascrell faces any political backlash for collaborating with CAIR or treating with contempt a father like Mr. Bledsoe, who lost his son to Islamist radicalism.
But there are indications that Mr. Pascrell’s pro-Islamist views could be helping attract more Jews into the Rothman camp in this Democrat-dominated district.
The website NorthJersey.com reported that, in April, voter registration data from six Passaic County towns in the new district showed that since January 1 (shortly after Mr. Rothman announced he would run against Mr. Pascrell) more than 900 previously registered Republican or unaffiliated voters switched to the Democratic Party, with less than 200 switching from Democrat to Republican.
In an effort to continue this trend, a recent letter paid for by the Rothman campaign urged Orthodox-Jewish Republicans to switch their registration so they could vote for him in the June primary.
A Pascrell spokesman suggested Mr. Rothman’s efforts to encourage GOP party-switching constituted disloyalty to the Democratic Party, terming it “a slap in the face.” But many in the local Jewish community may conclude that Mr. Pascrell’s own behavior (and in particular his refusal to repudiate antisemitic slurs from prominent supporters like Mr. Assaf) may be spurring Jews to cross party lines to vote against him.
In another op-ed last month, Mr. Assaf suggested that opposition to Mr. Pascrell from the local Jewish community threatened to undermine what had been a “cordial and cooperative” relationship with Paterson’s Arabs and Muslims. He hinted that Jewish opposition to the congressman would be regarded as evidence of anti-Muslim bigotry.
Mr. Assaf claimed that Mr. Pascrell “is being condemned for failing to be 100 percent on the side of a foreign country (Israel)” and for “sleeping with a suspect community (Arab/Muslim) whose vote will most likely determine the outcome of the elections.”
“Sadly, politics, money, lobbying and disinformation are about to spoil whatever semblance of friendship and hope there are,” he added. “The turf war has begun, and while we did not start it, the community of Arabs and Muslims in the district gave Pascrell victory. Jewish and now some mainstream newspapers have framed the June 5 primary as a litmus test for the survival of Israel.”
Pro-Israel voters in NJ’s new 9th District may think he’s right.