The Congressman and the Imam

Democrat’s Support for Radical Cleric Emerges As Issue in House Race

July 27, 2012

New Jersey Democratic congressman Bill Pascrell is under fire for supporting a Muslim cleric who was convicted in Israel of having ties to the terror group Hamas and who believes Israel’s creation was "the greatest disaster which occurred on the face of the Earth."

At issue is the veteran lawmaker’s longtime association with Imam Mohammad Qatanani, a prominent New Jersey spiritual leader who is battling the federal government as it attempts to deport him for allegedly lying about his ties to Hamas.

Pascrell has defended Qatanani, helping him to remain in the U.S. despite the imam’s ties to Hamas affiliates.

"Congressman Pascrell represents one of the most diverse districts in the country, and has a proven track record of fighting on behalf of all of his constituents, no matter their race or religion," Keith Furlong, a Pascrell campaign spokesperson, told the Free Beacon via email.

"He continues to work to build bridges in both New Jersey and Washington, where he is focused on bringing Democrats and Republicans together to help middle class taxpayers, especially on building support for his Bring Job [sic] Home Act to insource jobs back to the United States."

Furlong did not respond to a follow up that asked whether Pascrell, who became a controversial figure in the pro-Israel community following a contentious Democratic primary battle last month against Jewish Rep. Steve Rothman (D., N.J.), disagrees with Qatanani’s radical views.

Pascrell’s silence has distressed New Jersey’s Jewish voters, many of whom are still reeling from a bitter primary battle in which Pascrell stood silently by as his Muslim supporters accused Rothman of being more loyal to Israel than America.

"The pattern is very disturbing because what it’s telling me is if [Pascrell] is sent back to Congress, there will be a Democratic congressman who we have to seriously consider as being an enemy to the state of Israel," said Bob Yudin, a 73-year-old Republican activist from Bergen County. "It’s very serious."

Pascrell "is not doing the ethical thing. His silence shows support for" a community leader who decried Israel’s creation, Yudin said. "How can an American Congressman, even by silence, support that?"

Though Qatanani is often referred to as a moderate, recently translated audio recordings reveal the imam has advocated in favor of charity for the children of suicide bombers and regularly delivers radical sermons from the pulpit of the Islamic Center of Passaic County.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Pascrell’s Republican challenger, has publicly condemned Pascrell’s relationship with Qatanani in recent days and has circulated to reporters a research document detailing the imam’s anti-Israel rhetoric.

"On such a day, a human disaster occurred," Qatanani stated during a lecture on May 15, 2009, the anniversary of Israel’s creation. "The 15th of May 1948 was the greatest disaster which occurred on the face of the earth."

During a 2010 protest to defend Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, a major Muslim holy site, Qatanani regaled the crowd with an anti-Israel diatribe.

"Aqsa Mosque will stay for Palestinian people because they are the owner of the land," he declared, according to reports. "You can’t say it is a holy land just to steal it."

"Palestine will be free one day, and we will see it very soon by your actions, by your standing for justice, justice, freedom, the liberation of the land will be very soon," Qatanani said.

The imam, who was born in the Palestinian area of Nablus, cites erroneous historical facts to purge the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel.

"We must understand that this land called Palestine has been an Arab land from 4,000 years ago before the presence of Abraham," the imam said during a 2010 lecture, in which he also said Israelis are just "immigrants from Ukraine, Poland or New York."

"We [Palestinians] have a historical and geographic right" to the land, he said. "We must teach this to the young and our children."

"The State of Israel was established on the land of Palestine," he said.

In a 2004 interview, Qatanani defended the practice of giving charity to the children of suicide bombers.

During a lecture in 2008, Qatanani said, "we expect the world to be a Muslim empire from Morocco to China," and said that the "reason for the spread of Islam is because the West has been bankrupt spiritually."

In a 2007 speech that could possibly influence Qatanani’s impending deportation hearing—a battle that has raged since 2008—the imam can be heard defending the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity that was shut down by the federal government for funneling money to Hamas.

"Assist our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land Foundation," Qatanani says, according to translations of his Arabic speech performed by the Investigative Project on Terrorism and circulated by the Boteach campaign. "Remove the difficulty that they have been inflicted with … Oh Allah to prove them non-guilty."

Pascrell has stood by the imam throughout his deportation ordeal.

The Islamic Center of Passaic County, where the imam preaches, also has a history of association with Hamas. Established in 1989, it was soon discovered that founder Mohammad el-Mezain was financing Hamas—a crime for which he was later sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Pascrell has a major political problem on his hands, New Jersey political insiders said.

"The fact that he feels comfortable running for office and associating with these people reflects how he sees the overall conflict" in the Middle East, explained one veteran N.J. political insider. "We can’t help but see this as a reflection of values he feels comfortable with."

Pro-Israel voters are paying attention, others said.

"People who care strongly about Israel won’t vote for him," said Susan Rosenbluth, publisher of the New Jersey-based Jewish Voice and Opinion. "His first loyalty is to the Muslim community."

Pascrell has had "plenty of time to distance himself [from Qatanani] and read up on him. He didn’t do it. This is how the man feels and it’s politically convenient for him," she said.

Republican challenger Boteach told the Free Beacon that Pascrell must renounce Qatanani publicly.

"These speeches have shaken me deeply," Boteach said, referring to the imam’s controversial lectures. "It appears that Bill Pascrell is this imam’s defender in chief.  Israel deserves a better friend than Bill Pascrell."

Qatanani, as well as multiple officials at his mosque, did not respond to a request for comment.