By Ryan Mauro
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stood by his previous praise of a Hamas-linked cleric at a townhall meeting on July 30. Imam Mohammad Qatanani's deportation is sought by the Department of Homeland Security
“I stand by those comments today as they apply to the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” Christie said.
The Republican governor argued that Qatanani was “extraordinarily helpful” in building bridges between the Muslim community and law enforcement after the September 11, 2001 attacks and that it was needed in order to gain counter-terrorism intelligence. He said that he never commented on the Department of Homeland Security’s case against Qatanani.
“You gotta stop reading some of those websites that put this stuff out,” Christie remarked.
The Department of Homeland Security’s deportation proceedings against Qatanani began in 2006. A 2008 court filing by DHS noted that he did not declare on his green card application that Israel convicted him of being a Hamas member. After he was released, he came to New Jersey.
“It is certainly suspicious when a person who has been convicted of being a member of, and providing services, to Hamas, who has personal ties to a Hamas militant leader, and a Hamas fundraiser also sends undisclosed cash to the West Bank,” it explains.
Just before the judge’s ruling, Christie visited Qatanani's mosque and said, “My view is he’s always had a very good relationship with us, and he’s a man of great goodwill.” Christie’s Assistant U.S. Attorney, Charles McKenna, testified as a character witness for Qatanani.
Christie acknowledged that he may have complimented Qatanani as governor but downplayed his link to the imam.
“That’s the only relationship that I have with the imam…I didn’t know him beforehand. I’ve seen him probably three or four times in the years since that time,” Christie said.
Christie’s answer gives the impression that he praised Qatanani immediately following 9/11. Actually, the praise happened in 2008 while the trial was in process. His links to Hamas were known and the relationship continued after Christie became governor.
The Christie Administration even included him on the Attorney General’s Muslim outreach committee until at least September 2013. That is about 10 months after Clarion Project first discovered that Qatanani and others with worrisome records were on the committee.
Even worse, they remained on that outreach committee about one year after Clarion Project made it public knowledge. And, as we wrote in September 2013, this committee meets with the top tier of law enforcement about outreach training and they were even briefed on “Homeland Security Grants for Non-Profit Organizations.”
Qatanani was also invited to an Iftar dinner at the Governor’s Mansion on July 24, 2012. Christie opened the event by talking about bigoted attacks on his relationship with the New Jersey Muslim community. Christie pointed him out as an example of that relationship, calling him a “friend” and saying “I’m glad to have you here.”
“In all my interactions with the imam, he has attempted to be a force for good in his community, in our state with law enforcement, with those of us who have gotten to know him for the years,” Christie said at the Iftar dinner.
He ended the 2012 event by again talking about anti-Muslim forces that stand against his relationship with the Muslims of New Jersey. At the July 30, 2014 townhall meeting, Christie denied that his comments referred to critics of Qatanani.
“I’ve never described people as anti-Muslim bigots who said anything about Imam Qatanani. That was about Sohail Mohammed,” he said.
Christie appointed Sohail Mohammed, who was Qatanani’s attorney and an official with the American Muslim Union, as a Superior Court Judge in 2011. Christie rages against the “crazies,” in his words, who opposed that decision.
Christie’s pro-Qatanani remarks were never in response to a question about the cleric’s post-9/11 communication with law enforcement. It would be forgivable if he was only asked about his feelings during that specific time period.
On the contrary, even after Qatanani’s Hamas links became known, the governorship-seeking U.S. Attorney made the decision to visit Qatanani’s mosque and exalt him. It was a calculated move. And the unnecessary praise continued under the Christie Administration, which even placed him on its Muslim outreach committee.
The bottom line is this: Christie and his administration continued to praise and work with Qatanani long after his links to Hamas and radical preaching became known.
Our elected officials need to have standards for those they praise and work with, especially when it comes to the Islamist ideology. No action makes a terror-linked cleric with radical rhetoric worthy of praise from his governor.