Group has ties to terrorists

The congressman should have been more wary given its history.

Posted: July 29, 2010

Does it matter if a candidate for U.S. Senate served as a keynote speaker for an extremist group? Does it matter if he hired one of the group's staff to serve on his staff? These are some of the questions being asked about Rep. Joe Sestak as voters learn about his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR's representatives have not been shy about saying how they feel about Hamas, which the U.S. government classifies as a terrorist group. CAIR executive director Nihad Awad has said, "I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO," the Palestine Liberation Organization.

When pressed by reporters, CAIR representatives blandly condemn terrorism in general, but they never concede that groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. That's because the supposed terrorism CAIR has in mind is Israel's.

CAIR's ties to terrorism are public knowledge. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) pointed out during a Senate hearing that the group "has ties to terrorism." Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) rescinded the award she had given to CAIR amid criticism of the group's connections to terrorism.

What connections? In 2007, in charging the Holy Land Relief and Development Fund with raising money for Hamas, federal prosecutors named CAIR as an unindicted coconspirator.

Moreover, a number of CAIR officials have been personally involved in terrorism. Former CAIR civil rights coordinator Randall Royer, for example, is serving a 20-year jail term for his involvement with the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. That's the group responsible for the heinous attack on a Jewish center in India last year, in which a rabbi and his wife were tortured and murdered.

The founder of a CAIR chapter in Texas, Ghassan Elashi, is serving a 65-year prison term for assisting Hamas. And CAIR fund-raiser Rabih Haddad, whose charity was suspected of supporting terrorism, was deported from the United States.

Despite all this, Sestak hired CAIR's director of communications in Philadelphia, Adeeba Al-Zaman, to work in his new Washington office in 2007. Soon thereafter, Al-Zaman had arranged for Sestak to be invited to speak at CAIR's Philadelphia dinner that year.

Sestak accepted the invitation to headline the dinner. Members of the Jewish community met with him beforehand and pleaded with him to cancel, citing CAIR's terrorism ties. But Sestak wouldn't budge.

To this day, Sestak refuses to acknowledge that his appearance at the dinner was a mistake. Instead, his campaign has tried to pressure Comcast to stop broadcasting an advertisement challenging his record on Israel. A letter from Sestak's lawyer demanded that the ad be suppressed because it falsely characterized Sestak as anti-Israel.

The proof of Sestak's sympathy for Israel, Sestak's lawyer implausibly claimed, is that as a Navy officer he took part in joint American-Israeli military exercises and thereby "put his life on the line to defend Israel." Pardon me for doubting that an Arab army would attack Israel during a joint American-Israeli military exercise.

A more convincing demonstration of Sestak's alleged sympathy for Israel would be a clear denunciation of the Israel-haters of CAIR.

Joe Sestak's relationship with this group matters. U.S. senators play an important role in shaping our foreign policy. Pennsylvanians of all faiths who value America's national security will want a senator who recognizes the need to reject those with links to terrorism, not speak at their fund-raisers and hire their employees.

Benyamin Korn is a former executive editor of the Jewish Exponent and the director of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin. He can be reached at

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