Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Republican candidate for the Ninth Congressional District, is using a recent interview with controversial Paterson Imam Mohammed Qatanani to continue his attack on Rep. Bill Pascrell, his Democratic opponent.
In an interview with The Blaze, a conservative web site owned by Glenn Beck, Qatanani addressed the furor over the anti-Muslim movie that sparked rioting around the world.
“People there [in the Middle East] don’t understand the American Constitution and freedom of speech,” Qatanani said, according to the Blaze report. (The brackets were inserted by The Blaze, which published the interview at http://bit.ly/Wklox4). “We have to understand each other because misunderstanding is a killing issue…. The issue of Prophet Muhammad is very delicate – they [Muslims] will not accept in any way, anybody who talks badly about Muhammad.”
“They [Muslims] think our [American] freedoms are too much,” Qatanani was quoted as saying. “The freedom of the American people is so different from their [Muslims’] freedoms. We believe freedoms have limits and rules, otherwise we will get people into trouble… Freedom according to Islam must be according to the Quran and Sunnah. You can do [anything] you like within the teachings of these two resources. This is the difference and main reason [for the conflict].”
“We, as Americans, have to put limits and borders [on] freedom of speech,” he reportedly said.
“He basically took the position that criticism of Islam should be banned, and that we should repeal our First Amendment rights,” Boteach summarized
Boteach said that Pascrell’s support for Qatanani’s legal efforts to remain in the United States “is a serious erosion of Bill Pascrell’s commitment to uphold the Constitution. He’s doing everything in his power to keep in this country someone who is trying to repeal our Constitution, our First Amendment rights.”
Pascrell’s spokesman repeated an earlier statement about Qatanani: “Congressman Pascrell was raised by his parents to be a bridge-builder, and he has spent his entire career attempting to bring people together.”
Qatanani heads the Islamic Center of Passaic County, one of the largest mosques in New Jersey. His legal struggle, which has also been supported by Republican Governor Chris Christie, will enter its next stage shortly after the election in November, when the federal immigration judge who originally stayed deportation proceedings will try the case again, following an appeals court ruling against Qatanani in 2009.
At a time when some Orthodox Jews, in particular those affiliated with the charedi Agudath Israel organization, have said they would resist government efforts to require reporting of child abuse or warnings of the danger of the metzitzah b’peh circumcision ritual, Boteach said he condemns “in the strongest words any rabbi who tells Americans to break the laws of the land.
“Imagine if a rabbi were to say that criticizing Judaism should be a criminal offense? That rabbi would be a nut, would be a certified lunatic. He would be fired from his post the very next day,” Boteach said. “If a rabbi said anyone who criticized Israel should be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, what would the reaction be? There would be an absolute chorus of condemnation!”
Boteach reiterated his criticism of the “surrender” of the Englewood-based NORPAC, one of the leading pro-Israel political action committees, which has not taken sides in the race and is not opposing Pascrell.
“It’s part of the Jewish surrender, especially in the city of Englewood. Englewood has 800 modern Orthodox Jewish families. They pay 80 percent of the taxes, and they don’t have one person on the local government who represents their interests. They won’t even organize politically. Its an amazing thing to watch. The chasidim of Boro Park, the yeshivah families in Lakewood, are infinitely more savvy and politically more organized than the modern Orthodox Jews of Englewood,” he said.
Boteach said he had a chance to speak with Qatanani personally last week at a fundraiser for Christie.
“Qatanani said, ‘You’re being very unfair to me, bringing up my immigration woes, when religious men should stand together.’
“I said, ‘You were the first person I called when I won the primary. I said I wanted to speak with you. I wanted to show respect to your community.’
“I said, ‘Muslims are my brothers, Arabs are my brothers and sisters. When I was the rabbi at Oxford I had some Muslim students who were at my Shabbat table every Friday night, including the son of the Jordanian ambassador. Some of them would come to drink the kiddush wine. I would slowly convince them not to drink alcohol.'”
Boteach said his campaign staff is trying to get a date to speak in the Paterson mosque. “If they’re serious, we’ll get a date,” he said.
Boteach said his campaign’s polling shows that he has 40 percent support among the Arab community in Paterson.
“The Arabs know I was one of the foremost champions of the Arab Spring. I have repeatedly condemned any kind of Islamaphobia,” he said.
While he has no date to speak at the mosque, Boteach did have an ecumenical appearance last Saturday at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Mormon meeting house in Englewood.
“I walked over before shul,” Boteach said. “I’m a great friend and admirer of the Mormon church and the Mormon people.” At Oxford, he said, one of his students was the grandson of the head of the Mormon church, Ezra Taft Benson. “I’ve been granted audiences with the Mormon prophet,” as Benson was called. “It’s been quite a special relationship.”
Also last week, Boteach hosted a meeting between the foreign minister of Rwanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, and prominent Jews, in particular his supporters: billionaires Michael Steinhardt and Sheldon Adelson, and Jerry Levin, president of UJA-Federation of New York. And on Saturday night, he met with Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame.
Boteach said that in addressing the Jewish group, Mushikiwabo “spoke about how many people are trying to deny the Rwandan genocide, and how similar it is to attempt to deny the Holocaust. We took her to meet Elie Wiesel.” Boteach visited Rwanda earlier this year to bring attention to the genocide there.
“As a potential congressman, I want the United States to enact proper genocide legislation,” he said. “The United States is a signator to the U.N. antigenocide convention, but it is so seldom invoked.”
The event with the Rwandans was not a campaign event, he said. “I want genocide to be nonpolitical.”