Boxer/Pelosi/Ellison--Faith and Politics
Less than two weeks after Sen. Barbara Boxer very publicly rebuffed the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the high-profile Muslim organization scored a surprising victory courtesy of a different leading California Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When Mrs. Boxer rescinded an award that her office had given to a CAIR official, she cited the group's terrorist ties and its inability to condemn Islamic terrorist organizations. Faced with the same public record, Mrs. Pelosi weeks afterward decided to place a freshman congressman who was heavily backed by CAIR on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees all domestic counterterrorism legislation.
While CAIR's influence had nothing to do with Rep. Keith Ellison earning a seat on Judiciary (it was the doing of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to several Hill staffers), it is nonetheless surprising that the Islamic group's role in raising more than $50,000 for Mr. Ellison did not dissuade Mrs. Pelosi, particularly in the wake of Mrs. Boxer's much-publicized critique.
So far, Mrs. Pelosi's endorsement of Mr. Ellison has not hurt her politically, but there is definitely potential for future headaches, particularly with key Jewish supporters.
Mr. Ellison has chosen to align himself very closely with CAIR. Through two fund raisers, including one held in Florida, and campaign contributions that almost certainly were bundled by CAIR co-founder Nihad Awad, CAIR helped Mr. Ellison raise more than $50,000. Shortly after he was elected to Congress, Mr. Ellison delivered the keynote address at CAIR's annual conference.
CAIR's connection to Mr. Ellison is through its co-founder, Mr. Awad, whom Sen. Charles Schumer said in a 2003 congressional hearing has "intimate connections with Hamas." That strong accusation is supported by significant evidence. At the time CAIR was founded in 1994, Mr. Awad was a high-ranking executive with the Islamic Association for Palestine, an openly anti-Semitic organization that was long believed by law enforcement to be a political front for Hamas. A civil court judge in Illinois in 2005 confirmed those suspicions when he declared that there was "strong evidence that IAP was supporting Hamas."
Exacerbating problems for Mr. Ellison is his own past, namely that he's a former spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He used this perch to spread anti-Semitic propaganda. At a 1997 hearing where a local official was accused of having said that Jews are the "most racist white people," most in attendance were outraged. Mr. Ellison read aloud a statement on behalf of the Nation of Islam, however, defending "the truth" of that very statement.
Though Mr. Ellison sent a letter of apology to the Minneapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, he was not forthcoming about his record. He claimed that he had never even been a member of the Nation of Islam -- even though he had been its spokesman.