Despite strong opposition from some members of the Jewish community, Gov. Chris Christie is standing by his nomination of a Muslim defense attorney for a Superior Court judgeship in Passaic County.
The nominee, Sohail Mohammed, is a specialist in immigration law with a practice in Clifton. His clients have included Mohammed Qatanani, a Paterson imam who successfully fended off charges by the Department of Homeland Security that he had ties to Hamas. He also represented dozens of detainees swept up by law enforcement after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Among the opponents to the nomination are Jonathan Tobin, the managing editor of Commentary magazine, the journal of conservative Jewish opinion. Tobin wrote on the Commentary blog that Mohammed’s appointment “shows that Christie’s judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable.”
Even more scathing words have come from Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Emerson wrote that the nomination “shows the governor’s tin ear for radical Islam. Not only did he appoint a longtime mouthpiece for radical Islamists to be a judge, but Christie has also turned a blind eye to the activities of one of Mohammed’s clients — radical imam Mohammed Qatanani.”
Emerson also charged that the attorney “publicly defended Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian following a 2003 indictment which alleged he was a North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
“Christie’s support for Islamists such as Qatanani and Mohammed betrays either naivete or calculation,” wrote Emerson. “Either is troubling.”
Without answering such charges, the governor’s office defended the nominee.
In an e-mailed statement, Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary, told NJ Jewish News that Mohammed “should be considered on his merits and professional experience.”
Drewniak said that during Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Mohammed provided “important and appropriate involvement with federal law enforcement” and aided in “bridging relations, providing outreach with the Muslim community, and he did so at a time when federal law enforcement in New Jersey needed someone like him to do that.”
The Indian-born Mohammed graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law in 1993. He has been honored by the New Jersey Bar Association and serves as a trustee to the Passaic County Bar Association. According to his biography for the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, he has trained “over 7,000 members of the law enforcement community about Islamic Cultural and Religious Practices.”
Blogger Pamela Gellar, a key opponent of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, also criticized the nomination, writing that Christie is “in bed with the enemy.”
Two key Jewish members of the legislature are withholding judgment on the nomination until they learn more about the nominee.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which would vote on Mohammed’s confirmation, told NJJN she had “no sense of him. I have not seen any paperwork or even the governor’s official nomination of him.”
Although she said she was aware of conservative bloggers’ hostile reactions to his nomination, Weinberg said her own decision would depend on “how I view him and what kind of questions I ask him, if and when he makes it before the committee. I don’t know when that would be.”
“I’ve only read about it in the paper,” said Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21), minority whip in the State Assembly and a prominent Jewish legislator. “I would have to find out more about it and look into the guy’s background.”