Monday, March 12, 2007

Joseph in the Lion's Den

In the past few weeks there has been some discussion over Rep. Joe Sestak’s upcoming appearance at a Muslim organization's event. The organization is CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations); the event is for their Philadelphia chapter. Having read a bit about the controversy (see references at the end of this post) in the papers I thought it would be a good idea to hear from Rep. Sestak himself and attended a public forum at the Suburban Jewish Community Center B’nai Aaron in Havertown on Sunday afternoon. Heated rhetoric during campaigns and debates are not infrequent but it is rarer to see a sitting congressional representative being vehemently berated by constituents. Only a few people spoke with such passion but the crowd was clearly very concerned.

I think kudos are in order for Rep. Sestak for coming to talk directly to people that he knew were upset with him. He handled all the questions well and did not attempt to pander to the audience, but did stand his ground. Whether his position is a good one or not, politically, only time will tell.

Keeping in mind that I am not a trained journalist, here are my rough notes from the event.

Rep. Sestak spoke first, then took questions.

He said that he would have stayed in the Navy longer but got into the political race because of his daughter’s health. After her first brain surgery she was given 3 to 6 months to live, only 2 children with her kind of brain tumor have survived more than 2 years, she is now at 1.5 years. He had excellent health care due to his military service. He wanted to pay this back and help move society forward and so ran for office. He ran on four pillars: national security, health, education and economic security. They are not unconnected, educational prowess undergirds a great military.

He asked for congressional committees that would relate to these issues. His committee assignments are armed services, education and labor, and small business. He is on the health subcommittee for small business and the labor subcommittee on health. Furthermore he has held one education summit and plans on having more.

To date he has sponsored one bill, on Iraq, and will now focus on his other issues. For example he wants to have a mental health summit and believes in mental parity. He spoke about the troops coming home from Iraq that have developed a mental issue, and how many are able to receive treatment.

In the navy his job was to stitch together diverse people to work on one mission; as a politician his job is to stick together diverse people to find win/win solutions. As for local issues he has four: economic development, airport redesign, watershed management, and crime & violence. He tries to be consistent and act on what he ran on.

Questions

Rabbi Malik explains that they came close to cancelling the forum when he agreed to attend a fundraising event for CAIR. They are concerned about his lending credibility to and help raise money for an organization affiliated with Hamas. He has said he felt it would do more good than harm. She would like an explanation of that comment also.

Rep. Sestak answered that one of his staff accepted the invitation to speak at a banquet which 250 of his constituents were expected to attend. He then learned it was part of a fundraiser; he originally thought they were two separate events. He told CAIR he would not attend a fundraiser and not appear with other speakers. He accepted not in support of CAIR but for his constituents attending. When he was campaigning at 69th street station the Muslim community would send out volunteers to distribute campaign literature at each of the station doors. Upper Darby is a diverse community. Forty-three languages and over 60 countries are represented. He has met with Polish, Chinese, Irish, African American and other ethnic groups. He intends to tell CAIR if an organization does not condemn terrorism they are wrong. He has been to Israel five times, including 2 weeks spent traveling around on his own. He is not going in support of CAIR but of constituents.

Are you hiring anyone from CAIR

He hired someone who used to work for CAIR three weeks ago. This was the person who accepted the invitation to speak at CAIR. He did not know she was a Muslim until the end of the job interviews.

follow up: Have you learned more about the Jewish community? Will we be proud of you this Sept. 11?

Yes, he has learned a lot about the Jewish community in the past few days. He called the local AIPAC [American Israeli Public Affairs Committee] representative to talk with him about the issue and spoke to a number of others in the Jewish community. There are a number of disparate views in that community. On the matter of his support for Israel you will have to decide that and judge him. On what he said and on what he has done. He helped plan Reliant Mermaid, the first Israeli Arab joint military operation.

If constituents in the Ku Klux Klan invited you would you go?

No, he wouldn’t attend an event but he would talk to them.

Can you put out a position paper on this?

He has a position paper on Israel and could put out a position paper on this particular issue but it may take a while.

The Inquirer had an article on 2/26/06 that provided background information on this staff member including a mention that her stepfather is on the CAIR board. Is it a security risk to allow her access to the sensitive information in your office? You are empowering her by hiring her.

She’s in the district office and there is no sensitive information there. He has a fault – he is demanding. He has another fault – he loves those who work with him. This staff member is a recent graduate of Rosemont College and just starting her working career. He then told the story of an aviator who had been relieved of duty unfairly. The aviator’s call name, assigned to him not one he chose, which he had covered over on his airplane because it could be considered offensive, was repainted on his plane the day before press was on the aircraft carrier. The plane appeared in photographs and the aviator was relieved. Sestak was told to stay out of it but he made calls on behalf of the aviator who was then reinstated for duty.

Why do you conflate Muslim constituents with CAIR. You are making it harder for Muslim moderates.

Asks what conflate means. When he speaks to CAIR he will say as he always does that Israel is a staunch ally and Hamas is wrong. CAIR, like the organizations of many new immigrants, is trying to break in to politics, into the Democratic Party. Two Muslims who volunteered for him at the 69th street station told him not to go to the event or they were afraid he would not be reelected in two years.

follow up: Can you post your remarks to CAIR?

Yes.

[Long impassioned ranting question that I could not hear because of the constituent’s soft voice but her gestures spoke volumes. Unlike other questions this one was not repeated into a microphone.]

Three points: The staffer did as she was told and asked CAIR to change the wording on their website regarding the event. He doesn’t know what the staffer said or didn’t say and they have no control over whether or not the staffer’s name is still on CAIR’s website. On evidence of ties to Hamas, if it is so strong the organization would have been closed down.

It is an insult to compare CAIR to Polish and Irish community groups. If 250 constituents are going to the banquet he should contact the FBI because they may be [missed a few words] group hates Jews

The FBI has gone to their banquets, and has not shut them down. He regrets if the other groups might feel it is an insult to compare them.

follow up: The staffer told her the two events (banquet and fundraiser) are the same and that Edward Peck would also be speaking.

As the event was presented to him he would be the only speaker. Before he makes judgments he wants to know the other side. The decision was made. For better or worse it is the right thing to do. He believes ultimately that the better way of approaching anything is to talk to anyone. He had a wonderful career. Politics is a passion. He regrets that people disagree with his decision.

[medicare]

If there was one issue he didn’t do his homework on during the campaign this was it. The VA gets Protonix for $250; via Medicare it is over $1,000. The government at present can’t negotiate prices. We should allow the government to negotiate. We need to put teeth into it but not in such a way that has scores of companies falling off a cliff in a year.

What plans for older, ring communities? [this refers to the older suburbs just outside the city]

He has met with organizations in Philadelphia, the Brookings Institute and Upper Darby leadership. By the way, he does own a home here now. We need to bring in the right industries. We can start with arts and entertainment which leads to retail which leads to real estate. It can take a decade or more. He has talked with Delaware County College [not sure this is exactly correct] and Drexel about making sure we offer the right training programs and keep newly developed industries in the area. He gives examples of mig and tig welding and nanotechnology. It is hard to get students for these programs even though there are jobs. Residents coming to the area have lower incomes than residents leaving the area. Since people change jobs more often it is not enough to have one company from an industry we must have several to allow for job changes. We also need to relieve the health burden on small businesses.

[question on the situation at Walter Reed Hospital]

He let the soldiers down. His daughter’s first brain surgery was at Walter Reed and they had wonderful treatment. The military and congress and the president let the soldiers down. It was like walking around a ship but not doing below the deck plates.


Further Reading

CAIR controversy

Bender, William, “Sestak Takes Heat Over CAIR Banquet,” Delaware County Times 3/02/07

Rabinowitz, Beila "Commentary: Sestak Must Rescind His Ties To CAIR," The Evening Bulletin 03/07/2007

Lively post on PA7Watch blog.

General article on Sestak:

Drobnyk, Josh, “'The hour is late, but the agenda is long' for Sestak,” Morning Call 3/05/07

12 comments:

Daddy Democrat said...

Wonder if anybody will find your post title confusing or even offensive. Daniel was the uncompromising righteous, pious man whom others wanted to bring down. Okay...

But is it fair to describe the protests from the Jewish community as being similar the jealous conspirators who had him thrown into the lion's den?

Or to imply they're the lions themselves?

And the irony is that after his survival in the den, the King decreed that his subjects should all worship the Jewish God.

I'm confused by your loaded metaphor!

AboveAvgJane said...

DD,

I think you might be reading a little too much into a blog post title. Primarily I was just trying to find something catchy and couldn't figure out a way to work in the technicolor dreamcoat reference. But that particular title did come to mind for a few reasons. One is that Sestak was doing something he thought was right in the face of opposition, as was Daniel. Secondly, lions often appear in religious art, the Lion of Judah for example, a symbol used in both the Jewish and Christian faiths, and are usually associated with power and respect and often righteousness. The people at the meeting were, one might assume, people of a powerful faith who felt they had reason to roar. As a rule, you don't mess with lions. With very rare exception those who questioned Rep. Sestak did so respectfully but forcefully.

The phrase "lion's den" in common usage refers to being in a dangerous situation, specifically in a group of people who disagree with you and that would certainly pertain to Sunday's forum. Whether this decision of Sestak's will devour him in 20 months is a question for the voters of the 7th district. Certainly I expect we have not heard the last of it.

But, as I say, mostly I was looking for a catchy title. It was definitely not my intention to offend.

phillydem said...

Well, Sestak is right to say he's got constituents of all different stripes. He can't let any group dictate to him with whom he can or cannot meet. Further, I found the question about whether his Muslim staffer is a security risk distrubing especially from a Jewish group that well knows what it's like to be discriminated against and reviled by plenty of non-Muslims.

Sestak owes it to his constituents
to have a clear policy on the ME that serves the interest of all Americans, not narrow interests, and voters have a right to vote for or against him based on that.

David Diano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZF said...

PhillyDem -
You are making the same mistake Sestak did - his employee is not just any Muslim, in which case it would be offensive to then assume she is a security risk - she was until very recently an employee of CAIR Philly and her stepfather is on that board. Similarly, Sestak insisted he wants to meet with his Muslim constituents and that is why he refuses to withdraw from the CAIR event on April 7th. He most certainly should meet with his Muslim constituents, but NOT at an event for a Muslim American group that has repeated and confirmed connections to terrorism. On top of every other reason why that is wrong, it is also an insult to suggest he would have to attend an event of such a group in order to meet with his Muslim constituents - surely most of them cannot be connected to a group like CAIR.

David Diano said...

AboveAvgJane-
Thanks for linking to my "lively post" on PA7Watch. However, please include the title of my post as you did for the other links.

I find it interesting that no one from CAIR tried to pressure Joe not to attend the forum at Suburban Jewish Community Center B’nai Aaron. No anti-Israeli protesters were to be found. I doubt the reverse will be true when Joe speaks at CAIR.
zf, if there were confirmed proof of CAIR DIRECTLY supporting terrorists, the Bush goverment would have shut them down. They imprison on mere suspicion.

If Gil Spencer is promoting an anti-Sestak guy in his Delco Times column, it's a good bet we are getting only one side of the story.

Look at how some people complained about the first Muslim congressman being sworn in on a Koran (Thomas Jefferson's Koran!)

I think we need to add a line to the old quote:

"They came after the Muslims, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Muslim."

ZF said...

DD:
Thomas Jefferson had a Q'ran because the Barbary Pirates (Muslims) were attacking US ships. He purchased the translated Q'ran in order to study the backgrounds and motivations of those enemies. Check your history.

Also, are you really equating Jews or a Jewish house of worship with CAIR supporters? If so, small wonder you are such an ardent Sestak supporter.

AboveAvgJane said...

ZF,

Hate to tell you, but I recently read Hayes, Kevin J., "How Thomas Jefferson Read the Qur'an," Early American Literature 2004 39(2): 247-261

and according to that article Jefferson purchased his Koran in 1765 while a law student and viewed it as both a religious and legal text. He was not involved in the case of the Barbary pirates intil 1786 when he and John Adams prepared a report for John Jay. Jefferson did at that time study Muslim culture in depth but it was a continuation of earlier interests. In the 1770s he started teaching himself Arabic.

He was not necessarily a fan of the Muslim faith but he did purchase the book before working on the Barbary matter.

David Diano said...

zf-
Actually, I wasn't equating them. I was pointing out that CAIR is showing more tolerance, as they didn't protest Sestak showing up at an event at a synagogue. The hypocrisy (and irony) seems lost on you.

The problem here is that there is a group of anti-Islam neocons tied to the Bush adminstration that are promoting fear, bigotry and misinformation. It is in their goal to stir up the Jewish community to gain support for their own agenda under the guise of supporting Israel.

I think the situation in the Mid-East, and especially for Israel, has grown more dangerous due to the lack of anti-defamation organizations for Muslims and the ability of the neocons to play upon ancient hates.

Kudos to AboveAvgJane for the history lesson on Jefferson's Koran.

BTW, there was an article in today's NY Times: "Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S"

"They [CAIR] have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling," said Maya Harris, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Northern California.

Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.

"Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares," said Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005.

ZF said...

Avg+ Jane: While, according to Hayes, Jefferson bought a copy of the Koran while in law school, your own chosen source wrote that Jefferson USED the Koran to understand the mentality of the so-called Barbary Pirates,whose motivation, Jefferson understood according to Hayes, was strictly religious.
Hayes explains that just like today's “terrorists,” the Barbary boys saw themselves engaged in jihad and called themselves “mujahiddin.”

In their report on the motivations undergirding the terrorism engaged in by the Barbary P.s, Jefferson and Adams "recorded the Tripolitan Ambassador’s justification:

… that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise."
So, although you pointed to a factual distinction Hayes made with respect to the date that Jefferson purchased his copy of the Koran, your own source makes clear Jefferson's primary use of that book was to understand the jihadist mentality of the sea terrorists plagueing the US coastline.
DD: Aren't you even a little bit ashamed of favorably comparing CAIR because they didn't protest Sestak's appearance at a synagogue, with the pro-Israel folks (all 3 of them) who protested Sestak appearing at a CAIR fundraiser? Do you need to have it spelled out? No one was protesting Sestak speaking to his Muslim constituents, or appearing at a mosque, which would be the correct analogy. Had pro-Islam folks picketed a Congressman who was going to be featured at a a Meir Kahane were he still alive)fundraiser, that would be the test. And I can't imagine why the pro-Islam folks wouldn't protest in that case. Nor should they be criticized if they did. That is the essence of free speech, not simple bigotry. Your "neo-con" name calling does a disservice to Democrats and I, as a Democrat, resent it.

Shelly said...

My respect for Congressman Sestak is increasing exponentially as I continue to read about this controversy over CAIR.

David Diano said...

Zf-
It is neocons like Daniel Pipes that are providing the talking points for anti-CAIR. (This guy thinks the internment of Japanese during WWII was a good idea and PRAISES Michelle Malkin, a junior version of Ann Coulter.)

I'm not the slightest bit ashamed by my comparison.

The people complaining about Sestak are so pro-Israel that they are willing to condemn CAIR without proof, on the merest reference to Hamas. Zf wrote: pro-Israel folks (all 3 of them) who protested Sestak appearing at a CAIR fundraiser Um, the CAIR event is April 7th. I bet they'll be more than 3 people picketing the event.

I don't consider the opinions expressed in a Jewish house of worship to be any more valid than opinions expressed in the street, barber shop, bus, church, Mosque or locar bar. I think the synagogue should be embarassed by its connection/link to members that are practically labelling Sestak a terrorist sympathizer.

BTW, getting back to the Koran thing. Jefferson's copy of the book just made it interesting. Would you have felt more comfortable if Ellison had sworn on his own Koran?

Zf, you may be a Democrat, but you are falling into the same anti-Islamic trap that caused Democrats to vote for a war based on unproven charges. I've seen more convincing evidence that CAIR is an anti-Defamation organization rather than terrorist sympathizers. Even if they did support terrorism, I would still approve of Sestak speaking to them as showing them an alternative.

As a Democrat, I resent your unwillingness to give Sestak some slack.