Latest update: December 30th, 2013
On the same day that many Americans were celebrating Israeli Independence Day, Paterson, New Jersey Mayor Jeffrey Jones named Sunday, May 19 “Palestinian-American Day” in his city, and a Palestinian flag was hoisted over Paterson’s City Hall.
Jones presented a city proclamation commemorating the event. Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ9) was also there for the flag raising. Pascrell presented a letter of Special Congressional Recognition, and New Jersey Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-NJ34) presented a ceremonial resolution marking the event.
Although the organizer of the event, Khader Abuassab, said he had received nasty phone and text messages prior to the event, the day went forward with no counter-demonstrations or public hostility. Approximately 120 people showed up, to dance, cheer and yell “long live Palestine,” according to NorthJersey.com, as reported in Jewish World Review.
WHO ORGANIZED THE EVENT?
Khader Abuassab is an unusual name – in fact, there is apparently only one listed in the United States: he resides in Paterson, New Jersey. Abuassab was the one who placed ads in Arabic newspapers about the Palestinian American Day celebration and he texted invitations to friends, community leaders, politicians and law enforcement officials. According to Abuassab, South Paterson is known as “little Ramallah,” and he felt it was important for the Arab Palestinian community to be recognized much like any other local ethnic community.
PATERSON PALESTIAN-AMERICAN DAY ORGANIZER ADVISED FOLLOWERS NOT TO COOPERATE WITH AUTHORITIES. HE ALSO DID PRISON TIME FOR MASSIVE CREDIT CARD FRAUD.
So who is Abuassab?
According to a Feb. 2012 Press TV interview, Khader Abuassab has served on the Paterson Board of Education and has run for City Council.
In the spring of 2012, when an Associated Press series disclosed the practice by the New York Police Department of surveillance of Muslims at businesses, universities and mosques in the greater New York area, Khader Abuassab told Muslims not to cooperate with the authorities. He was indignant that Muslims, who are “an important part of Paterson’s diverse community” had been “spied on or suspected.” He declared that Muslim Americans “certainly don’t have to defend their citizenry to anyone.”
“I would tell people not to cooperate,” with the authorities Khader Abuassab was quoted in a New Jersey newspaper, in response to the firestorm created by the NYPD Muslim surveillance program. “I can’t promise people they will be safe or not be spied on again.”
Abuassab, or at least a Khader Abuassab also from Paterson, New Jersey, and approximately the same age, was already well acquainted with the law enforcement community in that state.
In 2002 Khader Abuassab pled guilty to having racked up more than $615,000 in credit card fraud, using 40 different credit cards to circumvent credit limits on the cards, and then filing for bankruptcy to erase the debts. Abuassab admitted he had not intended to pay for the things he charged.
In 2004, Abuassab was sentenced to 13 months in prison, with two additional years of supervised release. In addition, Abuassab was ordered by the federal district court judge in New Jersey to pay $620,000 in restitution. No information was readily available about what Abuassab had originally used the money for, and whether it had all been paid back.
What is known is that after sentencing, Abuassab sought a delay of his incarceration date so that he could “travel to Mecca.” That request was denied by the government.
When The Jewish Press asked Abuassab to confirm whether he was the one who had spent more than a year in prison on fraud and swindling charges, Abuassab said he did not want to discuss that, because it was “not relevant to this discussion.”
The Jewish Press called the office of Paterson Mayor Jones to see the wording of the proclamation he issued in honor of Palestinian American Day, “honoring the group’s heritage and contributions,” but his staff claimed no knowledge of the proclamation and promised to look into the matter.
A follow-up phone call to the Mayor’s office provided an astounding piece of information: the Mayor told his staff to refer anyone asking about the proclamation to the Paterson legal department. An Open Public Records Act request is required even to find out to whom the proclamation was addressed.
The Paterson legal department said they would fax the OPRA request form, but would provide no information until the form was completed, sent back in, and until after a determination about the request was made.
This reporter has never heard of a ceremonial public document requiring the local equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request for its disclosure.
Aides to Congressman Pascrell and Assemblyman Giblin acknowledged that the lawmakers had provided ceremonial letters for the community event on May 19, but neither knew anything about Abuassab.
What is odd, is that given the repeated outcries of Muslim profiling, none of the public officials or their staffers had vetted the person responsible for organizing the Palestinian American Day, and none of the members of the Arab American Civic Organization seemed uncomfortable with an executive committee member who is a convicted felon.
Also surprising is that after the AP story broke about the NYPD surveillance of Muslims, Abuassab had been quoted in multiple media outlets as not only critical of the NYPD surveillance of Muslims, but as advising his fellow Muslims to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement, yet no one thought to check up on him.
Fraud and swindling are known as “crimen falsi” crimes, which reflect on a person’s honesty — something that in turn bears on the credibility of everything that person says or does, to the government or to the public. It’s an odd thing to ignore about someone publicly preaching that his fellow community members work to frustrate law enforcement investigation of terrorism or potential terrorists.
The fact that a Muslim leader of one of the largest Muslim communities in America did prison time for fraud and no one even knows about it – or thinks to comment on it – and that such a person had access to and was able to obtain letters of commendation for his cause from political leaders at every level of government – local, state and federal – make the repeated claims of Muslim persecution sound particularly hollow.
Whether or not people think that a Palestinian flag should have flown in front of the Paterson City Hall, particularly on the Sunday following Israeli Independence Day, the idea that Muslims are a persecuted minority in America is increasingly a difficult one to swallow.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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