Christie praised Hamas-linked cleric at July 24 dinner

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likely took himself out of the Republican vice presidential race two weeks ago when he publicly described a terrorist-linked Muslim cleric as his “friend.”

The embrace of an embattled Muslim cleric is a veepstakes disqualifying factor for GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s team, partly because Republicans are trying to step up their outreach to communities of Jewish voters in the crucial swing state of Florida.

Christie is not regarded as a leading candidate for the running mate slot, although some GOP advocates including Bill Kristol have touted his prospects. (RELATED: Is Gov. Chris Christie on the short list to be Romney’s VP pick?)

Romney is expected to announce his choice soon, possibly as early as this week.

Christie offered his personal endorsement of the imam Mohammad Qatanani during a July 24 Iftar dinner at the New Jersey governor’s mansion. In the early 1990s Israeli courts convicted Qatanani of being a Hamas member, but he claims he was not a member of teror group and that he was unaware of the conviction.

Qatanani has lived in the U.S. since 1996. In 2005 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had “engaged in terrorist activity,” citing the conviction in Israel, but the subsequent deportation case against him was dismissed by a judge in 2008.

Iftar is Muslims’ evening meal during which they break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

During the July 24 dinner, the combative governor declared that Qatanani “has attempted to be a force for good in his community.”

“I’m glad to have you here,” he said, calling him a “friend.”

Hamas is a jihadi affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have frequently called for the destruction of Israel.

Hamas is working to achieve that goal, and in mid-June launched its latest wave of rockets at Israeli towns. It also backs jihadi attacks against Jews and against Israeli soldiers.

Qatanani has also worked alongside another imam, Mohammed el-Mezain, as his deputy. El-Mezain was convicted in 2008 of raising $2 million for Hamas through a nonprofit foundation. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

At the July 24 dinner, which was attended by many Muslims and supporters of Qatanani, Christie defensively slammed critics of the cleric, but did not criticize Hamas or the brotherhood.

“There’s a of breeze of intolerance that is going around the country that is disturbing to me,” Christie complained.

Earlier that day, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal denounced peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which rules Palestinian-inhabited towns on the Israeli side of the Jordan River.

“Wake up. Do not allow for these adventures and sins to take place under your name,” Meshaal declared, according to an Associated Press report.

Christie’s praise for Qatanani was first reported by the Clarion Fund in New York.

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