Unlikely Defenders For Muslim Prisons Chaplain

Unlikely Defenders For Muslim Prisons Chaplain

Blasting "Zionists in the media" and "terrorists" in the White House earned the city’s top prisons chaplain a two-week unpaid leave Tuesday after Mayor Michael Bloomberg (saying there was no evidence he was inciting prisoners) declined to fire him.

But Jewish leaders didn’t have a problem with Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil keeping his job, despite the recently emerged comments attributed to him in a speech to Muslim students in Arizona last April. And a Jewish chaplain who works closely with the imam on Rikers Island is defending his reputation.

"He is not a militant, not an extremist, he takes care of everyone," Rabbi Boruch Liebowitz said. "I can tell you that on [Jewish holidays], when none of the rabbis are on the island, he goes from facility to facility to make sure [Jewish prisoners] have whatever they are supposed to have for yom tov."

As the Department of Corrections’ $76,600-a-year director of ministerial services, Imam Abdul-Jalil supervises 40 chaplains, including Rabbi Liebowitz. Another Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Lieb Glanz, also defended the imam at a City Hall press conference with Bloomberg Tuesday.

In remarks first reported last week in the New York Post, which obtained a recording of the speech, Imam Abdul-Jalil was quoted as urging Muslims in America not to allow "the Zionists of the media to dictate what Islam is to us."

The remarks reportedly were recorded by the Investigative Project on Terrorism run by Steve Emerson.Rabbi Liebowitz, who said Imam Abdul-Jalil has spoken warmly to him about his mother’s conversion to Judaism, said the senior chaplain’s remarks constituted "a poor choice of words, but there was no malice, no hate."

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, president of the New York Board of Rabbis and a chaplain for the Fire Department, said he had reviewed a transcript of the entire speech and found nothing else objectionable.

"He even spoke in the same speech about the evils of Hitler," Rabbi Potasnik said.

Bloomberg said Tuesday that while the DOC had thoroughly investigated Imam Abdul-Jalil’s record and found no misconduct, he would be suspended without pay for violating a city regulation by not stressing that he was not speaking on the city’s behalf.

"There have been no allegations, nor has the department found any evidence that he has used his position as chaplain to influence inmates towards any violence acts against the United States or in any ways disrupt or threaten our security," the mayor said. "This is a critical fact."

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind said Tuesday that he disagreed with Bloomberg’s conclusion.

"It’s unbelievable to permit him to continue to be in a sensitive position where he is advising prisoners," Hikind said. "God only knows what he’s saying to them privately when we know this is what he said before the whole world."

If the city is unable to fire the chaplain, Hikind said, "let him sit in a room looking at a wall if that’s the only solution."

Joel Levy, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while he was convinced the mayor "did what he had to do." In terms of the legality of the case, Imam Abdul-Jalil must now "disavow what he said and communicate to everyone in the city that he now regrets having done so."

Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said "although in this case no evidence came to light about this imam having preached in the prison system," the incident was "sensitive because of reports of Islamists and Wahabists using the prison system for recruiting in the state and, in some cases, federal penitentiary system."

Imam Abdul-Jalil has retained civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, who threatened to sue on his behalf. Siegel said he would appeal the two-week suspension.

Recent case law is favorable to public employees in free-speech controversies.

A federal court in 2003 ruled against the city in the case of two firefighters and a police officer who were fired by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after they appeared in an offensive racial satire during a parade in Broad Channel, Queens. The city’s lawyers have appealed and are awaiting a ruling by the 2nd Circuit.

What’s better than getting a $500 tax credit toward your child’s tuition?

Getting $300 as soon as the child is born, perhaps.

That’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s answer to the education credit proposed by Gov. George Pataki. Parents under the Silver plan not only would get the money right away, and without having to document expenses like tuition or tutoring bills, but they would qualify without living in a failing school district, as the Pataki plan requires.

"My concern is in helping parents," Silver said last week in an interview.

He said an alternative bill proposed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) would "break the bank" by offering a credit as high as $3,500.

"This bill gives everyone who has a child [a credit], and is more generous in terms of who is covered and more generous in terms of the incomes of people who are covered," Silver said.

Under the Silver proposal, the maximum benefit per child is $300, depending on the number of children and level of income per family. Silver’s bill would cost taxpayers some $600 million, or $200 million more than Pataki’s plan.

Michael Tobman, the lobbyist for Teach NYS, a coalition of parochial and private school leaders seeking the tax credit, said his group was "immensely gratified that money has been put aside" for tax credits by all three sides in budget negotiations: the Assembly, state Senate and governor.

But Tobman said he would still like to see the money linked directly to education in order to codify the idea of aiding private education.

"Tax credits are designed to encourage and recognize specific behavior," he said.

A key factor in Silver’s proposal is that teachers’ unions are not opposed.

"We consider the latest proposal far superior to Governor Pataki’s proposal because it is much broader based and is far more equitable, and would not take taxpayer dollars from public schools," said Ron Davis, a spokesman for United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Pataki spokesman Kevin Quinn countered: "The governor’s budget recognizes that to make real progress on education, you need to improve options for our kids and get parents more involved. That means you need to shake things up a little. The Legislature’s budget bills show that it’s hard to break with the status quo, especially in an election year."

It’s been rough going lately for Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman.

First the state Independence Party expelled allies of the two activists with nasty views on Jews, and a state court declined to hear a lawsuit over those expulsions. Now they’ve all but given up trying to influence young minds through Fulani’s theater group on the city’s dime.

The All Stars Project, the youth drama company she helped found, has withdrawn its request for a grant from the Department of Youth and Community Development, according to NY1 news. This comes eight months after the city and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer began investigating accusations that Fulani and others were abusive toward participants.

Both the city and Spitzer decided recently to take no action against All Stars.

So why give up the grant, worth $216,000 over three years?

"There are a lot of people with political agendas in the city: who put pressure on DYCD," said All Stars spokeswoman Gabrielle Kurlander. "People around the mayor recognized the validity of the program and invited us to apply. But after eight-and-a-half months, the process became totally corrupted and not something we could in good conscience participate in."

The mayor’s press office had no comment about the grant.

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