Battle Over Rights Panelist Fading


Jewish activists who want a Muslim lawyer dumped from the city’s Human Rights Commission are finding little support as the commission begins its work.
Key members of the City Council had denounced the appointment of Omar Mohammedi to the panel because of his ties to the Council on American Islamic Relations, whose members have made anti-Israel statements.
Some pols, including Majority Leader Joel Rivera of the Bronx, promised to investigate the commission with an eye toward pulling its funding. But those efforts have all but vanished.
"The noise level has diminished," said Councilman Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, an early Mohammedi foe.
Council sources say Speaker Gifford Miller is unlikely to pick a fight on this issue with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who named the 14 new commissioners and has stood by Mohammedi, while increasing funding for the agency.
"This is not turning out to be a big issue," said one Council insider. "We’re facing billions of dollars in budget shortfalls and we need Council members to be united.
"Would [Gifford] like this guy not to be on the board? Yes. But look at the challenges he faces."
Last year a series of resolutions on the Middle East revealed stark divisions among Council members on the Israel-Arab conflict, which could mean a lot of noise were hearings held on the Mohammedi appointment.
Through a spokesman, Bloomberg has dismissed complaints about Mohammedi, insisting he was thoroughly vetted and found to have no history of bias.
But Rabbi Shmuel Hertzfeld, a protege of activist Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, says Mohammedi has refused to denounce the statements made by fellow CAIR members that seem to justify terrorism, or even to repudiate terrorist groups like Hamas.
Mohammedi has declined several requests for an interview.
Last week police removed Rabbi Hertzfeld and some of his followers from the first meeting of the commission, which hears discrimination complaints, after the activists reportedly shouted that Mohammedi was a member of Hamas.
Mohammedi does legal work for CAIR. But he may also have represented Israelis who were arrested after Sept. 11 for visa irregularities.
The Jewish Week recently received an e-mail purportedly from four Israeli tourists who were represented by Mohammedi after they were jailed in an immigration crackdown. But efforts to reach the sender for further comment were not successful.
Rabbi Hertzfeld said 23 members of the Council and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum had signed a letter opposing the appointment. "It remains to be seen if [Miller] will show leadership on this issue," said the rabbi.
A Jewish member of the Human Rights Commission, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehillat Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, initially said he was troubled by Mohammediís appointment and would consider resigning. He now says "after some consultation, I decided it was best not to be demonstrative on this issue." Mainstream Jewish groups have not made the issue a priority.
Members of CAIR have enjoyed political access at the highest levels. Representatives have met with top Bush administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. And the group’s New York director, Ghazi Khankan, has been appointed to the stateís advisory committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is in a war of words with state economic development czar Charles Gargano over a pending deal between New York and Israel Aircraft Industries.
During a visit to Israel last month, Silver met with top officials of IAI to discuss building a maintenance facility at an abandoned Air Force base in upstate Rome.
Other states are interested in the deal, and a spokesman for Gargano told the New York Post that Silver had endangered the plan by discussing it openly while in Israel.
That prompted this reply from Silver: "’Nightclub’ Charlie Gargano has never left Manhattan because he’s too busy promoting himself," he fumed in a phone interview from the statehouse Monday. "We had lunch with top officials, they agreed to come to New York and talk and even take in a basketball game. We will keep moving forward despite Nightclub Charlie’s political hits. Apparently all he wants to do is go to nightclubs and not look for business in New York."
It’s hard to imagine any good news for UJA-Federation’s network during this austere budget cycle, but government liaison Ron Soloway reports that a cost-of-living increase for agency workers in state-funded workers has been upheld in the governor’s budget proposal. The same goes for funds for refugee and child welfare services. The number of beds in mental health facilities also was increased.

But every silver lining has its cloud. A $1.2 million allocation to provide counseling, nursing, referral and other services for seniors in naturally occurring retirement communities has been eliminated. Also axed were universal pre-K programs, which are operated at such facilities as the Samuel Field Y in Queens and Shorefront Y in Brooklyn. The state also will reduce reimbursements to nursing homes and home care and cut back on youth development programs under the plan outlined by Gov. George Pataki.
Two rabbis, a Sephardic billionaire, a classical violinist and a punk rocker were among the late Jewish personalities feted by the City Council last week when it renamed 38 streets. A stretch of Rivington Street on the Lower East Side is now Rabbi Yaakov Spiegel Way, named for the spiritual leader of the Roumanisher Shul. The stretch of West Street in front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City will be known as Edmond J. Safra Place in honor of the Republic Bank founder and philanthropist. A block of Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor, Queens, is now Rabbi Joseph Weiss Avenue, for the leader of the West End Temple.

The corner of West 57th and Seventh in Midtown is now Isaac Stern Place, while Joey Ramone Place is at the Bowery between First and Second avenues.

The 38 changes will cost the city $16,353 for 156 new signs, according to a fiscal impact statement.

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City Comptroller William Thompson recently announced that for the first time, his office has invested municipal pension funds in State of Israel Bonds. Thompson purchased $5 million worth of floating rate bonds, due in 10 years, on behalf of the public school teachers’ retirement plan.
Councilman Tony Avella of Queens has sponsored a resolution condemning American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover for doing business with a Web site run by the National Alliance, a racist group that has posted fliers in Queens. The cards may be used to purchase materials sold on the site.
Councilmember Eva Moskowitz of Manhattan is earning praise from her colleagues for dedication. Five days after giving birth to her second son, Dylan, Moskowitz popped into the Council chamber last week, infant in hand, just in time to cast her vote on a slew of proposals. "I vote yes on all,"said Moskowitz. "And so does the baby."