Muslim group decides against endorsing Clinton

The American Muslim Alliance, pilloried by both sides in the New York Senate race, chooses to stay out of the fray.

By Anthony York

Published November 3, 2000 4:02PM (EST)

One day after being poised to endorse New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York chapter of the American Muslim Alliance has opted not to back any candidate in the Senate race.

Members of the group expressed concern that an endorsement of Clinton might actually hurt her candidacy because of the anti-Arab tenor the race has taken on.

"In the end, it was left for the community to make its own conscientious decision," said New York AMA board member Ghazi Khankan. "I didn't say that she was not endorsed. There was a discussion and it was felt that we not announce it to the community. It's up to them. They're intelligent enough to know what the position of each candidate is and they will make their own decisions."

The group had contributed $50,000 to the Clinton campaign, but that money was returned earlier this week.

Yesterday, Khankan told Salon that the New York AMA would announce its support for Clinton. Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Clinton would not accept the endorsement if it was offered.

The AMA has been linked by Rep. Rick Lazio's campaign to terrorism. Even though the group is predominantly an association of Pakistani businessmen more concerned with the fate of Kashmir (a disputed territory in India) than of Jerusalem, the AMA's $50,000 contribution to Clinton was called "blood money" by the Lazio campaign. Clinton returned the money after a passage on the group's Web site mentioned that armed struggle was an acceptable way for Palestinians to resolve their conflict with Israel.

But in 1998, Clinton sent a letter to the association, praising it for its work and mentioning its 1998 national convention.

"As I have traveled throughout this country and around the world, I have learned that in too many places individuals are blocked from participating fully in the political lives of their countries," Clinton wrote in the letter. "We choose not to hear the voices of many; and in too many places, there are those who never learn to project their voices. I commend you for your efforts to encourage others to work to make their voices heard in the present and for the future. Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful convention."

But this year, Clinton lost her nerve, and has backed away from the group. Clinton will address the Anti-Defamation League in New York Friday afternoon.

"We're still opposed to Lazio's racism and attaching our good name to terrorism. We have a petition calling on him to apologize," Khankan said. "We have to clear our name from the association with terrorism as Lazio insinuated in his campaign. That's where the concentration is."

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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