A key supporter of Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) on Wednesday sharply criticized the manager of his reelection campaign for saying a Los Angeles Muslim community leader "seems to be an apologist for Muslim terrorists."
Irshad Ul-Haque, who has raised campaign money for Rogan, said it was "mind-boggling" that the congressman's campaign manager, Jason Roe, made the remark about Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"I think it's very unfortunate, and I don't think that is the point of view of the congressman himself," said Ul-Haque, who is president-elect of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce. "It's very sad that one of his staff just ran his mouth without thinking."
But Rogan on Wednesday released a statement defending Roe, who had criticized the congressman's Democratic challenger, state Sen. Adam Schiff of Burbank, for attending a community forum on "the role of alcohol in crime" because Al-Marayati was a co-host.
"I will not turn a blind eye to potential pro-terrorist sympathies in order to curry political favor with any individual or partisan group," Rogan said.
Al-Marayati denied the accusations, saying he unequivocally opposes terrorism. Local Jewish and Christian leaders plan to join him at a Pasadena church today to denounce Rogan's campaign, alleging it engaged in "bigotry."
In his statement, Rogan said his campaign manager "did not say the allegations were true."
"He did say that they exist, and that if true, they are very serious," Rogan said. "Jason questioned the appropriateness of political candidates cavorting with one who may harbor these sympathies until the allegations are adequately rebutted."
Rogan himself has repeatedly appeared in public with Al-Marayati in recent years.
Ul-Haque recalled that Al-Marayati once introduced Rogan at a fund-raiser for the congressman. And on Friday night, Rogan is to be seated at the same table as Al-Marayati at a Glendale banquet celebrating Ul-Haque's inauguration as president of the Chamber of Commerce, Ul-Haque said.
In his statement, Rogan cited allegations "over pro-terrorist sympathies" of Al-Marayati. He offered no specifics, but said the charges were raised by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the Zionist Organization of America and other Jewish groups.
Rogan also pointed to the withdrawal by House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) of his nomination of Al-Marayati to a commission on terrorism in July 1999 after the Jewish groups objected.
"Because of these very serious allegations made from credible and respected sources, I recently declined to meet with Mr. Al-Marayati until I was satisfied that the claims were untrue," Rogan said.
"I have worked closely with my good friends in the Muslim community for many years," Rogan said. "I do not know of any other person within that community who shares such offensive views. Claims by partisan sources that my concerns over terrorist sympathies of one man might somehow reflect my view of an entire community [are] nothing short of gutter politics at its lowest level."
Al-Marayati will appear at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena with the rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, and Rabbi Gil Kollin of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.
"To use religion as a wedge issue is unacceptable, because we believe this leads to a kind of intolerance and conflict in human relations," Al-Marayati said.
Bacon called the terrorism allegation a sign of "religious and racial prejudice."
"It's pitting one group in the community against another," he said. "It's very important for the interfaith religious leaders to stand together and say we are one community, that such bigotry is outrageous, uncalled-for, and destructive to the social fabric."
Kollin called the Rogan campaign's attack "inappropriate."
"It's an innuendo rather than a direct accusation," he said. "There's no basis for it."
Roe triggered the controversy by attacking Schiff for attending the forum in La Canada-Flintridge on Sunday.
"It seems to me odd that Sen. Schiff would feel comfortable, especially as a Jew, to be participating in this event," Roe said. He said the event raised "questions about the associations [Schiff] plans to keep" if elected to Congress.
Asked on Wednesday for the basis of the allegations, Roe cited a document listing Al-Marayati's statements opposing Israeli policy toward Palestinians. None appeared to advocate terrorism. Roe said the document was delivered anonymously to Rogan's congressional office in an envelope with no return address.
Jim Nygren, the chief strategist of Rogan's campaign, was caught off guard by Roe's remarks.
"It's not part of any overall strategy," Nygren said.
Schiff's campaign consultant, Parke Skelton, called Roe's remarks "preposterous."