Let the Mosque-Funding Witch Hunt Commence!

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Photo: nypost.com

"Hamas" mosque funder. That's the headline of a story in the Post today about Hisham Elzanaty, an Egyptian-born businessman from Long Island who helped real-estate developer Sharif el-Gamal buy the Burlington Coat Factory property where an Islamic community center might someday be built (who knows at this point?). A corresponding editorial calls Elzanaty a "one-time supporter of a group shut down by the feds because it was a front for Hamas." Mosque opponents had assumed right off the bat that there must be some terror money behind the project — they've been calling on Andrew Cuomo to investigate despite a lack of any evidence of wrongdoing, something Cuomo calls a "dangerous precedent" — and now, they've found their first target. Or have they?

What the Post editorial never mentions, and what the Post news story briefly touches upon in the seventh paragraph, is that in 1999, the "Hamas front group" that Elzanaty donated $6,000 to was a legal Islamic humanitarian charity, the Holy Land Foundation — the largest Islamic charity in the United States, in fact. It wasn't until December of 2001 that the Treasury Department froze the charity's assets after discovering that it had been using a substantial amount of its money to fund Hamas. President Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, later said that an indictment against the charity's officers was not "a reflection on the well-meaning people who may have donated funds to the foundation." (It's a statement that also applies to NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, by the way. And his "Dream Shake" precludes him from being a terrorist sympathizer.)

Does this mean that, even in 1999, Elzanaty had no idea some of the charity's money might have been going to Hamas? Nope. For years before they officially shut it down in 2001, federal investigators had been looking into whether the Holy Land Foundation was secretly funding the Palestinian terror group. Israel banned the Texas-based charity in 1997, but in the United States such ties were merely alleged and unproven, and the Holy Land Foundation denied them, even hiring former Dallas congressman John Bryant to defend them in 1998. "They are not part of Hamas," Bryant said then. "They do not provide assistance to Hamas. It's absolutely the truth."

Maybe Elzanaty never read the stories about the suspected terror ties, which, prior to 2000, mostly ran in the Dallas Morning News, according to a Nexis search. Or maybe he read them and didn't believe the accusations. Elzanaty's lawyer tells Fox 5 News that "his client believed he was making contributions to an orphanage." It's a perfectly plausible explanation — remember, this was the largest Islamic charity in the United States, one that had been accused of helping to fund Hamas but was still allowed to operate by the government until 2001. But by all means, slap the headline "'Hamas' mosque funder" above Elzanaty's photo, and provide little to no context in your story, as if this issue weren't already a powder keg that has long ago exploded.

'Hamas' mosque funder [NYP]