Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Jewish Journal

Tom Campbell’s Record and the GOP Senate Primary

The headline in the Jewish Journal on the California Republican Senate primary bizarrely reads: “Campbell’s Pro-Israel Stance Could Be His Undoing in Run for U.S. Senate.” Well, actually it’s his anti-Israel and pro-Muslim record and associations that are at issue. The article does accurately recount that Campbell’s record has reached the attention of the mainstream media and become a key issue in the race. It also provides a useful reminder that this is not only a matter of his Israel stance but also of Campbell’s record on terrorism and Muslim extremism:

Long before [Campbell donor Sami] Al-Arian went to jail for supporting terror, he was a professor at the University of South Florida (USF) and a political activist with high-level contacts among American politicians. His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was imprisoned pending deportation based on secret evidence. Campbell took up the cause, visiting Al-Najjar in jail and introducing legislation critical of the government’s practice.

Campbell found himself on the side of Muslim-American civil rights groups. “The community that was most interested in this was the Muslim American community,” Campbell said in an interview last week, because 26 of the 28 people in jail under the secret evidence rule were Muslim. As a result of Campbell’s work, Al-Arian made campaign contributions totaling $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 U.S. Senate run against Dianne Feinstein.

On May 23, 2000, Campbell testified before Congress in support of the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act,” mentioning Al-Najjar by name. Campbell shot down the government’s argument that barring secret evidence in immigration cases would lead to the release of terrorists, because the government would only need to forgo its use in immigration hearings. In his professorial style, Campbell compared the issue to other Constitutional abuses: “Why not give [suspected terrorists] truth serum, as long as they are in jail? If, like me, your stomach revolts at that thought, it must be because something in this Constitution prevents it.” That fall, Campbell lost the Senate election and left public office.

And, of course, Campbell then went on to write a letter on behalf of Al-Arian when the University of South Florida fired him. Campbell now claims it came at a time when he really was unaware of Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. (“‘A fellow law professor asked me as a matter of academic freedom to express concern about [Al-Arian],’ Campbell told The Jewish Journal. Campbell says that although he knew Al-Arian was an activist with controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he had no idea Al-Arian actually was under criminal investigation by the FBI.”)

Well, as others have detailed, there was much in the public record at the time about an investigation into Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. Campbell’s defense of carelessness — “If I’m asked to write a letter on behalf of a professor, I should find out all I can about him” — doesn’t sound at all like the smart, methodical academic his boosters claim him to be.  The Journal quotes Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks: “If he’s offering a mea culpa, then I think that’s a signal to the Jewish community that he maybe would have done things differently. … It’s up to the voters to decide whether to accept his change of heart or not.”

Additionally, voters will have to consider what Campbell truly believes when it comes to anti-terrorism policies. He claims now to “strongly favor keeping Guantanamo and keeping enemy combatants under a prisoner-of-war status until the war on terror is over” and says he now actually would support the position that “enemy combatants and their supporters do not have Miranda rights or the right to confront the evidence against them.” That’s quite a change of heart for the former congressman who carried water for Al-Arian at a congressional hearing.

Voters will decide if Campbell has had a few too many changes of heart and whether his willingness to turn a blind eye toward the views of people like Israel-basher Alison Weir and Muslim extremists in the 1990s are disqualifying factors. Should he win the primary, his general-election opponent will certainly make the case that they are.

The headline in the Jewish Journal on the California Republican Senate primary bizarrely reads: “Campbell’s Pro-Israel Stance Could Be His Undoing in Run for U.S. Senate.” Well, actually it’s his anti-Israel and pro-Muslim record and associations that are at issue. The article does accurately recount that Campbell’s record has reached the attention of the mainstream media and become a key issue in the race. It also provides a useful reminder that this is not only a matter of his Israel stance but also of Campbell’s record on terrorism and Muslim extremism:

Long before [Campbell donor Sami] Al-Arian went to jail for supporting terror, he was a professor at the University of South Florida (USF) and a political activist with high-level contacts among American politicians. His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was imprisoned pending deportation based on secret evidence. Campbell took up the cause, visiting Al-Najjar in jail and introducing legislation critical of the government’s practice.

Campbell found himself on the side of Muslim-American civil rights groups. “The community that was most interested in this was the Muslim American community,” Campbell said in an interview last week, because 26 of the 28 people in jail under the secret evidence rule were Muslim. As a result of Campbell’s work, Al-Arian made campaign contributions totaling $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 U.S. Senate run against Dianne Feinstein.

On May 23, 2000, Campbell testified before Congress in support of the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act,” mentioning Al-Najjar by name. Campbell shot down the government’s argument that barring secret evidence in immigration cases would lead to the release of terrorists, because the government would only need to forgo its use in immigration hearings. In his professorial style, Campbell compared the issue to other Constitutional abuses: “Why not give [suspected terrorists] truth serum, as long as they are in jail? If, like me, your stomach revolts at that thought, it must be because something in this Constitution prevents it.” That fall, Campbell lost the Senate election and left public office.

And, of course, Campbell then went on to write a letter on behalf of Al-Arian when the University of South Florida fired him. Campbell now claims it came at a time when he really was unaware of Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. (“‘A fellow law professor asked me as a matter of academic freedom to express concern about [Al-Arian],’ Campbell told The Jewish Journal. Campbell says that although he knew Al-Arian was an activist with controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he had no idea Al-Arian actually was under criminal investigation by the FBI.”)

Well, as others have detailed, there was much in the public record at the time about an investigation into Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. Campbell’s defense of carelessness — “If I’m asked to write a letter on behalf of a professor, I should find out all I can about him” — doesn’t sound at all like the smart, methodical academic his boosters claim him to be.  The Journal quotes Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks: “If he’s offering a mea culpa, then I think that’s a signal to the Jewish community that he maybe would have done things differently. … It’s up to the voters to decide whether to accept his change of heart or not.”

Additionally, voters will have to consider what Campbell truly believes when it comes to anti-terrorism policies. He claims now to “strongly favor keeping Guantanamo and keeping enemy combatants under a prisoner-of-war status until the war on terror is over” and says he now actually would support the position that “enemy combatants and their supporters do not have Miranda rights or the right to confront the evidence against them.” That’s quite a change of heart for the former congressman who carried water for Al-Arian at a congressional hearing.

Voters will decide if Campbell has had a few too many changes of heart and whether his willingness to turn a blind eye toward the views of people like Israel-basher Alison Weir and Muslim extremists in the 1990s are disqualifying factors. Should he win the primary, his general-election opponent will certainly make the case that they are.

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