Why exactly did New Jersey Governor Chris Christie join the mob bashing New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last week over the force’s surveillance policies? Christie’s shot across the Hudson prompted Rep. Peter King to fire back at the governor for “trying to score cheap political points” at Kelly’s expense. That led the notoriously thin-skinned Christie to describe King’s riposte as “ridiculous” and to pull rank as a former prosecutor. All this could be dismissed as just a meaningless exchange between two politicians who love to run their mouths and are intolerant of criticism. It could also be put down as merely the natural instinct of New Jersey politicians to take umbrage at any instance of New York encroachment onto Garden State territory.

However, those who have followed Christie’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the Muslim community, sometimes at the expense of law enforcement imperatives, may recognize a familiar pattern in his willingness to bash Kelly’s decision to order the NYPD to gather intelligence across the river in Jersey. Christie and King found themselves lining up with two competing Muslim factions: Christie with extremist groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who oppose all efforts to investigate homegrown Islamist terror and King with those Muslims like Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, who have taken the position that American Muslims have a responsibility to root out radicals.

Christie’s complaint that NYPD personnel should ask permission of the Joint Terrorism Task Force before merely gathering routine intelligence on Muslims in parts of New Jersey which most in the area would consider part of the New York metropolitan area, seems innocuous. In joining the gang tackle on Kelly and then backing it up by claiming he was neutral about whether the matter ought to be made the subject of an investigation by New Jersey’s attorney general, the governor is pandering to groups like CAIR and the American Muslim Union–and not for the first time.

Though, as Christie was quick to point out, he was involved in prosecutions of terror cases while serving as a U.S. attorney, he intervened on behalf of Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, in his deportation case. Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Christie not only sought to prevent the deportation but spoke at the imam’s mosque which had previously been the site of a $2 million fundraiser for Hamas by the now banned Holy Land Foundation.

It is difficult to view his involvement in the Qatanani case as anything but a cynical pander for votes on the part of a man who was about to run for governor. Christie subsequently appointed Qatanani’s lawyer to a judgeship.

King, who took a great deal of unfair criticism last year for the congressional hearings that he held about homegrown Islamist terror, clearly saw Christie’s attack on Kelly as similar to the bashing he received.

Kelly is also under fire for allowing a movie about the topic titled “The Third Jihad” narrated by Jasser to be shown as part of an NYPD training program. The mainstream media has taken its cues about the film from CAIR but, as Jeff Jacoby noted in a brilliant dissection of the controversy, the film merely attempted to draw a distinction between the law-abiding Muslim majority in this country and extremist groups like CAIR that seek to obstruct law enforcement investigations and often rationalize terror.

King, who led a demonstration yesterday with Jasser in support of the embattled Kelly, understands that politicians cannot play ball with Islamists while at the same time pretending to be tough on terror. While Christie’s record as governor has been admirable, especially with regard to his courage in taking on out-of-control state and municipal worker unions, it does not render him invulnerable to criticism on other matters. If Chris Christie eventually seeks national office, as his many fans in the Republican Party expect, this issue will be raised again.

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