Republican-aligned activists in Florida’s Broward County who otherwise offer uncritical support for law enforcement have finally found an officer they consider unsuitable for duty – not because of anything he has done, but because of his identity. Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Nezar Hamze is unsuitable for his position, his detractors insist, because he is a devout Muslim.
According to David Rosenthal of the Citizens’ Action Group of South Florida (CAG), this is sufficient cause not only to fire Hamze, but to expel him from the country.
“I hate Islam,” Rosenthal told a reporter for Miami’s ABC affiliate. “Islam is evil. Ideally, I would ban Islam in the United States.” As “sharia-compliant” Muslim, Rosenthal asserts, Deputy Hamze is unsuited for “any position in government, law enforcement, or the schools.” Asked if he thought the deputy “has the same right to be in this country as you do,” Rosenthal answered, “No.” Asked what he would like the deputy “to do at this point,” Rosenthal replied with a smirk, “move to some country that is sharia-compliant.”
Rosenthal, like the rest of his tiny but voluble band of comrades in CAG, considers himself a “constitutionalist.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifies that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Rosenthal and like-minded detractors of Deputy Hamze apparently believe that this provision doesn’t apply to Muslims, and that Islam is an exception to the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. A growing number of professional Muslim-baiters are peddling a line of sophistry describing Islam as an “ideology,” rather than a “religion” – as if that contrived distinction would make a material difference where First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and assembly are concerned.
“Please understand that in the estimation of the informed residents of Broward County, your policy and procedure in this matter represent a material breach of your oath of office, which obligates you to defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the State of Florida,” Rosenthal rebuked Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in a letter. “Having as a deputy in the Broward Sheriff’s Office a man who refuses to renounce Sharia Law is simply insane, as Sharia Law promotes as though they were normal a series of behaviors codified under American laws as felonies. Nezar Hamze has refused to renounce Sharia Law and, therefore, your insistence on maintaining him as a deputy represents material negligence on your part, and a refusal to abide by your oath of office.”
Like others who share his anti-Muslim obsession, Rosenthal uses the term of art “sharia-compliant” to impute subversive motives to Hamze and other American Muslims. This is a tacit accusation that such people are subtly trying to reconfigure American laws in order to accommodate retrograde practices and medieval punishments found in Saudi Arabia and some – but by no means all – Muslim-majority countries. Some of the most abhorrent abuses, such as “honor killing” of women who offend tribal customs, arranged marriages of underage girls, and female genital mutilation, are tribal customs that are not prescribed in the Koran and did not originate within Muslim culture.
The term “sharia” means “the path,” and refers to Islamic religious law. It is the direct analogue to the Hebrew term “halakhah,” which also means “the path” and refers to Jewish religious law. Interestingly, first-century Christian believers were originally referred to as followers of “The Way,” a name embodying a similar concept (see, for example, The Book of Acts 9:22). All of those expressions refer to the commitment of the believer to conform his or her life to a set of moral and religious teachings. Any Muslim who seeks to understand God according to his religion’s traditions and teachings is “sharia-compliant,” and insisting that he or she repudiate “sharia” is nothing less than a demand for that person to recant his or her faith.
Rosenthal’s colleague Joe Kaufman, a failed Republican congressional candidate, recently referred to Hamze as “Deputy Hamas” in an essay published by Frontpagemag.com. Kaufman seized upon a news report describing self-defense and gun safety courses taught by Hamze at a local mosque to accuse the deputy of plotting “the next San Bernardino.” Local radio host Joyce Kaufman insisted that Hamze’s firearms classes amounted to “state-sanctioned jihad training in terror-tied mosques.”
In fact, the advice provided by Hamze was no different from similar instruction being provided to members of Christian churches nation-wide – and given recent arson attacks, vandalism, threats, assemblages of armed, hostile protesters, and other violent incidents targeting Muslims and their houses of worship, that instruction is both timely and tragically necessary. That is, unless one assumes — as some right-wing “gun rights” advocates insist — Muslims, unlike other Americans, do not enjoy a constitutionally protected right to armed self-defense.
In his farrago of lurid speculation and unsubstantiated accusations against Hamze, Kaufman retailed the now-familiar canard that CAIR is a terrorist-supporting organization. The group, which for American Muslims combines the functions of the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, was listed by federal prosecutors among hundreds of individuals and organizations designated as “unindicted co-conspirators” or “joint venturers” with several named defendants accused of supporting terrorism through the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. “Un-indicted” means that the group was never charged with an offense; its status was akin to that of a material witness in a criminal investigation. The United States government has never designated CAIR as a terrorist organization.
Although Rosenthal and his comrades have been expansively critical of Sheriff Israel for refusing to fire Hamze, the deputy was actually hired – as a cadet – by Israel’s Republican predecessor, Al Lamberti. Israel, a Democrat, unseated Lamberti in an upset victory in 2012. This followed a corruption scandal implicating high-ranking BCSO officials in a plot involving a criminal who preyed on the local Jewish community – and who attempted to flee to a “sharia-compliant” country in order to avoid prosecution.
Former South Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, a major Republican Party donor, used his law practice to create a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme through his law practice through fabricated lawsuits and bogus financial settlements. His chief adviser in this scheme was Michael Szanfranski, a financial analyst who acted as the shill in the con game by “independently verifying” the terms of “financial opportunities” that were peddled to credulous investors. The preferred targets were wealthy –and even financially marginal – members of his own religious community.
Szafranski was a “Gabbai” – a lay religious officer somewhat like a deacon in a Baptist church – at the Young Israel Congregation of Bal Harbour. This allowed him an opportunity to organize prayer services and “charitable” functions during which he manipulated people into buying into Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme.
Rothstein likewise counted on the assistance of friends in law enforcement.
“Scott Rothstein had [BCSO] officers in his back pocket,” observes investigative journalist Chuck Malkus, author of a book on the swindler. “Scott Rothstein was bribing officers to carry out illegal acts.” BCSO Detective Jeff Poole, who was later prosecuted and sentenced for prison for his offenses, falsely arrested the ex-wife of a Rothstein business associate on trumped-up prescription drug offenses during a June 2009 traffic stop. This was done to intimidate the woman during a child-custody dispute.
Rothstein “made a point of cozying up to law enforcement, including hiring Fort Lauderdale police officers to guard his home 24 hours a day,” reported the Miami Sun-Sentinel. It apparently never occurred to those vigilant guardians of the public weal to ask how Rothstein could live like the fictional billionaire Bruce Wayne. His fleet of luxury cars – including three Bentleys, a vintage Mustang, and several sports cars – filled an air-conditioned warehouse. In addition to his main mansion, the attorney owned several beachfront residences. Jewelry dripped off of his wife, who accompanied him on expensive junkets around the world.
Some of those officers might have gotten close enough to Rothstein to hear him boast of his own amorality, as he did in a monologue recorded by his one-time intimate associate, Steve Caputi.
“Here’s one thing you should learn about me that’s really important, everybody pay attention,” Rothstein said as he was being shuttled to a Yankees game. “If you are going to attack me in any fashion, be prepared for the counter attack and understand that I duel with people much, much smarter than you every day. Understand that the repercussions of engaging me could open the gates of hell. Understand that I am capable of evil far beyond anything your imagination could ever conjure up.”
By that time, Rothstein was entrenched in the upper echelons of Florida’s Republican elite. In 2008, then-Governor Charlie Crist appointed him to the Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. John McCain and Sarah Palin both provided him with autographed portraits in gratitude for his generous support for the GOP. Had the McCain-Palin ticket prevailed in 2008, Rothstein might have been rewarded with a position in the U.S. Justice Department.
During a gathering of high-powered Republicans at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Largo estate, the future GOP presidential aspirant “put his arm around Scott and says, `You know, people, you’re looking at probably the next United States Attorney General,’” recalls Caputi, who was present. “And Scott’s trying to look all modest, and Arlen Specter chirps in and says, `Maybe someday a President of the United States.’ And the whole room explodes with applause like the floor of a convention.”
A year later, Caputi – who had been recruited by Rothstein as a bit player in a scheme to scam investors out of millions of dollars – was surprised to receive a message from the attorney urging him to travel to Morocco, whence he had fled to escape prosecution. When he arrived in Casablanca, Caputi found Rothstein strung out on pills and alcohol, pacing a hotel room in his underwear, surrounded by suitcases bursting with cash. Prior to leaving the United States, Rothstein had wired $16 million into offshore accounts. He had also researched Morocco’s extradition laws and, apparently, renounced his U.S. citizenship.
“We have a client that was a United States citizen until about 6 months ago,” Rothstein told associates in his law firm shortly before he fled. “He became a citizen of Israel and renounced his United States citizenship. He is likely to be charged with a multitude of crimes in the united states [sic] including fraud, money laundering and embezzlement.” Rothstein was particularly interested to know if “the client” could be extradited to the U.S., and if he could be charged with those crimes in Israel, even if they were committed in this country.
To provide him with security as he absconded, Rothstein paid $20,000 to former BCSO Detective David Benjamin – who at the time was in charge of the department’s internal affairs section. Although fleeing to Israel was an option, Rothstein chose the Arab country Morocco as his refuge – despite the fact that it is ruled by a “sharia-compliant” government.
“Morocco is not just a `Muslim country’ in the cultural sense,” wrote National Review legal analyst Andrew McCarthy in 2011, following that nation’s most recent constitutional reform. “It is a country proudly adherent to sharia law.” Its government is a signatory to the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which asserts that the role of the Islamic Ummah is to lead humanity “to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah” (spelling in the original).
Rothstein eventually returned to the United States, where he was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Former BCSO deputies Poole and Benjamin were convicted on criminal charges and sent to prison. They were among 28 department employees – many of them tainted by improper relationships with Rothstein — who were fired by Sheriff Israel following his upset victory in 2012. Nezar Hamze, a BCSO cadet who was untouched by that scandal, was promoted to fill one of the vacancies created by Sheriff Israel’s badly needed purge – thereby triggering an outburst of bigoted hostility from Republican activists whose composure didn’t suffer as a result of Rothstein’s criminal rampage.
David Rosenthal, as of this writing, has not responded to a request from The Free Thought Project for comment regarding “any overt actions taken by Mr. Hamze that have resulted in material harm to Broward County residents,” or “any incidents of official misconduct” on his part. As he and his associates have made clear, their objection to the deputy isn’t focused on anything he has done, but entirely on the fact that he is a Muslim who refuses to renounce his religion.
Unable to cite an actual abuse or corrupt act on the part of Deputy Hamze that would justify his termination, David Rosenthal, in a December 27 email, reiterates his position that Hamze has disqualified himself by declining to recant his religious faith.
“Mr. Hamze has refused to renounce Sharia Law, which calls for a series of acts to be committed by Muslims that are codified under American law as violent felonies,” insists Rosenthal. “This presents cause for concern, since as a deputy, he has sworn to defend the laws of this country, but refuses to forswear those laws of Islam that call for violation of American law. If he were willing to defend American law, he should be willing to forswear the laws that call for its violation. But he refuses to do so.”
As explained above, the term “sharia” is a generic term referring to the religious and ethical “path” followed by people who subscribe to the Islamic faith. There is no “sharia law” manual or guidebook codifying “violent felonies” against Americans.
“In addition, Hamze is an official of a terrorist organization,” Rosenthal continues, referring to the deputy’s leadership role within the South Florida chapter of the Committee on American-Islamic Relations, which has never been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government. CAIR was among 83 groups designated as “terrorist” organizations by the authoritarian government of the United Arab Emirates; to consider that designation persuasive, Rosenthal would have to be comfortable in the company of one of the world’s most rigidly Islamist regimes.
“No one who supports terrorism should be employed in law enforcement, public education, or government,” concludes Rosenthal. “CAIR was founded by and operates as a component of Hamas, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has published its intention of destroying the United States.”
Beyond insinuation and attenuated “links and ties” of the sort connecting everyone to actor Kevin Bacon, there is no evidence to support the accusation that CAIR is “a component of Hamas.” Hamze himself has explicitly and repeatedly denounced Hamas.
“Hamas was designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 by the U.S. government,” Hamze pointed out in a 2013 interview with host Lee Lazerson of Jewish L’Chaim TV. “Any dealings with them is illegal, any support of them is illegal — we just don’t deal with them. We don’t deal with terrorists, we don’t deal with criminals. As a matter of fact, when we come across those individuals, we report them directly to law enforcement.”
In the same interview, Hamze discussed, in frank detail, key passages from the Koran that many Americans consider troubling:
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