By Patrick Donachie
With chants calling to “make America great again,” Republican candidates and members of the city’s Pakistani Christian community crowded into the basement hall of the Bellerose Jewish Center Saturday evening to celebrate their endorsement of Donald Trump for president.
Michael Faulkner, a 2017 candidate for mayor on the GOP line, spoke about how potently the evening illustrated the city in which it occurred.
“This room, this gathering, this meeting could take place only in New York,” he said during the meeting held at the center at 254-14 Union Turnpike. “Because only in New York could you have a temple, a rabbi that would allow a Pakistani Christian group to have a Republican gathering and meeting in their hall. It’s amazing.”
Several Republican candidates for local office sat at a table near the stage. Each candidate took a few minutes to introduce himself and encourage the audience members to volunteer and vote for Republicans in the upcoming primary and general elections.
Many speakers and audience members spoke affirmatively of how Trump had pledged to protect and promote Christianity throughout the country.
“This is a great meeting,” William Shahzad, one of the meetings’ attendees, said. “He wants to bring Christian values back.”
Christians are one of the largest religious minorities in the majority-Muslim Pakistan, totaling about 1.6 percent of the population, primarily a mix of Roman Catholic and Protestant. According to Tariq Rehmat, the United Pakistani Christian Community leader, the Pakistani Christian population is often allied with Republicans and said Trump would protect their religious liberty.
In the last year Christian churches in Pakistan were bombed in the predominantly Muslim country.
“We are supporting Trump because we need America back,” Rehmat said. “Without Trump we are considered third-class citizens.”
Trump secured the nomination to be the Republican candidate for president earlier this year and will face Hillary Clinton in the general election in November. His views on immigration and a proposal to ban Muslim immigration have generated controversy.
Rehmat, who organized the event with his team, concluded the evening by officially expressing the group’s endorsement for the candidate, along with a slide show presentation of Pakistani Christians currently serving in the armed forces and the New York Police Department and a rousing, concluding call of “Our Trump is coming, our Trump is coming.” Rehmat called Trump the candidate for Christian values and said that “a new day is rising and a new dawn is breaking.”
Other GOP candidates at the event included Mark Cipola, running against state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), and Alan Zwirn, who is running to fill the Assembly seat being vacated by Philip Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park.) .
Rehmat said Trump and his campaign were bringing new people from his community into the political fold, including people who previously voted for Democrats.
“I’ve seen Democrats who want to work for Donald Trump because they say only Donald Trump can solve these problems and save America,” he said. “We love America. We live for America.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona