Progressive Groups Protest Bill Blocking Funds to Arab Groups

Human rights activists in Israel and abroad are organizing to defeat a proposed amendment to Israel’s antiterrorist laws that would block the flow of overseas funds to Arab welfare and charitable organizations in Israel.

In the Knesset, 14 lawmakers so far have signed a petition urging Justice Minister Dan Meridor to drop or at least delay action on the bill, contending that its passage would damage basic human rights.

A similar appeal was contained in a cable sent to Meridor on Dec. 8 by 43 American Jews.

The measure would allow the Israeli authorities to confiscate money or property bought with funds alleged to have come from terrorist sources.

It passed its first reading in the Knesset last May, with the support of a powerful bloc of Likud members, and was reintroduced on Dec. 1 for a second reading.

The Justice Ministry has described the amendment as a “tool to prevent the economic takeover by the terrorist organizations of Israel’s Arabs.”

The Knesset petitioners argued that it would not achieve that goal but rather would shatter “accepted human rights and would be used for the political prosecution of minorities in the country.”

The chief object of criticism is a provision that allows the security authorities to seize any items donated to an organization if they suspect the source of funds was a terrorist group.

That would create an absurd situation, the critics say, in which both a donor and a recipient of funds would have to give up property, such as kindergarten equipment or libraries, because they did not know where the money originated.

The Coalition for the Freedom of Organization, which represents about 100 Arab community organizations and human rights groups in Israel, held a news conference on the matter Sunday.

IMPACT ON DEMOCRATIC CHARACTER

The campaign in the United States was organized in New York by the Progressive Zionist Caucus and the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Both are considered close to the Peace Now movement in Israel.

The signatories of the cable to Meridor included academicians, jurists, rabbis, scholars and community leaders, many of them public figures in the United States.

They warned that “if enacted, the amendment would provide the police and security forces in Israel with virtually absolute powers to close Israeli Arab charitable organizations, to confiscate their assets and to detain their activists.”

The group expressed concern that the measure “would greatly affect the basic human and civil rights of Israeli citizens, violate their right to due process and severely erode Israel’s democratic character and image internationally.”

When Meridor introduced the bill in the Knesset on Dec. 4, he admitted he felt “uncomfortable” with it.

He said he was convinced, however, that the country has no choice, because it is in a state of war, meaning, apparently, the intifada.

Likud supporters of the bill, such as Uriel Lynn, chairman of the Knesset’s Legal Committee, and Dr. Uzi Landau insisted over the weekend that it is necessary to prevent the Palestine Liberation Organization from “taking further control of Israel’s Arab population.”

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