The Clinton administration launched a war on terrorism this week, freezing the U.S. assets and banning charitable contributions for 12 Middle East terrorist groups, including two Jewish extremist organizations.
Calling the move a demonstration of American “determination to thwart acts of terrorism that threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process,” President Clinton signed an executive order freezing the U.S. assets of these organizations on Monday.
The move denies the terrorist groups access to U.S. banks and bans American citizens from contributing directly to these organizations.
Clinton’s order came as the administration was putting the final touches on comprehensive anti-terrorism legislation. The legislation was expected to be unveiled at the end of this week.
Clinton’s move against the terrorist groups comes “in response to recurrent acts” of terrorism, including the latest suicide bombing attack in Israel, in which at least 19 Israelis died, the president said in a letter to members of Congress announcing the plan.
Clinton referred to his initiative as well as Sunday’s incident during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
He conveyed his “deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.”
“I know that in the face of such evil it is hard for the people in the Middle East to go forward, ” he said, adding, “We must and we will.”
“The terrorists represent the past, not the future,” Clinton said during his lengthy speech before a joint session of Congress.
And he called on “all our allies and peace-loving nations throughout the world to Join us with renewed fervor in a global effort to combat terrorism.”
The leadership of the Senate joined Clinton on Tuesday in condemning terrorist attacks in Israel.
Citing Sunday’s “brutal and cowardly” attack, as well as other attacks, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to “publicly and forcefully condemn acts of terror” and to take “immediate steps to prevent future acts of terrorism.”
The resolution also calls on Syrian President Hafez Assad to “immediately end all support for terrorist groups.”
The measure was sponsored by Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan ) Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.).
Among the groups listed in Clinton’s executive order are the Islamic fundamentalist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the latter of which claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
Other groups declared as “terrorist organizations which threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process” include: Hezbollah, the Abu Nidal Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Israeli officials and Jewish groups were quick to praise the president’s initiative.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres praised Clinton for his “courageous and important step” against terrorist groups bent on halting the peace process.
“This is a historic moment in the war on terrorism,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“This is the beginning of a serious recognition that [terrorism] is a serious disease that needs actions, not only words.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations hailed the Clinton administration for showing a “bold and creative initiative in dealing with this long overdue problem.”
“The freezing of assets is a key to containing terrorists by denying them support. Money is their life’s blood,” said Lester Pollack, the umbrella group’s chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman, in a statement,
Members of the Conference of Presidents were briefed on the proposal Tuesday afternoon by Richard Clarke, special assistant to the president for global issues and multinational affairs.
Other Jewish organizations that applauded Clinton’s move were B’nai B’rith International the American Jewish Congress and the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Although the move was widely hailed as a solid first step, its long-term effectiveness remains unclear, according to observers.
Some 5,000 American financial institutions received a five-page list of targeted organizations and their leaders, with instructions to seize assets and prevent future transfers to overseas accounts.
Because individuals associated with these groups often use more than one name or pseudonym, administration officials acknowledged that the system is not “foolproof.”
A senior administration official said few terrorists groups actually have bank accounts in their own names or the name of their leaders, but “we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think we would find some groups.
The list is “an additional mechanism for addressing the problem; it is not the exclusive one,” the official said.
Banks were ordered to seize the assets and stop fund transfers as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The actual dollar amount of funds that may have been seized is not yet known.
In addition to targeting 10 Arab organizations, the executive order also singles out two militant Jewish groups as terrorist organizations: Kach and Kahane Chai.
However, the order specifically applies only to the Israeli branches of the two groups.
Therefore, only U.S. assets held by Kach and Kahane Chai’s Israeli groups can be seized under the executive order.
The measure also declares 18 individuals as terrorists and seizes their assets, if any, and bans them from obtaining U.S. visas.
A senior administration official said Clinton included the Jewish extremist organizations because they are outlawed in Israel.
While Jewish groups widely praised the initiative, some expressed grave concern that the administration categorized the extremist Jewish organizations on the same plane as the Arab terrorist groups.
“They belong on some list but not this one,” Foxman said. Kach and Kahane Chai are not the “same league and caliber” as the 10 Arab groups named, he said.
Michael Guzofsky, national director of Kahane Chai in America, said comparing his organization and Arab terrorist groups is “as insane as comparing Bill Clinton to Adolf Hitler.”
The Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also condemned the move, calling it an effort by Clinton to gain the Jewish vote.
Hamas also condemned the action, but said it would not weaken the organization. A Hamas leader told Israel Radio that most of Hamas’ financial support comes from the territories.
Meanwhile, a draft of the administration anti-terrorism bill that was scheduled to be unveiled this week requires the president to compile a list of American organizations that raise funds for terrorist organizations.
Their fund-raisers would then be required to register with the attorney general’s office in order to obtain a license.
Licenses would only be granted, according to a draft copy of the bill, if the applicant could prove that the money would be used for charitable purposes and not to free up other money for terrorist purposes.
The bill would also eliminate the high legal threshold to which U.S. law enforcement personnel must now adhere before launching an investigation into suspected terrorist activity and fund raising.
The bill also creates a new federal statute to give law enforcement officials clear jurisdiction over any international terrorist act committed within the United States.
Other provisions in the draft create criminal penalties for any U.S. citizen who seeks to commit a terrorist act abroad.
Another aspect of the bill provides for expedited deportation proceedings for non-citizens who engage in terrorist activities.
“Today was a first step. Now we need a new federal anti- terrorism statute,” Foxman said. ADL’s Washington office has been working closely with administration officials and congressional offices on such a bill, he said.