In the rush to pass anti-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Senate has watered down controversial measures targeting international terrorism.
Provisions aimed at banning fund raising by terrorist groups in the United States lost out in the end as senators sought to avoid a prolonged fight on the bill.
Despite the Senate’s action, there is a long road ahead for the legislation, whose final form is yet to be decided.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Comprehensive Terrorist Prevention Act of 1995 last week by a vote of 91 to 8. The House Of Representatives began hearings on a similar measure this week.
Although the bill does not include all it had hoped for, the organized Jewish community has praised the Senate for its actions.
“This is very important legislation that significantly adds to the authority of law enforcement to deal with terrorism,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League.
At the same time, Jewish groups are looking to the House to beef up measures designed to combat international terrorists operating in the United States.
President Clinton began the push for new counterterrorism legislation in January. After the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, members of Congress and the administration put the initiative on a fast track, shifting its emphasis to counter domestic terrorism.
In order to avoid controversy, the Senate stripped parts of Clinton’s proposals, including tough bans on fund raising for international terrorist groups through an elaborate licensing system.
Faced with claims of civil liberties violations, the Senate instead restricted fund raising only for foreign organizations, not their domestic counterparts.
Among the groups that would have been affected by such restrictions are the Islamic fundamentalist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Although welcoming passage of the bill, the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations said it was “disappointed” the administration proposals on fund raising were not included in the bill.
In a statement issued by the group’s chairman, Leon Levy, and executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of President said it would work with the House Of Representatives “to strengthen the bill to make it more effective” with respect to funding “since there is increasing evidence of activity in this country by terrorist organizations.”
“This is a work in progress,” said Hordes of ADL, which along with the American Jewish Committee, has led the organized Jewish community’s charge for the bill.
Among the specific concerns is the bill’s provision that requires that the ban goes into effect 30 days after a group is designated a terrorist organization.
“Not only does this give persons 30 days to continue to raise funds, but they can move their money,” Hordes said. “The only way for this to be effective is if it goes into effect immediately.”
The measure is also under attack because it requires the administration to designate every entity separately.
For example, if the United States decided to ban funds going to Hamas, the militant Islamic group in the West Bank and Gaza, every hospital and school funded by Hamas would have to be listed separately.
Critics charge that with a waiting period of 30 days, entities listed as terrorist organizations could simply change their names to avoid detection.
Despite all the problems with the fund-raising provisions, Jewish observers say the bill contains many useful provisions.
The bill establishes terrorist acts as a federal offense and authorizes he hiring of 1,000 new federal law enforcement officials to staff a FBI counterterrorism center.
The bill also allows American citizens to sue foreign governments for injuries suffered in terrorist attacks.
However, several of the provisions of the measure sparked controversy, based on concerns of potential violations of civil liberties. Among the most controversial are those that would expedite deportation procedures for aliens suspected of terrorism; broaden authority for wiretapping individuals suspected of terrorism; and provide greater access to credit reports and telephone records in cases related to foreign terrorism.
Although Jewish activists remain hopeful that the House will strengthen the fund-raising ban, some privately have suggested that the Senate bill will haunt them.
“This is not a good starting point,” one activist said.