The first bank account uncovered after President Clinton froze the assets of 12 Middle Eastern terrorist organizations in January contained a couple hundred dollars belonging to the Jewish extremist group Kahane Chai.
Since then, federal investigators have had little, if any, success unearthing the assets of Kahane Chai, Kach or any of the Arab terrorist organizations banned from collecting charitable contributions in the United States under Clinton’s executive order.
The issue of funds being raised in the United States and channeled to terrorist group abroad has resurfaced in the wake of the Nov. 4 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Since Rabin’s assassination, American law enforcement officials have stepped up their campaign to trace funds from U.S. soil to Jewish extremists in the West Bank, according to U.S. officials.
The Anti-Defamation League has asked the Treasury Department to add Eyal, the Kach splinter group to which Yigal Amir, Rabin’s confessed assassin, belonged, to the list of terrorist organizations banned from raising funds in the United States.
At the same time, an effort to raise funds for Amir’s defense has sprung up in New York. Although such activity is not illegal, it has revived questions over the use of American-raised funds being used to support Middle East terrorism.
Although few investigators believe that Amir, and his emerging circle of alleged collaborators benefited from funds raised in the United States, they do believe that American money flows to Jewish extremists in the West Bank.
There are several organization that have launched fund-raising campaigns for Jewish settlers in the territories. Although most of those funds are believed to go to legal projects, it is difficult to determine whether the funds are diverted for terrorist purposes.
And even though the search for illegal funds has intensified, at least one high-level official is not optimistic that investigators will seize any substantial assets.
“First of all we are not dealing with a lot of money. It’s probably in the tens of thousands of dollars range,” a Clinton administration official said on the condition of anonymity.
“Secondly, the money is sent to Jewish schools and settlements by legal means,” he said. “If, and I stress if, it is diverted for criminal use, it’s doubtful we’d find out.”
Law enforcement officials and financial institutions continue to search for assets and bank accounts of Kach or Kahane Chai, but they are unlikely to be successful unless the organizations use their own names.
“Anybody stupid enough to have money in their own bank accounts is going to get hammered,” said Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert. “But the notion that the government can go and take these people’s money is simply not true.”
Kach and Kahane Chai, both of which are outlawed in Israel, “operate with the same M.O. as Islamic militants,” Emerson said, adding, “The only differences is honesty. Jewish extremists admit their motives.”
Emerson believes that the difficulty in enforcing the executive order, which was also targeted against Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, shows that it was “not made to be implemented but made to be a political statement.”
Meanwhile, supporters of Rabin’s assassin have started a campaign to raise money for his legal defense, declaring it “a great mitzvah” to help him.
“Yigal Amir is a young religious Jewish hero who assassinated the evil Rabin,” declares a New York hot line seeking donations. “Rabin was an extreme radical racist who hated religious Jews of any persuasion.”
The message is played on the voice mail of a cellular phone, which is not traceable. Occasionally, calls are forwarded and operators reportedly solicit donations and give the Amir family’s address to those wishing to send donations.
Giving money to a terrorist’s legal defense fund or to support relatives is not a violation of U.S. law. And Amir’s supporters are not the first to raise money for the defense of terrorists.
Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the convicted spiritual mastermind behind the World Trade Center bombing, received tens of thousands of dollars raised by his U.S. supporters for his legal defense fund.
Similarly, supporters of Moussa Abu Marzook, the Hamas “foreign minister” being detained in New York and awaiting possible extradition to Israel, recently sent an Internet message soliciting donations to his family and legal defense fund.
Federal investigators seized about $750,000 from Marzook’s bank accounts after he was detained last July. Investigators believe that the money was intended for Hamas.