Leaders of American Jewish organizations are calling for the immediate passage of anti-terrorism legislation that has languished for more than a year in Congress.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations made its call at a Monday news conference convened to denounce the latest series of bombings in Israel carried out by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement.
Suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv this week claimed the lives of at least 30 and wounded at least 119.
“This is war,” declared Leon Levy, chairman of the conference, who called the bombings “wanton killing” by “barbarian murderers.”
“This is war,” he repeated, saying that the terrorism threat was not limited to Israel.
“Hamas and other Islamic extremist groups are engaged in fund raising, recruitment and training” in the United States, he said.
Levy said he had been assured by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) that “he’ll move aggressively to support” the anti-terrorism bill.
In a statement issued Monday to his Republican colleagues, Gingrich underscored the importance of the bill’s passage.
Action on the measure has repeatedly been scheduled and postponed in the House of Representatives. Now on the legislative calendar for the week of March 11 – a date set prior to the latest attacks in Israel – action is now nearly certain.
The bill, which aims to combat both international and domestic terrorism, got a boost in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing last April.
Although the pending legislation has fewer teeth than originally envisioned, Jewish groups are pushing to get it enacted.
The measure pending in the House would, among other provisions, outlaw fund raising in the United States by designated terrorist organizations such as Hamas. It would also outlaw donations by Americans to such organizations, make terrorism a federal offense for the first time and bar leaders of designated terrorist groups from entering the United States.
The bill also would provide $10 million in aid for anti-terrorism technology in countries especially threatened by terrorism, including Israel.
At Monday’s news conference, Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the two authors of the anti-terrorism bill, added his voice to the call for the bill’s passage.
“Congress must step up to the plate and pass out bill right now,” he said.
The bill, he added, will help ensure that “organizations dedicated to killing innocent men, women and children will no longer be able to use the United States as a safe haven.”
“We can no longer look at this as a distant danger,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference. “We cannot afford more sacrifices. We want no more memorials.”
Jewish leaders and members of Congress also issued warnings to Yasser Arafat that he must decisively root out terrorism.
“The burden of proof is on Yasser Arafat,” said Schumer. The peace process is “hanging by a hair.”
On Capital Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dloe threatened to cut of U.S. funds to the Palestinians.
“Unless and until serious anti-terrorist actions are implemented by Chairman Arafat, it is difficult to justify continued U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority,” Dole said in a statement.
A similar threat was issued by Rep. Benjamin Gliman (R-N.Y.), chairman of House International Relations Committee, who asked members of Congress to sign on to a letter to Arafat. The letter warned of an end to U.S. aid unless the Palestinian Authority cracks down on terrorism.
Dole also said he anticipated the Congress would soon complete action on the anti-terrorism legislation.
Jewish support for the legislation intensified last August, after the detention in New York of Musa Abu Marzook.
Israel also claims the Marzook raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States and transferred it to the group’s Gaza headquarters..
The measure could be “potentially very, very important” in stopping people such as Marzook, said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
The bill is ” an important expansion of the federal capability to deal with terrorism here and abroad,” he added. “It plugs weaknesses and addresses vulnerabilities and provides additional tools” to the law enforcement community.
In June, the Senate passed its version of the bill, which is viewed as significantly weaker than the House measure. One analyst said the senate’s fund-raising provisions seem “almost designed to thwart the possibility of prosecution.”
Despite concern that provisions in the House version on fund raising and wiretapping have been “watered down,” Hoenlein said, “We want the House bill passed.”
Said Lieberman, “Our focus has been to pass the House bill and get it into conference” between the House and Senate, where an acceptable compromise can be fashioned.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the attacks, many Jewish organizations issued condemnations and joined the call for Arafat to dismantle Hamas.
American Jewry’s chief fund-raising entities sent a joint letter to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, expressing sorrow and solidarity in the face of the attacks.
On the holiday of Purim, the letter said, jews “again hear the story of Jewish resistance to evil.
“In each generation we have had Jewish heroes that arose to help our people. We know that today in Israel there are many such Jewish heroes. We pray for their speedy success in assuring the safety of our sisters and brothers in Israel.”
The letter was sent by the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal, the United Israel Appeal and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich called on American Jews to show solidarity with Israel by going there on missions as soon as possible.
He made he request during a conference call with more than 100 representatives of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
The NJCRAC had issued a harsh condemnation of the attacks and called on Arafat to “act swiftly and decisively against these brutal and barbaric extremists.”
The NJCRAC subsequently issued a nationwide “action alert,” passing on Rabinovich’s message and calling on communities to press for passage of the anti-terrorism bill and the Iran Foreign Oil Sanctions Act, which would levy sanctions against foreign companies doing business with Iran’s petroleum industry.