WASHINGTON (Mar. 25)
Humanitarian activists are suing the U.S. government over a law that makes it illegal to aid the activities of foreign groups the State Department has deemed to be terrorist organizations.
The lawsuit contends that two provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 are unconstitutional because they criminalize fund raising for the “lawful and non- violent activities” of foreign terrorist organizations.
The case could have important implications for other groups designated as terrorist organizations, including the Islamic militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles this month on behalf of six organizations and two individuals who want to continue helping two designated terrorist groups — one that seeks independence for Kurds in Turkey and another that seeks self-determination for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The Humanitarian Law Project of Los Angeles argues that it should be allowed to engage in political advocacy for the Kurdistan Workers Party, while Tamil American organizations say they should be able to continue donating food, clothing and other goods to orphanages and refugee centers run by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
But Jewish organizations, several of which were instrumental in pushing the anti-terrorism law through Congress with its provisions banning fund-raising for lawful and non-violent activities of foreign terrorist groups, disagree with that position.
“We were strong backers of the concept in legislation and I think we will be strong backers as it gets challenged in court,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
“There is a seamless web between the terrorist activities of groups like Hamas and their social welfare initiatives,” Lieberman said.
It’s a well-documented fact, he added, that social programs run by Hamas – - such as day care centers or kindergartens — are used to recruit members and provide support for terrorist activities.