Critics Call Clinton's Ban on Funding to Middle East Groups Biased, Illegal

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President Clinton's recent order freezing the assets of Middle Eastern groups and individuals whom the administration has deemed terrorist is sending ripples of alarm through Islamic communities and raising questions among constitutional law experts.

The groups fear that contributions to charities linked to some of those groups will lead to surveillance and prosecution. Critics of Clinton's order say it stigmatizes Muslims and violates their constitutional rights.

Among the 12 well-known groups named in the Jan. 24 order are the Palestinian groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. The order instructs the Treasury Department to freeze the bank accounts of those groups and their leaders, but administration officials acknowledge they do not expect to find many such accounts.

"Whether they have assets wasn't a concern," a White House official told NCR. The point of the order, a Treasury official said, is to block donations from U.S. organizations to those groups.

The government in effect "can blacklist organizations it opposes (by saying) no U.S. citizens or others can give any support to them," David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor, said in a telephone interview.

"The government selects some groups when there are thousands of others. I think it's unconstitutional."

Others, however, say the president has authority to bar U.S. groups from aiding organizations overseas. Eddie Correia, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said Clinton's order was similar to President Carter's order in 1979 that froze Iranian assets during the hostage crisis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the order in 1981, Correia said. But Cole noted that all the previous orders freezing assets have involved foreign governments, not domestic organizations.

For Muslims in the United States, the order is another form of McCarthyism, said Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles said the order fosters fear and hostility and could lead to the "false perception that there is a connection between Middle East violence and American Muslims."

In his order, Clinton says he was declaring a "national emergency" because the "grave acts of violence ... that disrupt the Middle East peace process constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States." He prohibits donations to the named groups and individuals because they "would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency."

Administration officials said the order was turned as a gesture of support for Israel in the wake of the Jan. 22nd suicide bombing, which killed 21 Israelis.

"The measures we are taking demonstrate our determination to thwart acts of terrorism that threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process by attacking any material or financial support for such acts that may emanate from the United States," wrote Clinton.

But representatives of Islamic organizations say the administration has not told them what those measures will be or which U.S. charities might be under suspicion.

"We are receiving a lot of calls," said Abdurahman Alamoudi, executive director of the American Muslim Council in Washington. For now, he said, his organization is telling its 3,000 members to "give out money and give it out generously."

Suhail Miari, executive director of United Holy Land Fund, a national nonprofit organization with headquarters in Chicago, said, "If the president is trying to protect the security of the United States, I'm for it. But there's no indication that Muslim organizations here are involved in violence."

He said his foundation was a mainstream charity organized in 1967 with tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. …