A time to choose

Posted: Oct 03, 2001 12:00 AM
Among the most memorable passages in President Bush's extraordinary address to the joint session of Congress on Sept. 20 was the challenge he posed to others around the world: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." The New York Post reported on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked that the United States formally include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah on its list of targeted terrorist groups in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Such a step would establish that the governments of Iran, Syria and Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority – all of which "harbor or support" one or more of these groups – would be deemed to be "hostile regimes." Colin Powell's State Department is adamantly resisting this step, however. In fact, it is actively seeking to enlist the aforementioned (among other unsavory regimes, such as those of Sudan, Cuba and Algeria) as members of the anti-terrorism coalition. Just last Friday, Secretary Powell wrote members of the U.S. Senate opposing draft legislation aimed at imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority's access to weapons if it does not meet its commitments to fight terrorism. His letter claimed that, "The Palestinian compliance legislation ... would be counterproductive to our coalition-building and peace process efforts and we would like to see it withdrawn." In other words, even if you are not "with us," you can continue to benefit from American legitimation and assistance. This is all the more extraordinary – and insulting to Israel – since the State Department issued on Sept. 12 a report condemning these groups and the aid and comfort they receive from the Palestinian Authority. As noted in Sunday's editions of the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz: [The] half-yearly report stated that the PA was not preventing incitement and was even engaged itself in incitement. [It] added that, although the Palestinian Authority continued to adopt an official line opposing terrorism, organizations affiliated with the PA ... were responsible for attacks against Israelis [and that] the evidence would suggest that they were aware of the involvement of [such organizations] ... in the attacks but did little to restrain them. Israel is not the only nation to have suffered from terrorism at the hands of such groups, though. As Salon Magazine reported earlier this month, the State Department has also determined that "Hezbollah is known or suspected to have been involved in numerous anti-U.S. terrorist attacks." Hamas has killed American citizens in its war on Israel. (For that matter, Yasser Arafat is personally implicated in the murder of two American diplomats in Khartoum more than two decades ago.) It is, therefore, extraordinary indeed that the Bush administration has been courting organizations in this country that have refused to condemn the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah – some have even publicly applauded those terrorist groups. The president himself has met twice in as many weeks with leaders of American-Muslim organizations that have defended Hamas and Hezbollah. For example, in a November 2000 rally held in Lafayette Park, the then-executive director of one of these organizations, the American Muslim Council, declared "We are all supporters of Hamas. I wish they add that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah." When he asked those present whether there were any other supporters of Hezbollah among them, the crowd roared its approval. As it happens, even as Mr. Bush was meeting for the second time with representatives of the American Muslim Council and other self-appointed "leaders" of that community to express his solidarity with law-abiding people of the Islamic faith in this country, the American Muslim Council web site prominently featured a statement telling its members "Don't talk to the FBI." This warning, authored by the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedoms – a conclave of largely hard-left organizations that includes the American Muslim Council, the Council on American Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups – declared: "The FBI is looking for information to use against you, your family and/or your community. The FBI has a history of harassing and harming minority and immigrant communities. Some people are spending a long time in jail because they or their friends talked to the FBI." It is hard to believe that Mr. Bush wants to be legitimating such views of U.S. law enforcement or discouraging, even implicitly, Americans of any faith or community from cooperating fully with the war on terrorism. It is equally improbable that he wants to communicate in any way that those who support terrorists – whether by endorsing their activities, providing them with financial assistance and/or harboring their organizations – can really be on our team. If not, the president will have to make a choice, too, by insisting at a minimum that those who want the honor of meeting with him or otherwise being deemed on the right side in the war against international terror must first publicly renounce and convincingly end all associations with terrorist organizations and their supporters.