A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
July/August 1995, pg. 41
Rochester Seminar Reveals Strong Opposition to Counter-terrorism Bill
By Mitchell Kaidy
In the medium-seized community of Rochester, NY, reaction to the counterterrorism bill being propelled swiftly through Congress is startingly adverse.
First, a panel of three community representatives dissected the legislation for an hour on public radio. They received no dissent—only strong agreement from callers condemning both the intent and necessity for the legislation.
The following night at least 50 participants at a community forum uniformly denounced the legislation as threatening to the Bill of Rights.
The overwhelming show of opposition came in the face of two local congressional representatives who were identified as co-sponsors of the original House bill. Numerous constituents pledged to express their views forcefully by calling or writing those representatives, Louise Slaughter in the 29th District and John LaFalce in the 30th District. Both Democrats, they were criticized for seeking to capitalize politically on the Oklahoma City disaster.
Both representatives had been invited to participate or send a staff member; both declined.
Only a single dissent was heard when a panel of six community activists at St. John Fisher College denounced the original legislation that has since been amended in both houses of Congress. That dissent asked: "What about Pan-Am Flight 103 and the World Trade Center? What are we going to do about stopping those?" But she was unwilling to defend her position and left the meeting room.
Meanwhile, the decisive consensus held that, while the bill's intent was xenophobic and anti-alien, its repressive provisions would worsen the problem. The writer, who as one of the panelists pointed out the legislation could reach out to enmesh citizens as well as aliens, explained that a citizen could be charged if that person innocently contributed to one of the organizations listed by the president as "terrorist." Already, the president has unilaterally blacklisted numerous Arab Middle East organizations including, ironically, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which the United States is supporting financially to promote peace with Israel.
It is clear, according to the Rev. Gordon Webster, president of the Rochester Community of Churches, that the president chose to target mainly Arab Middle East organizations. Such blacklisting would place his own wife and in-laws, who are Palestinians, in jeopardy if they innocently contribute to Palestinian charities, Reverend Webster said.
In an intriguing sidelight, one forthright champion of the pro-gun community decried the legislation just as vigorously as did the civil rights panelists in the meeting room. More denial of rights and repression can only boomerang among already restless groups on the right, he said.
The president chose to target mainly Arab Middle East organizations.
Community activist Maria Muscarella criticized the racist nature of the legislation, pointing out that the United States has a long history of non-citizen repression. Although succeeded by amended bills in the House and Senate, the legislation's intent is still repressive, and for that reason would very likely still earn the Rochester rank-and-file's stiff disapproval, Muscarella said.
Was there any part of the bill that the gathering could support, the audience was asked? Only one provision—marking fertilizer and rendering it harmless—appeared to evoke any support, and that was tepid. With virtual unanimity, the panelists as well as the audience at the Rochester college gathering branded the legislation as misconceived and unnecessary, and predicted it would backfire, especially at this time, by being perceived as an infringement or repeal of some sections of the Bill of Rights.
Who—or what—was the bill's inspiration, and where is its constituency? The question bothered the gathering and recurred. Prof. Munawar Karim, a panelist representing the Islamic Center of Rochester, pointed to the Anti-Defamation League's domestic spy operation uncovered in 1992, whose network of paid and often illegal informants reached all the way to South Africa. He suggested that the legislation stemmed from American Zionist sources hoping to institutionalize political spying.
Viewing the legislation as grossly unconstitutional, the panel evinced nervous uncertainty as to whether the U.S. Supreme Court could be counted on to strike it down. The negative view was taken by panelist Jack Bradigan-Spula, a reporter on the weekly newspaper, City. Even if it is ultimately struck down, he and the panelists agreed, it would take at least five years to reach the court, and meanwhile much damage could be done to both citizens' and non-citizens' rights.
Reflecting the American Civil Liberties Union's adamant opposition, local chapter president Sue Rabe deplored both the intent and racist tone of the legislation. She too expressed surprise that local legislators who are perceived as "liberal" had jumped on the "anti-terrorist" bandwagon. The ACLU had issued a withering critique of the legislation, pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, had ruled that non-citizens should enjoy the same rights and protections as citizens. Freedom to meet and speak, as the Constitution's framers intended, was preferable to repressive and reactionary legislation, the local ACLU president said.
Although substantial changes have been made in the succeeding bills that are gaining support, the stiff and uncompromising opposition voiced in this metropolitan area of just under one million residents underscores very shaky support on the national level for any such restrictive legislation.
Mitchell Kaidy, winner of a 1993 Project Censored award for magazine journalism, frequently contributes essays on politics and other current topics.