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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 1993, Page 14
Arab Americans Spied On by ADL Sue Three Police Departments
By Rachelle Marshall
A coalition of Arab-American organizations has accused the police and sheriffs' departments of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego of negligence in connection with a long-running spy operation conducted against Arab-American and other political activists. A suit to recover at least $100,000 in damages from each law enforcement agency was filed on June 23 by the Center for Constitutional Law in Los Angeles and New York, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which claim that the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and privacy were violated. Members of the coalition include ADC, the National Association of Arab Americans, the Association of Arab-American University Graduates and the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine.
The case originated earlier this year when the San Francisco district attorney's office revealed that a retired San Francisco policeman, Tom Gerard, and a private investigator for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Roy Bullock, had illegally collected confidential information on more than 500 organizations and 12,000 individuals. The two men had shared the information with the government of South Africa and possibly with police departments in other parts of the country. Because of ADL's close relationship with Israel, and the fact that Gerard took part in an ADL-sponsored tour of that country, there is concern among Arab Americans that Gerard and Bullock may also have given some of the information to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
According to Abdeen Jabara, vice chairman of ADC, the files contain information on 36 Arab-American organizations and their members and on 412 groups listed by Bullock as "pinko," including the United Farm Workers, the National Lawyers Guild, and the American Indian Movement. Anti-apartheid organizations are also listed, as well as several Jewish peace groups. At a news conference held the day the suit was filed, Jabara said, "What's at stake here is whether or not private organizations with political agendas may maintain an information-sharing relationship with law enforcement agencies without compromising those agencies."
The suit claims that the spy operations deprived Arab Americans and others of "their right to anonymity in the conduct of their political activity and associations" and "chills their exercise of freedom of speech and associational privacy." Maha Jaber, Bay Area coordinator for ADC, told the press conference that "Our First Amendment rights have been violated because of our ethnicity and our religious and political beliefs."
Gerard, who is accused of illegally possessing San Francisco police intelligence files, was indicted last May on felony charges involving theft of government documents. No charges have been filed against Bullock, with whom Gerard shared the information, or the ADL, Bullock's employer. Members of the district attorney's office have indicated that because of the volume of material collected and the legal need to share it with the attorneys of the accused, there will probably be no further indictments until fall.
McCloskey Group Sues ADL
Meanwhile, Gerard, Bullock, ADL and Richard Hirschhaut, director of ADL's Central Pacific office, are the targets of a civil suit filed last April by former Congressman Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, Jr., on behalf of 19 people listed in the files who claim their right to privacy has been violated. If found guilty, the defendants would have to pay a fine of $2,500 on each count plus unspecified damages. McCloskey's clients won the first round on July 21, when San Francisco Judge William Cahill turned down a demurrer by Bullock that claimed the complaint was "unintelligible" because it failed to specify in detail the harm allegedly done to each plaintiff. In rejecting Bullock's demurrer, the judge pointed out that the plaintiffs could hardly specify the harm done to them if they couldn't examine the records.
The crucial issue now, according to McCloskey, is whether the plaintiffs can gain access to the files collected by Bullock and the ADL. "We want to know what they did with those records and how and where they disseminated the information," he said in a recent interview. Accordingly, he has asked for a court order requiring ADL and Bullock to release all of their documents pertaining to the individuals named in the suit. So far the defendants have stonewalled. With mind-boggling disdain for consistency, ADL and Bullock claim their constitutional rights to privacy would be violated if they were forced to produce the information they collected on thousands of unsuspecting citizens.
With at least three lawyers acting in their defense, and an annual budget of $32 million to draw on, ADL and Bullock may try to drag out the proceedings indefinitely, perhaps in the hope that the issue will be forgotten. But this is unlikely to happen. The continuing spy investigation and the two recently filed civil suits have importance not only for the organizations and individuals involved but for everyone concerned about the Middle East conflict or other controversial issues.
Time and again, ADL has used unverified information collected by paid spies—who may have lifted it illegally from law enforcement records—as the basis for damaging attacks on those who criticize Israeli policy or defend Palestinian rights. Typically, these attacks come in the form of letters or phone calls from prominent members of the Jewish community, and are addressed to organizations that have scheduled talks by the targeted individual or to radio or TV stations that plan to air their comments.
The underlying message is that the person in question is anti-Semitic and therefore his or her views are automatically suspect. The victims have no way of knowing the source of the information and usually no effective means of issuing a rebuttal. Not only is harm done to their reputations and perhaps their livelihoods but also to the free flow of ideas and information that all citizens must rely on in order to make informed decisions.
By listing those it disagrees with as "extremists," and disseminating distorted information about their views and activities, ADL is not only violating their privacy but attempting to silence them. Whatever the outcome of the current court cases, there is little doubt that ADL's ultimate purpose is to stifle debate on one of the most crucial issues of our time.