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Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2001 / 5 Teves, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Complacence led to belated effort against Hamas front -- UNTIL this month, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was a prosperous nonprofit group with offices in Texas and New Jersey - and influence in Washington.

The largest Muslim charity in the nation, Holy Land had won corporate sponsorships from the likes of American Express and Home Depot, and raised more than $13 million in 2000 at fundraisers around the nation.

Although it claimed to be dedicated to helping poor Arab widows and orphans, the group had a very different purpose: It was an American source of funds for the extremist Palestinian Islamic terrorist group Hamas. Money collected by the Holy Land Foundation from corporations, as well as American Muslims, was used by Hamas to help defray the cost of suicide bombings that have murdered hundreds of Israelis. Funds were also channeled to Hamas' social welfare network, used to win the hearts and minds of so many Palestinian Arab children who are exposed to its hate education.

And though its public face in Washington was one of a respectable philanthropic group, the attitude at its events was quite different. Investigators who infiltrated the group discovered that talk of jihad, and wiping out Israel and the Jews, was commonplace.

Thus, the Bush administration's decision to freeze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation on Dec. 3 was long overdue.

Now that Holy Land's activities have been brought to an end, we must ask why it took so long for Washington and corporate America to wake up to the truth about terrorist front groups working in the United States?

Information about the links between Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation has been known for years, thanks to investigative journalist Steven Emerson, the Anti-Defamation League and others.

The FBI monitored the two groups, taping the conspiratorial gathering at an airport hotel here in Philadelphia in 1993, when Hamas operatives gave their American acolytes money to get the organization going. Yet no action was taken.

Until Sept. 11, Islamic extremism in the United States was not taken seriously by either the government or secular media outlets. The criminal purpose of the Holy Land Foundation's efforts was winked at, and they were allowed to successfully masquerade as mainstream fundraisers.

The official indifference toward collecting dollars for anti-Israel terrorism was used by Hamas as a way to exploit the corporate world's desperate drive for diversity in their charitable gifts. Those who challenged the legitimacy of Holy Land and its allies ran the risk of being considered prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims.

While Emerson was labeled as a crank by many in the media, American businesses and American Muslims who thought they were giving to the needy were duped.

The problem is that while the Holy Land Foundation is now history, other extremist Muslim organizations - such as the Council on American Islamic Affairs - that carry on their work of propagandizing for terror are still active, and are being treated by the major media as legitimate voices and even as victims of an unfair backlash.

Three months after thousands of Americans were murdered on Sept. 11 and more than a year after the Palestinian Authority, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, started its latest campaign on terror (misnamed an intifada, or spontaneous uprising), many in this country are still hopelessly naive about the threat of Islamic extremism.

All Americans have a right to free association and free speech. But there is a difference between advocacy and despotism.

The lesson of the Holy Land Foundation is that we must not allow our fear of being labeled as "politically incorrect" to deter us from speaking out against the allies of murderers.

But the fact that even in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the allies of the Holy Land Foundation - and Hamas - are still given a respectful hearing in the media and the White House, proves we have a long way to go before we wake up from our complacence on this issue.

Toleration of terror front groups - let alone "dialogue" and coalition-building with organizations whose aim is the destruction of the State of Israel - is a fatal mistake we cannot make.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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