The U.S., Teheran and The Flatow Ruling
Last week’s ruling by a Washington court slapping a $247 million fine on Iran for its role in the death of American student Alisa Flatow in 1995 was an important first step in fighting Iranian-sponsored terrorism, said the lawyer who fought the case. It could also turn into a major headache for the Clinton administration, which is considering how to respond to recent overtures from Teheran.
“This judgment will create a legal signpost that will make it much harder for the administration to overlook Iran’s role in sponsoring terrorism if they do decide to move toward normalization,” said an analyst for a major pro-Israel group this week. “It’s a major speed bump.”
The decision, the largest judgment against any nation for its culpability in supporting terrorists, “sends
a very important signal to countries that are engaged in terrorism or supporting terrorists,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League. “Whether or not any claims can be collected, this decision does focus important attention on rogue countries like Iran.”
But Steven R. Perles, the lawyer for Flatow’s family, said he is confident that at least some of the money will eventually be claimed. He said that the Flatow family may go after Iranian assets that were frozen after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.
“But the amount of frozen assets here is unclear,” Perles said. “Depending on whom you talk to, it ranges from $20 million to $12 billion. We need to do a detailed study of what’s available.”
He promised to “take a pretty aggressive posture on attempts to seize Iranian assets here or abroad. It won’t be easy, but I’d be stunned if I couldn’t collect.”
Flatow, a 20-year-old student from West Orange, N.J., was killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bus in the Gaza Strip. An Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad faction claimed responsibility.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s decision was based on a two-year-old law permitting U.S. citizens hurt by terrorist groups to sue the foreign governments that support them. The case hinged on testimony from U.S. and Israeli authorities linking Iran to the terrorist group. The judge ruled that Iran must pay $22.5 million in compensatory damages and $225 million in punitive damages.
“Steve Flatow made the decision while Alisa was still on life support to make positive things result from what would otherwise be a senseless death,” Perles said. “The purpose of this litigation is to use the financial distress that comes with punitive damages as a vehicle for deterring future Iranian sponsorship of terrorist actions.”
Sponsors of the law making the legal action possible expressed satisfaction.
“This massive and unprecedented verdict is … a slap in the face of terrorism around the world,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
Lebanon: The View From D.C.
Administration officials are watching with interest as leaders in Jerusalem debate a flurry of proposals for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested a withdrawal based on guarantees from the Lebanese government that it would prevent attacks across Israel’s northern border. Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, who as defense minister planned the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, has proposed an incremental withdrawal, with the promise to strike back hard if terrorist attacks resume.
An agreement on Lebanon, administration sources say, would defuse much of the anger and frustration in Washington over the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks. But the administration doesn’t regard the new talk about a Lebanon withdrawal as strictly a diversion by the Netanyahu government.
“It’s being taken seriously,” said a source close to the Mideast peace talks. “But a lot of things have to fall into place. It’s unclear what Syria’s response will be, and it’s unclear how the politics of this will work out in Israel.”
The administration is seeking more information about the plans, which it expects to get when a series of top Israeli officials parade through town, ending with Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai on March 25.
Withdrawal is “a doable idea,” said Judith Kipper, co-director of the Mideast program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It would be wildly popular in Israel, and it would change the dynamics of the region, since for the first time it would commit Israel to leaving territory on the basis of a UN resolution.”
But any serious plan would require active American help in working out the details, she said. And so far, it’s not clear whether the Clinton White House — under siege in the continuing sex scandals — is ready to jump in with both feet.
Latest Shot In Poll Wars
The battle of the polls continued this week with a new survey by the American Jewish Committee on Jewish attitudes toward Israel and the peace process.
The AJC data, which is being distributed to congressional and administration offices, should bolster efforts by mainstream Jewish organizations to prevent any new pressure by the administration on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The AJC data showed that a slim — and shrinking — majority of Jews here support Netanyahu’s peace policies.
About 56 percent said they supported the Netanyahu government’s current handling of the negotiations, down from 61 percent in 1997. Ninety-four percent said that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to control Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups. That number is up from 82 percent in 1997.
Sixty-nine percent said that Washington should “apply pressure on PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to advance the peace process,” but only 45 percent said that the Netanyahu government should be squeezed.
Two years ago, 62 percent said that Arafat “strongly” or “somewhat” supported peace with Israel. This year, it was down to 40 percent.
“The data clearly shows a linear decline in confidence in the Palestinians,” said David Harris, the AJC’s executive director.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ratings declined, but it’s striking that a clear majority still support his handling of the peace process, and by a slimmer majority, oppose the oft-discussed question of U.S. pressure on Israel.”
Sagging confidence in Arafat was also reflected in questions about a Palestinian state. In this year’s poll, 42 percent favor and 49 oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. In 1995, the last time that question was asked, a small plurality favored the creation of such a state.
UJA Young Leadership On The March
New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and Vice President Al Gore will headline next week’s United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Conference in Washington, along with a supporting cast of Jewish leaders and political bigwigs.
Some 3,000 young givers will attend the sold-out conference, which traditionally combines politics, serious Jewish study and some of the best partying in the Jewish world.
This year’s conference will continue a recent trend of increasing the focus on Jewish spirituality.
“This reflects a nationwide trend — a shift of interest to Judaism and bringing more meaning into one’s spiritual life,” said Jeff Korbman, the Young Leadership director for the UJA-Federation of New York, which will bring a record contingent of about 300, half of them first-timers. “Although the Washington conference is an unparalleled opportunity to get together and make a political statement about what’s important to us, it’s also a chance to learn and to study together in a way that we don’t get to do throughout the year.”
Another focus will be on Israeli security and the troubled Mideast peace process. The group will get briefed by special Mideast envoy Dennis Ross on Monday.
A range of domestic concerns, from school vouchers to gay and lesbian issues, will get an airing as well.
Also on tap will be a number of administration officials, including the busiest woman at the White House — Ann Lewis, the communications director who has been leading the president’s media defenses against intensifying charges of sexual misconduct.
But networking with other young, involved Jews is the real high point of the conference for many, according to veteran participants.
“From my point of view, I like to go and get inspired, to see that other people care about the same things I care about,” said Audrey Sammers, young leadership co-chair for the UJA-Federation of New York. “It reinforces my activism; it’s a shot in the arm.”
Patient’s Bill Of Rights
The Clinton administration is pushing hard for its Patients Bill of Rights, and an Orthodox group wants to make sure that legislation and federal directives on the subject are sensitive to patients with special religious needs.
This week, Abba Cohen, Washington director for Agudath Israel of America, wrote to President Bill Clinton about his group’s “Jewish Patient’s Bill of Rights,” which Cohen mentioned to the president during a recent encounter.
The 30-year-old Agudah document, Cohen said, deals with some of the issues Jewish patients face — like how to receive necessary medical treatment without being forced to violate the Sabbath or kashrut.
Recent developments in medical technology such as infertility treatment and genetic testing, and emerging issues such as assisted suicide, he told the president, have added to the religious dilemmas faced by many patients.
“We firmly believe that with these momentous changes there must be a heightened sensitivity toward matters of religious conscience and conviction,” Cohen said in his letter to Clinton. “We implore you to support and incorporate these principles into your ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights.’