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AMERICAN CONNECTION : ASSASSINATION AFTERMATH : Israeli Settlers Rely on U.S. Donations to Keep Effort Alive

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Israeli law student who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin believed fervently in a cause--the survival of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank--that increasingly relies on supporters in Los Angeles, New York and other U.S. cities for its financial lifeblood.

Assassin Yigal Amir committed an act that horrified most Israelis and their U.S. backers, but his underlying opposition to the peace process and support for the settlements is shared by Americans who aid the cause financially. That U.S. connection has grown in importance in recent years as the government of Israel has cut back on the funds it contributes to the cause.

But Eve Haro, a West Bank activist on a fund-raising trip through Los Angeles and other cities, stressed Sunday that the donations go for humanitarian needs--such as ambulances and medical supplies. “It’s not buying bullets for a gunman to kill the prime minister, by no stretch of the imagination.

“The press loves to lump us all as militant-extremist settlers,” said Haro, whose 12-day trip includes stops in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver and St. Louis. “You should know we’re all devastated by what happened.”

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Indeed, no link has been established between the assassination and any conspiracy. A U.S. government source said Sunday that “it would be futile to speculate on a financing link that supported this guy” and that no investigation is under way.

More broadly, the act of terrorism has focused a spotlight on the political anxieties engulfing Israel as the peace process moves forward. U.S. financing has become an increasingly important factor across much of Israel’s right-wing spectrum, from the mainstream groups of the West Bank--represented by Haro--to the terrorist fringe that is sympathetic to Rabin’s killer.

By some estimates, such fanatical groups as Kahane Chai and Kach, inspired by ultranationalist teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have received 70% of their funding from the United States, with Los Angeles and New York prominent areas for assistance. Kahane was assassinated in New York in November, 1990.

In an executive order issued in January, President Clinton prohibited 31 groups affiliated with Middle Eastern terrorists from raising cash in the United States. The White House list was dominated by Palestinian and other Arab organizations but also included Kach and Kahane Chai. Israel outlawed the two groups as terrorist organizations last year.

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“They’re very small and very fragmented,” Oliver B. (Buck) Revell, a former top FBI official and head of an international security consulting firm in Dallas, said of Israel’s terrorist right wing.

Some of the participants, he added, are Americans who emigrate to Israel.

Yet experts interviewed Sunday sought to emphasize that fundraising for extremist groups reflects only a tiny part of the efforts by West Bank settlers to raise money in this country.

“A lot of these fund-raising efforts are not necessarily politically based,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, alluding to the practical needs for communications equipment and other items. “They’re more practically based.”

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The fundraising is often conducted through direct-mail appeals and special events in homes or public places, efforts that are sponsored by Israel-based foundations and other organizations.

In addition, much of the fund-raising effort comes through informal networks of family and friends.

“Many, many American Jews have friends and family members who live in the West Bank,” Cooper said. “For many of them right now it doesn’t come down to a question of ideology but a fear of physical safety [for those in the West Bank].”

While the Jewish American community is the natural source of most patrons, Israeli fund-raisers also have found that there is some support for their cause within the Christian evangelical community.

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Haro, who is from Efrat, a West Bank community, recently appeared on a Christian radio show in Portland, for example. “They have a whole program now for churches around the United States to each adopt a settlement,” she said.

She lashed out at what she views as stereotypes in the media about the settlers. Her efforts are based on survival needs, she said, such as well-equipped, modern ambulances.

“I’m not anti-peace. I have six children. I want peace so badly that I’m not sleeping at night,” said Haro, whose U.S. trip is sponsored by the Israel Community Development Foundation.

“Contrary to being obstacles to peace, we’re obstacles to what many people consider to be a terrorist Palestinian state in the making.”

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Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.


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