The National Association of Arab Americans says a resolution calling for protection of their civil rights may be blocked by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - who often flaunts his pro-civil rights voting record.
Aides to Hatch say he is opposing drafts of the resolution because he worries that they may unjustifiably attack the FBI's treatment of Arab-Americans during the Persian Gulf war.Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Paul Simon, D-Ill., introduced the resolution earlier this year after the FBI began interviewing American Arab leaders seeking what they knew about terrorism during the war.
Arabs claimed many were intimidated by questions about their neighbors and businesses, and complained that all Arabs were targeted as possible terrorists by the FBI merely because of their race - which they said was discriminatory.
When the resolution came up in a Senate Justice subcommittee chaired by Simon last week, Hatch managed to block it unless what he considers to be anti-FBI language was removed.
"The new director (William Sessions) is doing a terrific job, and we shouldn't criticize him," Hatch said at the time.
That prompted the National Association of Arab Americans this week to publicly urge Hatch to be flexible and allow a resolution calling for protection of their civil rights to pass.
"His hesitancy could kill it," said NAAA spokeswoman Susanne Amra.
NAAA Legislative Assistant Jeffrey V. Steele added, "We worry he is giving the FBI veto power over the resolution, and the FBI doesn't want anything that criticizes it. The whole reason we want the resolution is because of what happened with the FBI."
He added that words "criticizing" the FBI in the resolution were taken from an FBI press release describing its activities with Arab-American leaders. The FBI, however, says the interviews of Arabs were designed to help protect them against retribution attacks.
Aides to Hatch said the resolution was brought for markup in subcommittee without ever having hearings, and was distributed only days beforehand. They say Hatch blocked it to give it more careful consideration. He also seeks wording that all parties can live with, and has narrowed their differences, they said.
Ironically, a defender of Hatch is one of the American Arabs who complained the loudest about the FBI interviews: former Utahn Omar Kader, who was once the executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"Hatch has generally been among the most understanding people in Congress about the needs of Arabs and Palestinians. He just doesn't want to hurt the FBI," said Kader, who was born in Utah to Arab Palestinians.
But Kader earlier wrote a scathing letter to FBI Director Sessions about the interviewing. He also told the Deseret News earlier, "Can you imagine labeling all Jews, blacks or Hispanics as possible terrorists and interviewing them? They are doing that with Arab-Americans. And you don't see the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) or any one else complaining about it."
He had also added, "They are being asked details about people they know. They may own a store that the Internal Revenue Service could create problems with if they don't cooperate. It's threatening."