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Reform Jewish Leaders Urge Senate to Reject Operation TIPS

Saperstein and Heller: We understand the necessity of giving law enforcement new tools to fight terrorism, but many of these tools are not narrowly tailored to assist in this fight and cut a wide swath through our fundamental freedoms.

Contact:Alexis Rice or Michael Weiner 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2002- As the Senate continues work on President Bush's homeland security plan, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Robert M. Heller, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, sent a letter today urging Senators to explicitly bar implementation of a program known as Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), noting, "(t)his counter-productive proposal threatens to pit American against American and chill constitutionally protected speech by enlisting individuals with no law enforcement training or accountability to identify "subversive" activities and report them to federal authorities."

The complete letter follows:

On behalf of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the public policy body of North America's largest organized Jewish community, we write to express great concern about the proposed surveillance program known as Operation TIPS. This counter-productive proposal threatens to pit American against American and chill constitutionally protected speech by enlisting individuals with no law enforcement training or accountability to identify "subversive" activities and report them to federal authorities. As such, we strongly support the efforts of Representative Armey and others to prevent the program from being put into place, and we urge the Senate to follow the lead of the House by explicitly rejecting Operation TIPS in its homeland security legislation.

Combined with the expanded wiretapping and Internet surveillance powers instituted by the USA PATRIOT Act and the new domestic spying guidelines issued by Attorney General Ashcroft, Operation TIPS further undermines the notion that government should not spy on people unless they are suspected of committing, or planning to commit, a crime. Our nation's history demonstrates too well the danger of allowing federal officials to exercise unimpeded surveillance powers and to cultivate a system of informants who spy on Americans based only on their legal political activities. Creating a society of suspicion and mistrust will only erode our national unity and obstruct our efforts to defeat the forces of terror. While recalibrating the balance between civil liberties and national security is entirely appropriate in an era of terrorism, we must consider new proposals carefully and reject those that promise only to restrict freedom without actually enhancing our safety.

The Reform Jewish Movement has an acute understanding of the danger of programs such as Operation TIPS. In 1971, according to press reports, an FBI informant stole a mailing list from our office in Washington, DC and turned it over to the FBI. This illegitimate surveillance was clearly aimed at our principled opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1976, the Church Committee sought to prevent such illicit spying and harassment from ever taking place again. But in the last nine months, many of the protections set up in the late '70s to prevent government abuse have been dismantled. We understand the necessity of giving law enforcement new tools to fight terrorism, but many of these tools are not narrowly tailored to assist in this fight and cut a wide swath through our fundamental freedoms. To take such steps without public deliberation or rigorous justification by Administration officials ill serves our democracy and ill serves the development of appropriate law enforcement tools.

An irresponsible proposal such as Operation TIPS may represent the inevitable conclusion of a pattern in which new police powers are routinely assumed with little public debate about their adverse consequences or their actual necessity. Indeed, the original proposal appeared on a government website without any other formal announcement. Before unilaterally instituting policies that threaten to diminish civil liberties, Executive Branch officials should have to justify those policies, both to Congress and to the public.

By explicitly rejecting Operation TIPS, Congress can send a clear message to the Administration that policies infringing on constitutional rights must not be put in place without public deliberation and consultation with our elected representatives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

/s/
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

/s/
Robert M. Heller
Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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