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A 'Victory' We Can Do Without

September 17, 1987

The State Department has ordered the Palestine Information Office in Washington to shut down within 30 days on the ground that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which finances it, is affiliated with terrorism. That order almost certainly will be appealed in the courts as a violation of free-speech guarantees. Meanwhile, though, it is being hailed as a notable victory by some members of Congress who had pushed for the closure and by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which had strongly lobbied for it. Americans who are concerned with keeping their First Amendment rights ought to worry about "victories" like this.

The State Department action, reluctantly taken, was clearly an expedient effort to head off a more sweeping proposal in Congress that would also try to force closure of the PLO's U.N. mission in New York. It's no less clear, as Secretary of State George P. Shultz tried to tell proponents of the action weeks ago, that the practical effect of this move will be virtually nil. The department's claimed legal basis for moving against the office is that it is a "foreign mission," subject to the foreign-policy authority of the President and the secretary of state. There is now nothing to prevent the office from being reorganized as a strictly American entity, financed by U.S. citizens and indisputably protected by constitutional guarantees.

The information office does not engage in lobbying, and has never been accused of involvement with terrorism. It exists to provide information about the Palestinian cause to anyone who might want to receive it. It is financed by the PLO, about which the State Department claims to have recently discerned fresh evidence of terrorist proclivities. But the PLO's association with terrorists and terrorism is surely no less and no more apparent now than it was in 1978, when the office was established.

The basic issue in any event has little to do with what the PLO may be or what its supporters want. The basic issue is the right of Americans to express and to have unhindered access to diverse views, however unpopular some of them may be. No one has accused the information office of committing any crime. Indeed, the only violation of legal rights in this case comes from those who would arrogantly try to deny others the fundamental freedom of political expression.

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