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Photo by Bill Chambers

By Bill Chambers

The defense team for Chicago Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have uncovered new evidence that confirms her alleged immigration fraud case is based on her being targeted for Palestine activism. Yesterday, they filled a motion to dismiss the indictment against her.

Rasmea Odeh was arrested on October 22, 2013 by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and charged with immigration fraud. Allegedly, in her application for citizenship made 20 years ago, she didn’t mention that she was arrested in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court that had tortured her to confess to bombings in Jerusalem. (For additional background on Odeh’s case, see Rasmea Odeh: Repression of a Palestinian Community Leader.)

In the Chicago courtroom on the day of her arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas was seen conferring with the prosecutors. At the time, that was the first clue Odeh’s indictment was related to the case of the well-known Palestinian and anti-war Midwest activists whose homes were raided by the FBI when the U.S. attorney alleged that they had provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations in Palestine.  Eventually a total of 23 activists were subpoenaed, but all refused to testify and were never charged assuming because of a lack of evidence.  Members of multiple organizations were also targeted including the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Palestine Solidarity Group – Chicago, and others. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas continues to lead this ongoing investigation. Odeh’s supporters could easily presume that Odeh and the case of the 23 were related. Hatem Abudayyeh, Executive Director of the AAAN and one of the activists whose home was raided by the FBI, is also a colleague of Odeh, Assistant Director of the AAAN.

It’s important to note that this ongoing investigation involves activists from multiple struggles including the anti-war movement, Colombia, Cuba, and immigration rights, but it’s primary focus is support for Palestine. Echoing what’s happening to Odeh now, Carlos Montez, a veteran Chicano, anti-war, and immigrant rights activist, whose name appeared on a search warrant of the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis, was indicted in May of 2011 on unrelated charges related to a protest 45 years ago. The charges were eventually thrown out of court. This multi-year investigation that involves targeting social justice movements, in this case Palestine activism, by criminalizing their activity and suppressing any coalition building among different groups has been a trend throughout U.S. Justice Department and FBI history. More on this trend later.

On Wednesday, the Rasmea Odeh defense team confirmed a direct relationship between the investigation targeting Palestine activists in 2010 and the records that led to the indictment of Odeh in 2013. The press release states “Attorneys representing Chicago’s long-time Palestinian community leader, Rasmea Odeh, have filed a motion and brief in Detroit’s U.S. District Court to dismiss the indictment against her. They are doing so on the grounds that the charges are the product of an illegal investigation targeting both Palestine solidarity efforts and organizing in the Palestinian community.”

In the motion to dismiss, Odeh’s attorneys describe the indictment as “the product of an illegal investigation into the First Amendment activities of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) and intended to suppress the work of the defendant in support of the Arab community of Chicago.” The motion goes on to describe how in January of 2010 the Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox “initiated a request through the office of International Affairs Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from the State of Israel for records of the defendant.” In July 2011, the Israelis sent a set of documents to Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox, supporting the claim that Odeh “had been arrested, convicted and imprisoned by the military legal system imposed by Israeli in the West Bank…Over two years later, with nothing to show for its raids in 2010, Ms. Odeh was indicted for falsely answering questions in 2004 in her naturalization application.”  The defense attorneys also speculate, not without reason, that “the United States Attorney in Illinois, which was the office that initiated the request for the Israeli documents and was carrying out the investigation, apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan, to divert attention from its failed efforts to criminaliize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”

These are dots that are not difficult to connect. The initial investigation in 2010 broadly targeted activists throughout the Midwest, but primarily focused on Palestinians and Palestine activists in Chicago. During the last four years, the Palestine solidarity movement has grown in numbers and impact particularly through the growth of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement directed at Israel and the proliferation of Students for Justice in Palestine groups on college campuses. With the growth of the movement came the attention of the FBI.

As mentioned above, the FBI has a history of targeting growing social justice movements in the U.S., criminalizing those movements, and preventing coalitions they might form with other communities or organizations. Examples from Church Senate Committee Report on FBI Counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) Programs and other studies of  FBI history include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) accused of being communists and the undermining of attempted coalition building with unions and anti-Vietnam war groups; the Black Panther Party prevented from building coalitions with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and politicized gangs like the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago; and the targeting of the Sanctuary Movement that supported Central American refugees in the 1980s accusing activists of supporting terrorists as a way of undermining the movement’s broad support of faith-based, human rights, and socialist groups.

Several hundred statements of support from unions, human rights, civil rights, and faith-based groups and thousands of supporters from across the country  for the 23 anti-war and Palestine activists seem to have prevented indictments in that case so far. It is not hard to imagine the prosecutors reviewing the evidence they had collected that had failed to convince a grand jury for an indictment, finding Odeh’s file from the Israelis, and deciding to build a case for indicting another leader of Chicago’s Palestinian community. There are few other reasonable explanations for why Odeh would be charged for an alleged offense that occurred 20 years ago on the basis of a prison term resulting from a confession obtained through torture 45 years ago.

“Rasmea is facing up to ten years in jail and deportation. She is a Palestinian who has stood up for the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community in Chicago, and to end the occupation of Palestine as well. Rasmea suffered vicious torture and sexual abuse in Israeli prisons, and the U.S. government is trying to victimize her again,” states Hatem Abudayyeh of the national Rasmea Defense Committee.

Odeh’s defense team will be discussing this motion to dismiss at her next court hearing on September 2 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, at 231 W Lafayette Boulevard, in Detroit, Michigan. The Rasmea Defense Committee and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) – CAIR-Chicago is a member of both coalitions – are organizing a picket line outside the court building at 2:00 p.m. and filling the courtroom for the hearing beginning at 3:00 p.m.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.

2 Responses to Defense Confirms: Rasmea Odeh Targeted for Palestine Activism

  1. sudhama says:

    This article reminds me of something. Jewish American scholar, Norman Finkelstein, made a comment during the recent conflict. He said, “As to how we got to where we are, the general context is perfectly obvious for anyone who wants to see it. A unity government was formed between the PA and Hamas. Netanyahu was enraged at this unity government. (Israel) called on the (U.S. And the EU), to break relations with the Palestinian Authority. Surprisingly, the United States said, ‘No, we’re going to give this unity government time. We’ll see whether it works or not.’ Then the EU came in and said it will also give the unity government time. […]
    At this point, Netanyahu virtually went berserk, and he was determined to break up the unity government. When there was the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers, he found his pretext. […] This is what Israel always does. Anybody who knows the history, it’s what the Israeli political scientist, […] Avner Yaniv (said,) it’s these Palestinian ‘peace offensives.’ Whenever the Palestinians seem like they are trying to reach a settlement of the conflict, […] Israel does everything it can to provoke a violent reaction […] break up the unity government, and Israel has its pretext. ‘We can’t negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because they only represent some of the Palestinian people; they don’t represent all of the Palestinian people.’ And so Netanyahu does what […] Israeli governments always do: You keep pounding the Palestinians, […] trying to evoke a reaction, and when the reaction comes[…] he said, ‘We can’t deal with these people. They’re terrorists.’”
    You’re not anti-Semitic, racist or a self-hating Jew for disagreeing with Israel, just a person of conscience, morals and a good heart.

  2. Jan Boudart says:

    Bill, thank you so much for working on this story, following it and especially for educating all interested people. This is valuable and I hope you feel appreciated. Jan Boudart

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