Arab and Muslim American organizations – along with radical left-wing academics and a Quaker group - are closing ranks behind a convicted Palestinian terrorist who on Wednesday rejected a plea deal that would have allowed her to avoid a 10-year prison sentence for failing to disclose her terrorist past to U.S. immigration authorities.
The groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), and the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), insist Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a 66-year-old Chicago woman who was convicted for taking part in a 1969 terrorist bombing that killed two students in Jerusalem, is a simple victim of government profiling and prejudice.
“She has committed no crime and the government has no case,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Chicago-based AAAN where Odeh has served as associate director since 2004.
“The charge brought against her is just a pretext for the continuation of federal law enforcement repression against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims in this country. This policy attempts to scapegoat and intimidate our community into staying silent and not raising its voice against injustice,” read the statement he released on Wednesday.
Among the community’s efforts on behalf of the woman who reportedly has used up to nine aliases (at her workplace she’s known as “Rasmea Yousef”): the sale of “I support Rasmea” T-shirts, the hiring of buses to bring “hundreds” of Chicago-area supporters to her June 10 trial in Detroit, the solicitation of contributions to her legal defense fund and a letter-writing campaign to the U.S. Attorney in Detroit.
CAIR-Chicago posted this photo of the table where "I support Rasmea" T-shirts were sold.
The brother of 21-year-old Eddie Joffe - one of the two victims of the bombing she took part in with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - lives in Houston and only last week learned she had been living in the U.S. for 20 years. Basil Joffe told the National Review that he was sickened to hear about the praise being heaped upon Odeh by her community.
His brother Eddie and his best friend Leon Kanner were stocking up on groceries for a hiking trip when a can of sweets rigged with dynamite detonated at the Jerusalem supermarket, killing both.
Basil Joffe told National Review that “the body was so badly burned and blackened from the explosion that they could barely recognize it” and that his parents never recovered until the day they died from the devastation of losing their son.
Joffe said “I just about vomited” after hearing the praise being poured on his brother’s killer, particularly the allegation that she’s an innocent victim of discrimination.
“How could they purport to prevent unfair discrimination and stereotyping when one of their [leaders] is a convicted terrorist, murdered people, and is unrepentant? It makes a hypocrisy, a mockery, of what they’re trying to accomplish,” Basil Joffe told National Review.
National Review noted a 2004 documentary film called "Women in Struggle" in which Odeh and one of her co-conspirators in the PFLP attack spoke proudly of their violent activities.
The second woman described the effort put into killing as many Israelis as possible, saying, “We wanted to place two bombs to blow up consecutively. I suggested to have the second bomb go off five or six minutes after the first bomb so that those who get killed in it would be members of the army and secret service, but it did not explode. They defused it 20 seconds before it exploded.”
Given the official glorification of terrorism in the Palestinian Authority, Basil Joffe said he is worried that if she is deported from the U.S. and returns to the region she will receive “a hero’s welcome.”
Odeh was sentenced to life in prison by an Israeli court in 1970 but after ten years was released as part of a PFLP prisoner exchange deal.
Margaret Jackson, the interim regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that supports a boycott of Israel, told National Review of her belief that Odeh’s immigration prosecution is rooted in bigotry. “It just infuriates me that this country continues to discriminate on color and religion and they’re so desperate that they go back into the past to do that,” Jackson said. “As an organization that is almost 100 years old and committed to non-violence, I’m just appalled by this situation.”
The Israeli government will not comment on the case playing out in Detroit, but an Israeli official told TheBlaze on Thursday that U.S. law enforcement officials contacted their Israel counterparts early in the investigation to verify that Odeh was the one involved in the 1969 terrorist attack.
“She was released from jail. That’s a decision we made. We have to live with our decisions, but from that day onwards we’re uninvolved,” said the official who asked to not be named due to the ongoing legal proceedings.
According to an Israeli government summary of terrorist attacks between 1967 and 1993, the PFLP was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks including hijackings, unleashing gunfire at various airports, killing two dozen children at an Israeli school, among their other violent incidents. The PFLP is designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department.
At an event this week in support of Odeh organized by CAIR’s Chicago office, her case was framed as an issue of “criminalizing immigration” and was compared with the 1913 Alien Land Law of California which prevented mostly East Asian immigrants from owning land and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which stopped Chinese immigration to the U.S.
One of her lawyers, Jim Fennerty, told the group that she was targeted because she was outspoken, according to CAIR-Chicago’s Twitter updates on the evening.
Another speaker called her case “a continued attack on the Palestinian community in Chicago...to silent dissent.”
She was extolled as a “pillar of the community” in Chicago. One speaker noted that after she was indicted, “she went right back to the ESL class she taught.”
Among the community-based work she has engaged in while in the U.S., Odeh was reported to have been an Obamacare navigator to help citizens register for President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. National Review which first reported this government work in February pointed out that the Illinois Department of Insurance in November “quietly revoked” Odeh’s certification as an Obamacare aide after it learned about her terrorism conviction.
The Arab-American community outreach network where Odeh currently serves as associate director was tangentially referred to in the widely-read Los Angeles Times’ 2008 report on Obama’s connections in the Arab-American community in Chicago before he was president or even senator. The LA Times reported without mentioning AAAN by name that the organization in 2001 “received a $40,000 grant from a local charity, the Woods Fund of Chicago, when Obama served on the fund's board of directors.”
In 2010, former UPI White House correspondent and prominent critic of Israel Helen Thomas was keynote speaker at an AAAN fundraiser.
AAAN executive director Hatem Abudayyeh in October called Odeh “a stalwart, an icon,” while in 2013 she received the "Outstanding Community Leader Award" from the Chicago Cultural Alliance.
At a court hearing on Wednesday in Detroit, Odeh rejected a plea deal in her immigration case and fired one of her defense lawyers William Swor who had negotiated a deal with prosecutors that would have limited any jail time to six months and allowed her to remain free in the U.S. for another six months before being deported, the Associated Press reported, noting that this would be “an unusual benefit in an immigration case.”
"I felt this is not in my best interest," Odeh said in Arabic on Wednesday, adding that she was “looking for a fair trial so I have my full rights.”
Though she resides in the Chicago area, Odeh is being tried in Detroit because that’s where she applied for citizenship.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel told the AP that the plea deal would remain on the table for a short period.
Though most people facing deportation over immigration fraud remain locked up after they serve their sentences until the moment they are deported, Tukel explained that in Odeh’s case the U.S. was willing to allow her to remain free in the U.S. for half a year.
Palestinian and other activists continue to praise her and have organized a fundraising dinner for her this weekend in honor of her birthday.
The Critical Ethnic Studies Association issued a statement last week slamming the U.S. Attorney’s prosecution, likening it to “racial violence against immigrant communities” and the “history of draconian punishment practices that produce anti-Black racism in policing and incarceration.”
The academic group’s statement made no mention of the killings for which she was convicted in Israel, instead stating, “In 1969, Rasmea was arrested by Israeli occupation forces for her community organizing.”
A petition posted in her support on MoveOn.org also failed to note the young men she killed, instead calling the U.S. Attorney’s immigration fraud case “part of an ongoing witch-hunt that targets Arabs and Muslims who criticize U.S. and Israeli policy and labels them ‘terrorists.’”
Painting Odeh as the victim, the petition called her a “political prisoner in Israeli jails” and claimed “she was violently tortured and humiliated.”
“There has already been a massive outpouring of love and support for Rasmea across the U.S. and the world, because people see this prosecution for what it is, a political attack on a 66 year old Palestinian woman who has dedicated her life to progress and social justice for her people and all people. We will stand with her to fight these charges,” said her work colleague Abudayyeh.