Why Is an Arab Group Awarding Rasmea Odeh’s Prosecutor?

The Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) released an announcement on April 28th, 2015 for their “justice” awards ceremony taking place on May 1st, 2015. At this event, the ACRL, NAACP-Detroit, and Freedom Institute will be honoring two individuals: Judge V. Edwards and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade.

The “Justice” Award for McQuade is not only alarming but also angering. McQuade’s office directed the prosecution of Rasmea Odeh’s case, a 67-year-old Palestinian American community leader. Odeh was arrested in her home in 2013 by Department of Homeland Security officials and charged with Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. This allegation was based on her not mentioning on an immigration application that she had been arrested in Palestine about 45 years ago. During her detainment in Palestine, she was tortured and raped in an Israeli prison and was forced to confess after weeks of torture and sexual violence. The Israeli military court convicted her of “terrorism” and sentenced her to life. Odeh was later released during a prisoner exchange.

In a country that aggressively furthers Israeli apartheid policies and state-sanctioned violence against the Palestinian people, we can see how highly politicized this charge is against Rasmea Odeh. Rasmea Odeh’s conviction in the United States is an act of political prosecution. The Detroit U.S Attorney’s Office has been working alongside the Department of Homeland Security for four years and filed for indictment almost a decade after Rasmea Odeh was granted citizenship. In the U.S., Rasmea Odeh’s case is intentional and selective and by no means coincidental. McQuade is the lead prosecutor on Rasmea Odeh’s case and, deplorably, the same attorney that the ACRL chose to “honor.”

The ACRL’s mission states:

“The Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2011 and is committed to protecting the civil rights of Arab Americans through education and advocacy.  The organization, which is based out of Dearborn, Michigan, works to build coalitions, promote understanding and cooperation and combat negative stereotypes.  Led by prominent civil rights attorneys and advocates, the ACRL offers the community it serves a solid commitment to ensuring that their rights are protected and preserved.”

So they claim to stand for and “protect” the civil rights of Arab Americans but yet award prosecuting attorney Barbara McQuade; someone who has spearheaded a political and inflammatory campaign against not only Palestinian resistance but also Arab women who have been victims of state-sanctioned violence and sexual torture. The statement also ignores that many Palestinians and Arabs have sought refuge in the diaspora because of Israeli war crimes.

After looking through ACRL’s past statements, it was found that they have expressed support for Rasmea Odeh. On November 12th, 2014, the ACRL released a statement about their concern with the federal judge’s decision to detain Rasmea Odeh for four months prior to her sentencing date. They referenced not only her age, but also her leadership role in the Arab-American Chicago community as reasons for the judge to release her.  So, what prompted this radical shift? Why did the organization change its standpoint? Their statement in support of Rasmea Odeh was almost effortlessly published on their website, but their decision to award McQuade signifies that they do not support nor uphold the rights of those they claim to represent and defend.

For an organization that is claiming to protect and honor civil rights attorneys, it is clear that McQuade is not in the ranks of attorneys that are working to radically challenge the status quo, fight for social justice, or even protect the very basic civil rights of individuals — even more specifically, victims of torture and sexual assault. The prosecuting attorneys worked to keep Odeh incarcerated prior to her conviction and used Israeli kangaroo court “documents” to invoke fear. The prosecutor’s office demonized Odeh by using language such as “terrorist” to further criminalize her and Palestinian communities. They have gone as far as questioning the validity of the torture and sexual abuse she experienced under Israeli military detention. The prosecuting attorney’s office built a case against Rasmea Odeh for her being both Palestinian and an activist within her community. Prosecuting Rasmea Odeh is a form of silencing political dissent and radical justice-based community work. An attorney that directs the prosecution of a Palestinian survivor of sexual torture while furthering a prison-industrial complex that is rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy should have to answer to the ACRL’s mission of upholding civil rights — not be honored by the organization.

The ACRL decision to award McQuade does not speak for the Arab American community, particularly since the Palestinian diaspora and refugees living in America are residing here because of Israeli war crimes and systematic dispossession and displacement. Rasmea Odeh’s defense team have asked for Rasmea’s supporters to take the following actions and demand that the Arab-American Civil Rights League immediately withdraw its award to Barbara McQuade.

Here is something we can do to shut them down:

  • “Call the ACRL’s Board Chairman, Nabih Ayad, at 313-633-0231. Demand he rescind his invitation to McQuade and that the League immediately withdraw her award. (Note: the phone rings a LONG time before the voicemail kicks in.)
  • Tweet the ACRL at @ACRLMICH demanding the same
  • Write the ACRL a Facebook message.

Written by Noran Elzarka.