Palestinian Solidarity Activist’s Bank Accounts Frozen by US Government
By Kevin Gosztola
Right before Mother’s Day weekend, the US government froze the bank accounts of Hatem Abudayyeh, a long-time Palestinian solidarity activist and organizer, and his wife, Naima. Abudayyeh is one of twenty-three activists from the Midwest in the US, who has been the subject of an FBI Grand Jury investigation since September of last year.
Hatem and Naima Abudayyeh have both been charged with no crimes. Naima Abudayyeh has not even been subpoenaed and is not the subject of an investigation.
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression in a statement on this development declare:
The persecution of the Abudayyeh family is another example of the criminalization of Palestinians, their supporters, and their movement for justice and liberation. There has been widespread criticism of the FBI and local law enforcement for their racial profiling and scapegoating of Arab and Muslim Americans. These repressive tactics include infiltration of community centers and mosques, entrapment of young men, and the prominent case of 11 students from the University of California campuses at Irvine and Riverside who have been subpoenaed to a grand jury and persecuted for disrupting a speech by Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the US. The government’s attempt to conflate the anti-war and human rights movements with terrorism is a cynical attempt to capitalize on the current political climate in order to silence Palestinians and other people of conscience who exercise their First Amendment rights in a manner which does not conform to the administration’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.
I spoke with Joe Iosbaker, another one of the twenty-three who have been subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. Iosbaker is a twenty year civil service employee at the University of Illionis at Chicago (UIC) and chief steward for the 1300 clerical workes in the Service Employees International Union Local 73.
To hear the interview, click on the play button on the widget below or click here . You will see an “episode” titled “Bank Accounts Frozen, Activists Targeted for Political Action.” Either click “listen” or “download.” You can also download this off of iTunes by searching for “CMN News.” The file with the above mentioned title should appear.
For those who do not want to or cannot listen, here’s a transcript covering the ongoing criminalization and suppression of activists by the US government.
TRANSCRIPT — BEGIN
KEVIN: Hello, my name is Kevin Gosztola and I’m a writer for OpEdNews.com. I’m a writer for WLCentral.org. I also am serving as an intern for The Nation magazine right now. And, I’d like to present to you an interview that I have done with Joe Iosbaker. He is a lead organizer in Chicago. He is one of twenty-three who have been targeted by the FBI, targeted because he is engaging in political action. And, I’ve been tracking this story since October when it began. You’ll hear from Joe background on what he and twenty-two other people have been facing at the hands of a Grand Jury investigation, a fishing expedition. This might remind you of McCarthyism or maybe if you know your history the Palmer Raids. Joe, will remind you of that. But, really, I am bringing you this interview because over the weekend the activists were hit with another attack, an escalation on one of their own. Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian solidarity activist, he had his bank accounts frozen. Frozen. No charges. No real apparent legal reason to have his bank accounts frozen. But they were frozen. And so, listen to this interview here. This is Joe Iosbaker from Chicago discussing cases of FBI repression in Chicago, Minneapolis and the greater Midwest right now.
JOE: I think the last time I talked with you we had of the original 23 people who had been subpoenaed to the grand jury–I think the last time I talked to you three of them had been approached by the US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald or by his office telling them that they were going to be called back to the Grand Jury. You know, all twenty-three of us have refused to testify, refused to cooperate with the Grand Jury. And then, those three were re-approached. And, while they were never given dates, there were meetings between our lawyers — each one of them had a separate lawyer that each met with the US Attorney’s office. And in those, the assistant US attorneys made it abundantly clear that they intended to go forward with this case. They had multiple indictments they were preparing to issue and that they intended to bring it to trial and that they are after convictions.
I think the last of those meetings was in early February. There were a few other visits to other activists that were related by the FBI, related to our case, in February and we figured we had no contact through the month of March. But, starting in February, our legal team said to us that they anticipated that the US Attorney’s office would move on us April or shortly after.
Because we were anticipating an attack from them, we launch our “Pledge of Resistance” campaign. And if you go to StopFBI.net there are over a thousand public signatures on the “Pledge of Resistance” statement. And the “Pledge of Resistance” simply states that in the event of one or some of us are indicted or there’s the possibility too of being jailed for refusing to cooperate with the Grand Jury that there would be emergency protests and the person who pledges pledges to show up at the emergency protest. We have more signatures than are on the website. We’ve been gathering them on paper and data entry is slow. We have several thousand people who’ve signed that pledge.
What happened last Friday, Hatem Abudayyeh is one of the 23, Hatem Abudayyeh, whose home was raided. He’s one of the main community leaders among Palestinians in Chicago. His bank accounts were frozen. So, apparently Hatem had gone to the bank on Friday and the ATM didn’t work. He went to the bank on Saturday morning and he learned that not only is his joint account with his wife, their checking account and saving account, not only had they been frozen but his wife has a bank account that is separate from his and her bank account has been frozen by them. I have to tell you I don’t know under what law they could be doing that because she is not a target of this investigation.
KEVIN: Now, have you been able to talk to anyone like a lawyer who can say why this might be happening and explain if there is any legal justification for what is happening to Hatem and Naima right now?
JOE: I have not spoken with a lawyer. And, I’m not a lawyer. For me, it just seems like there’s no charges against Hatem or anyone. There’s not even an investigation of Nema. For them to freeze her bank account, an account that doesn’t even bear his name, I just — I can’t believe that there’s a legal statute that allows them to do this. And to me it just sounds like more of the racist treatment that the Palestinians, that the Arab and Muslim communities receive at the hands of the FBI.
KEVIN: When Hatem goes out and speaks in public, what is it that he tells people the FBI or this Grand Jury alleges he is guilty of doing?
JOE: It’s the same thing that is alleged of all of us. That we have “conspired to provide material support for foreign terrorist organizations.” And what we have said is when this is over there will be no evidence of any funds having gone to any foreign terrorist organization. What the US Attorney’s office has said to our lawyers in those discussions back in January and February is that delegations of human rights activists and Palestine solidarity activists traveled to the West Bank, made small contributions to the women’s committee of Palestine — I think their name is the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committee.
My wife is a member of a group called the Palestine Solidarity Group. Every year for a decade or more they have sponsored human rights delegations to the West Bank (earlier, they had also gone to Gaza but not in recent years) to meet with the organizations of victims — Human rights organizations, political prisoners, support groups, student organizations, unions, women’s organizations, people who could describe living under occupation. And, the women’s committee had served as the host. They provide the transportation. They provide falafels. They provide interpretation. They provide schedule of events and meetings. They are an NGO registered with the Palestinian Authority. They are not on the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list. They are not illegal in Israel. US Attorney is really fixated on small amounts of money paid to that committee to host these delegations.
KEVIN: I suspect that a number of people might be hearing about this story for the first time. I’m wondering if you could give some people some background. What should people know about your case, about the FBI repression activists have been going on. This goes on and there’s not a lot of media attention. So, what should people know?
JOE: Alright, there’s three things that we have to tell you.
The first one is that on September 24th, seven homes in Chicago and Minneapolis and one office of an antiwar committee in Minneapolis were raided by the FBI. The warrants and the subpoenas all indicated that they were looking for evidence of “material support for foreign terrorist organizations.” The fourteen people that were subpoenaed in that group really has one thing in common: all fourteen of them, including my wife and I (our home was raided by the FBI), all fourteen of them had been key organizers in the protest at the Republican National Convention September 1, 2008. The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, what it was called. Marches that were held were permitted marches.
We didn’t know this on the morning of the raid and it took some time to learn this fact. In fact, we learned it from the office in Chicago, the office of the US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, that the antiwar committee in the Twin Cities had been infiltrated by a law enforcement agent, had been infiltrated the FBI starting in April 2008 in the months organizing for the protest for the RNC. That protest was the largest antiwar protest in the history of the Midwest of the United States. Thirty thousand marched on the RNC on September 1st.
Apparently, that police agent and professional liar didn’t find anything that was indictable. But then, she stuck around for two more years as an undercover cop spying on the antiwar movement. And we believe that it is her lies about us that were the basis for the raids in September and the subpoenas for a Grand Jury.
The second thing to tell you is that the Grand Jury — all twenty-three of us, there were fourteen subpoenaed in September — All fourteen of us refused to appear at the Grand Jury. The US Attorney then subpoenaed nine more people, mostly Palestinian Americans, in December. And those nine all refused to appear at a Grand Jury because we learned that the Grand Jury can indict a ham sandwich. It is not an unbiased process. It is a prosecutor’s dream. You have no right to have your lawyer present. You have no right to see the evidence being presented against you. You have no right to cross-examination of the witnesses. In fact, you have no right to see the witnesses.
We all realized it was just a witch-hunt and refused to participate in it. And there are consequences for that. All twenty-three of us for refusing could actually be imprisoned on contempt of court for refusing to participate in that grand jury. So that’s the second part of this.
The third part is to say that the FBI has a long history of suppressing people’s movements in this country. From the Palmer Raids in the 1920s to the McCarthyite period, COINTELPRO in the 1970s, the repression of the animal rights movement, the repression of the environmentalist movement, the repression of Puerto Rican independence movement up til today — actually just before we were raided — the Department of Justice released a report about the department’s spying on peace organizations in the United States over the years 2001-2006. We are the latest chapter in that.
The new element is the Department of Justice has a new tool, a weapon, that was given to them in June 2010. The Supreme Court in a decision called Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project determined that some speech is no longer protected by the Constitution. Any speech that is, and this is the trickiest language, “coordinated with, directed to or directed from an organization that is on the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list can be construed to be material support for a foreign terrorist organization.” As if someone who is doing solidarity for an organization, struggling against a brutal dictatorship, as if they provided guns or money to that organization or expert training on combat, something that sounds like material support for an organization.
Those are the elements for the case. We understand that is what is being used to charge us with material support.
KEVIN: What do you have to say about Hatem’s case in particular? I can’t get past the fact that I wouldn’t know what to do if my bank account was frozen and that this is happening to Americans in this country. I think people should really find this to be a gross injustice. What can you say to bring in the human element? To let people know what the impact will be for Hatem?
JOE: The case of Hatem Abudayyeh and his wife Naima they have a five-year old daughter. This is Mother’s Day weekend. Hatem’s not a doctor or a businessman. He’s a community activist. If I was him, I would be panicking about the loss of not being able to write checks. You know, I have all of my bills, all of them, plugged in to automatic bill pay. All of my bills will no longer be paid if I was in his situation. And, it’s Mother’s Day for goodness sake. It’s supposed to be a weekend where families —
I just want to tell you, my wife and I, Stephanie Weiner, have known Hatem since he was a college student. We’ve known his family for twenty years. Hatem and his parents were founding activists in the Palestinian community organizations forty years ago. Hatem is a family man. In fact, a lot of people don’t know this: Hatem and his wife, Nema, are the subject of a documentary called The New Americans” It was made by Kartemquin Films, the people who made Hoop Dreams. And it’s the property of PBS.org.
Hatem was born and raised in the US. He went back home to his village ten or twelve years ago to take a bride and met Nema and they came back here and were married here and they’ve living here all these years and they hav a six year old daughter. Hatem is an upstanding leader in this community. This can happen to a public activist, a public Palestinian activist. There’s nowhere to hide for any Arab American. This is such a terrible chilling acting by our government. It is the new McCarthyism. This is what the “war on terrorism,” this is what it means. It means any Arab American or Muslim in the United States, you are viewed by the FBI as the enemy within.
KEVIN: Just in the past two days, we’ve seen two Muslim scholars actually removed from a plane. No good reason at all. It just made people uncomfortable. It seems like what you are having to face here, your entire group, is people who are uncomfortable with people. Or not even that. It’s the use of the security apparatus against people because they can, basically. They don’t even have to justify using the apparatus against you.
JOE: I think it goes a step further than that because all twenty-three of us are activists. In fact, the first fourteen whose homes were raided, we’re lifelong activists. I’m fifty-two years old. I’ve been extremely active since I was eighteen years old, since I got to the university in 1977. That’s how I met my wife. We were movement college students. In fact, this is one of the most ironic elements of this. This Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision —
Every decade there has been an antiwar movement and within the antiwar movement there have been organizations of people who have stood in solidarity with the people who are suffering under that war or under that occupation. The first movement that I was involved in that was a solidarity movement and my wife too was the movement against apartheid in South Africa. Well, in the mid-1980s, Ronald Reagan’s administration put the African National Congress on the State Dept’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Do you know what year the organization came off that list?
KEVIN: It was recently.
JOE: 2008. They were on the list fifteen years after there was a government in South Africa. And think about this. In 2009, Barack Obama wrote the foreword for Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. In the foreword, Obama said he was as a college in the early “80s was motivated to political activity by the example of Nelson Mandela’s resistance to apartheid. If this Supreme Court decision was in place just two years earlier, he could have been accused of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. This is nothing more than an attempt by the US government, by the FBI and the Department of Justice, to suppress antiwar and international solidarity. And no wonder they’re doing it. We now have not one, not two but three wars, unpopular wars, they are fighting against Muslim countries. Anybody who is in this country working against those wars and especially if you’re working to put a human face on the Muslims and the Arab peoples that are being targeted by the United States and its closest ally, Israel, then we are subject to being criminalized and in fact now they have taken it to it’s logical conclusion. People who are activists can actually be imprisoned for political action.
You just heard an interview with Joe Iosbaker, who is one of the twenty-three activists subpoenaed, called upon to appear before a Grand Jury. Today is demand US Attorney Fitzgerald unfreeze the bank accounts of the Abudayyeh family. So, for your information, if any of this story would compel you to be of assistance to fellow Americans who are being targeted for exercising their rights, rights that I happen to think are protected under a Constitution or rights that I think culturally and in this society we all think people should be able to use and engage in protest, activism. This is the number if you would like to call and demand the unfreezing of these bank accounts call US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald at – here’s the phone number:
Dial 0 (zero) for the operator and ask to leave a message with the Duty Clerk. Demand Fitzgerald unfreeze the bank accounts of the Abudayyeh family and stop repression against Palestinian, anti-war and international solidarity activists.
You can find more details on this case at StopFBI.net .
Author’s Bio: Kevin Gosztola is a multimedia editor for OpEdNews.com and a writer for WLCentral.org. He is currently serving as an intern for The Nation Magazine. And, he follows all things related to WikiLeaks, media, activism, the unfolding revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa and sometimes writes movie reviews for OEN. He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who graduated with a Film/Video B.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago in the Spring 2010. In April 2010, he co-organized a major arts & media summit called “Art, Access & Action,” which explored the intersection of politics, art and media and was supported by Free Press. Chicago. His work can be found on Open Salon, The Seminal, Media-ocracy.com, and a personal blog he started on Alternet called Moving Train Media.