More than 1,000 people packed Chicago’s International Union of Operating Engineers hall on August 12 for “A Farewell to Rasmea Odeh Featuring Angela Davis.” The event was described as a chance to say goodbye to Odeh, a convicted murderer who will soon be deported for lying to get U.S. citizenship.
Odeh masterminded a Palestinian terrorist group’s 1969 bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Israeli college students. Her supporters on Saturday included dozens of progressive advocacy groups and anti-Israel organizations who sponsored the event, such as Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine and Black Lives Matter.
The convicted terrorist received well-wishers like the bride at a wedding and paused to meet children like a celebrity. Have your kid’s picture taken with a killer! Attendees appeared to be mostly young and of Middle Eastern descent. Quite a few of the women wore hijabs, but many others wore fully modern clothing. The room was generally young, energetic, organically diverse and united around a narrative that included a common enemy: Israel.
An Attorney Praised Odeh’s ‘Militancy’
Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, began the program by welcoming Odeh and Davis. He then thanked Odeh for “her over 50 years of community organizing for the liberation of Palestine.” The bombing for which Odeh was convicted took place 48 years ago.
Odeh’s attorneys were honored and took the stage. Michael Deutsch, a Chicago attorney, said Odeh’s “militancy” had been an inspiration to him. At first, it seemed that word choice might have been a Freudian slip, but as he spoke, it became clear it wasn’t. Deutsch was the first speaker of the night to openly—if carefully—cast terrorism as morally acceptable. He was proud, he said, to “bring out in the federal court and in the public that the Israeli government systematically tortures political people… and most importantly, we were able to put forward the idea that Palestinians have the international law right to struggle against a brutal, illegal occupation by any means necessary.” The crowd cheered.
After a surprisingly good hip-hop act—with the usual messages of Israeli “apartheid,” mass murder, child execution and other crimes, as well as an opportunity for crowd participation by chanting the word “muqawama” (resistance)—the speeches continued. A woman from the Minnesota Committee to Stop FBI Repression spoke about the “injustices” of Odeh’s case and her own case from 2010. This was part of a theme of the evening—that American law enforcement and counter-terrorism efforts are racist and condemnable. The speaker never mentioned who was the U.S. president or attorney general in 2010.
Condemning Israel And Excusing Terrorism
Finally, Angela Davis was introduced. She gave the evening’s main indictment of Israel. Her speech was a disjointed mess of invective against the Jewish state, peppered with attempts to tie her Marxism and fringe non-sequiturs into condemnations of Israel. She criticized Israel for representing itself “as the paragon of democracy in the region. And specifically, the evidence it presents being that it is a haven for LGBTQ communities.”
This elicited a knowing groan from the crowd. Davis continued, “but Israel does not say that it is welcoming to queer Palestinians who call for justice for their people.” LGBTQ Palestinians do, in fact, seek refuge in Israel and often receive it. The cheering that followed her comment suggested this information was conveniently ignored. For a culture that literally kills LGBTQ individuals, that’s a curious argument to choose to go on offense.
While the cheering was muted somewhat when Davis claimed that attendees were gathered on stolen, colonized land (Chicago), it picked back up when she told the crowd that “Palestine, under Israeli occupation is certainly the worst possible example of a carceral society.” She name-checked—to thunderous applause—Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Odeh wasn’t the only killer the crowd was willing to celebrate.
By the time the woman of the hour was introduced, the crowd was ready for a different feel. Her speech was warm and personal. She left the anti-Israel invective to the previous speakers. But the repeated excuses for violence and terrorism left the impression that she not only has no remorse for her actions in 1969, but feels she is morally justified to be proud of them.
More Than 1,000 Cheered A Convicted Murderer
In the near future, Odeh will be deported from the U.S. The community represented at this event considers this one grave injustice among many perpetrated against them by a government—and society—that hates them. They are awash in victimhood and antipathy for the broader society in which they live.
It is easy and emotionally satisfying to dismiss them and their fringe ideas. But that is a mistake. More than 1,000 people gathered at a union hall in Chicago to cheer a convicted murderer. Ignoring that doesn’t make it go away. It lets it grow.