הרוצחים בינינו: ברוך בן יוסף וישראל פוקס, שני החשודים ברצח הפעיל הפלסטיני-אמריקני אלכס עודה, חיים בגלוי בישראל
Today, I read an article that brought up very bad, sad memories for me. In 1986, I had just left a PhD program at UC Berkeley to work for one of the first grassroots national Jewish progressive organizations, New Jewish Agenda. In many ways, the group and my experience as a volunteer and staff member changed my life. It’s at least partly why I do what I do today, including writing this blog.
Agenda (as we called it) was the first American Jewish organization to endorse a two-state solution. While this may seem reactionary today, it was revolutionary then. In 1980, when NJA was founded no American Jews even accepted the notion of creating a Palestinian state. In fact, in 1979 when I demonstrated with Israeli radicals in Jerusalem on behalf of negotiations with the PLO (not even advocating for a Palestinian state), we were assaulted with rocks by right-wing hoodlums. It’s (luckily) the only time I’ve been physically assaulted or injured at any political protest I’ve attended.
For its radical platform, Agenda was reviled by much of the American Jewish establishment. In fact, a group of far-right rabbis gathered in Northhampton, MA and pronounced a pulsa di nura against us. Not only was this a declaration of excommunication (herem), it meant that our lives were hefker. Any Jew was permitted to murder us for crimes against the Jewish people. Such a rabbinic pronouncement against Yitzhak Rabin by settler rabbis authorized Yigal Amir’s plot to assassinate the then-prime minister. Luckily, the U.S. rabbis ritual did not have the same effect, and no one from NJA was ever assaulted or killed for their activism.
I raise this historical context in order to highlight to fevered polarization of American Jewry during that era, when Alex Odeh was killed. He was then the southern California director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. It was one of the first Arab self-defense groups, created in the mold of the American Jewish Committee. Though it still exists, a better know equivalent today is CAIR. The ADC advocated for Palestinian and Arab-American rights. Odeh himself was a Palestinian-Christian born in a West Bank village.
One morning he arrived to work in a Santa Ana office and opened a package mailed to him. It exploded and he died on the hospital operating table shortly after. As David Sheen’s excellent article reveals, no one has ever been arrested or charged with this heinous crime. Now, thanks to David we know all three of the murderers, their names and where they live and work, as confirmed by retired FBI agents who worked the case.
We in NJA were outraged after Alex’s murder. Only three years earlier, he and Dean Hansell, then a Los Angeles lawyer and board member of Jewish Peace Fellowship had lit Hanukah candles during the 1982 Lebanon war. As an aside, Dean later represented me when I was sued for libel by a Los Angeles Kahanist, Rachel Neuwirth. He is now a Superior Court judge.
Since we saw Alex as our comrade in the fight for Israel-Palestine peace. Later, we invited his brother and ADC colleagues to a Hanukah party which was covered by a LA Times piece. The local chapter published a full-page ad in the Jewish Journal, a newspaper then published by the Los Angeles Jewish federation. That ad was controversial because at that time, Jewish-Arab solidarity was very unpopular. Jews who espoused such views were considered traitors to the tribe (and yes, this was quite a tribal mentality).
One day, I entered the New Jewish Agenda office where I worked in Los Angeles. There was a light flashing on the answering machine so I clicked the button only to hear a voice say, in response to the Journal ad that “we better watch our backs or we’d end up like that dead sand nigger.” Many of you may know what this term is popular with the Judeo-Nazi right, especially the JDL and refers to Arabs. I immediately called a friend and fellow NJA member who was a lawyer to consult on what I should do. I told him I intended to call the FBI.
At this time, the FBI was held in deep disrepute by the American left after COINTELPRO and the depredations of J. Edgar Hoover. I didn’t trust the FBI more than any other NJA member. But I felt it was the only agency that had the capacity to address both Alex’s murder and this terror threat against NJA. Not to mention that as NJA’s only staff member, I felt particularly physically vulnerable.
The FBI agents who came to the NJA office listened to the tape and immediately said to me that it was the voice of one of the Krugel brothers. These were twin brothers named Earl and Barry, who were extremely active then in the JDL. Later, Earl was sentenced to federal prison, where he was murdered by a fellow inmate. One of the reasons he’d received a 20-year sentence despite a government plea agreement is that he withheld from the FBI the names of the conspirators in Alex’s murder. Clearly, Krugel’s death threat brought NJA only one degree of separation from the actual killers and revealed the potential jeopardy we faced.
We shared our office with an El Salvadorean group, CISPES. I can’t recall whether the agents asked questions about our office co-tenant, but I was very careful to keep the interaction focussed on the JDL threat. Later, I was reprimanded by NJA members who felt that the organization should have nothing to do with the FBI, and that I had potentially endangered CISPES, since it was in opposition to then-Reagan administration policy in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Needless to say, though I understand the concern, I felt our physical safety and this dangerous political assault trumped any other concerns one might have. Within a year I had a parting of the ways over political and personality conflicts. This remained one that especially rankled.
This is all the more reason I am outraged that Andy Green and Keith “Israel” remain at large, living comfortably in Jewish terror settlements in the West Bank. Green, who’s transformed himself into a Jewish messianist named Baruch Ben Yosef, works as a lawyer defending his fellow Judean terrorists. He has even argued cases before the Israeli Supreme Court. I wonder if the justices are aware that the lawyer standing in front of them with his proper judicial robes actually murdered a man in cold blood and got away with it?
Sheen’s article reveals that the Israeli government has known about the murderers for years and refused, despite numerous pleas from the FBI and Justice Department, to cooperate in any attempt to extradite them. In fact, during a U.S. interview, then ADC director Sam Husseini asked Bibi Netanyahu about the matter and he claimed that Israel’s policy “was to cooperate fully with the murderers.” A slip of the tongue perhaps, but quite Freudian nevertheless.
Alex is the only Palestinian-American (as far as I know) murdered as a hate crime in the history of this country. It is a stain both on the Shin Bet and the FBI that his murderers have never been brought to justice.
Interestingly, the one figure who’s been identified for years as one of murder conspirators, Robert Manning, was extradited from Israel and is now serving a life sentence in the U.S. The difference between him and the others? Manning sent a mail bomb to a woman with whom he had a personal dispute. It killed her. She wasn’t Palestinian and Manning had no pro-Israel political motive in that killing. Therefore, Israel was willing to extradite him.
Israel is country which protects its Jewish murderers and terrorists. Any claim that it is a country that deserves to be seen in the context of western democratic societies is disproven by such embrace of murder and terror on U.S. soil.