This Tuesday, Feb. 3, Rasmieh Odeh, a convicted killer, will be honored at a fundraiser held at DePaul University organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP is a national organization that pursues an anti-Israel agenda on college campuses across the country.
Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated by the U.S., Canada, and the EU as a terrorist group. In 1970, Odeh was convicted in Israel for a 1969 bombing at a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner, 21 and Edward Joffe, 22. Odeh’s sentence was life in prison, but she was released in a 1995 prisoner exchange.
Why is a convicted terrorist being honored? SJP is raising funds for Odeh’s legal defense in the U.S. After being released from Israeli prison, Odeh immigrated to the U.S. Last November, a federal jury in Detroit found her guilty of lying on her naturalization papers by answering “no” when asked if she had “ever” been charged or convicted of a crime.
Odeh, now in her late 60s, is portrayed by anti-Israel activists as a victim of Zionist oppression. This narrative has been ably refuted by Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson, who posted an impressive number of original documents on his website Legal Insurrection. I encourage skeptics to examine the evidence for themselves, including a 2004 documentary in which Odeh’s co-conspirator describes how Odeh masterminded the supermarket bombing.
The organizers of the fundraiser honoring a convicted terrorist, SJP, refuse to talk to other students unless they accept the view that Israel is an apartheid state. My experience as a rabbi at several prominent American universities has been consistent: students affiliated with SJP will not dialog with students who identify as Zionists or pro-Israel (neither Jews nor gentiles), because they say this “normalizes the occupation.” This attitude erodes civil discourse and is at odds with the values of any university, secular or religious.
This fundraiser hurts DePaul’s historic reputation for ensuring that immigrants have access to high quality education, a fact DePaul’s current president, Rev. Holtschneider, highlighted in his inaugural presidential address. He related the story of Abel Berland, a Jew turned away from the University of Chicago because of quotas for Jewish enrollment. DePaul, like Berland’s family, was at the time in poor financial shape. Yet DePaul welcomed Berland. As a Jew and an immigrant to the U.S. myself, I find Abel’s story and DePaul’s commitment inspiring. Celebrating a convicted killer who lied on her immigration documents hurts DePaul’s commitment to truly vulnerable immigrant populations in Chicago.
Finally, let’s consider what the fundraiser teaches us about SJP, the most vocal and best-organized pro-Palestinian group on campus. SJP advocates boycotting and divesting from companies that do business with Israel. It defends its efforts as being nonviolent. But now we see SJP does not distinguish between nonviolent and violent.
Is there no one else SJP can honor who, say, advocates for an agreement between Israel and Palestine that ensures security and peace for Israel and a viable Palestinian state? Most Jewish and pro-Israel college students advocate for a two-state solution. This fundraiser is anything but an effort towards such an agreement. Leaders of “pro-Palestinian” efforts on campus are on record that their end goal is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Now they are celebrating a convicted killer of Israeli civilians at the largest Catholic university in the US.
To honor the memories of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner — the real victims in this story — we are organizing a vigil outside DePaul’s student center as the SJP fundraiser begins. We invite all DePaul students and faculty who wish to honor the victims of terror rather than its perpetrators to join us.
Seth Winberg is an Orthodox rabbi and executive director of Metro Chicago Hillel, serving DePaul University.