Supporters of Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian woman convicted in a deadly 1969 Jerusalem grocery store bombing, are angry that federal prosecutors want to curb their orchestrated campaign to influence jurors in her upcoming naturalization fraud trial.
Last week, prosecutors filed a motion asking the court to keep juror identities anonymous during Odeh's trial, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 4 in Detroit. Hatem Abudayyeh, director of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network (AAAN), has led a campaign to pressure the U.S. Attorney to drop the case against Odeh, and to persuade the judge to grant defense motions.
Part of that campaign involves mass telephone call and letter-writing campaigns. And part involves packing the courtroom with supporters of Odeh, who is the AAAN's associate director.
"Influencing the opinions of jurors and potential jurors through extra-judicial means is obviously improper," prosecutors argue in their motion, "and ... almost certainly criminal." Abudayyeh, the motion claims, told U.S. Marshals "that he intends to be contentious with their efforts to maintain order and proper decorum" during the trial.
Odeh supporters reacted angrily, calling the motion "a bizarre and desperate move" and "a clumsy attempt at intimidation" which threatens civil liberties.
"In any event, at no time have we ever tried to improperly influence a jury. Not once," a statement from the "Rasmea Defense Committee" said.
But prosecutors point to an interview Abudayyeh gave last month in which he said packing the court with Odeh supporters and organizing daily rallies outside the courthouse "could potentially ... sway the opinions of the jurors."
That echoes what Abudayyeh said during a July 31 rally, after a more than a dozen people boarded a bus from Chicago to Detroit to pack the gallery during a pre-trial hearing.
"That jury needs to also see that courtroom filled every single day of that trial."
Defense attorney Michael Deutsch told supporters that the tactic works. "You are bearing witness, and this is the critical factor in all trials of this kind. So your coming here and getting on a bus and driving all these hours makes a difference," he said. "And we appreciate that so much because that's so important to our case."
A jury, the prosecution argues, is supposed "to make its decision based only on evidence presented at trial and nothing else." They also want jurors to meet each day at a remote location and be driven to court together to avoid undue influence from the protests.
Odeh came to the United States 20 years ago. In filling out visa and naturalization forms, she failed to disclose her conviction for helping plant bombs in the Jerusalem grocery store, an attack which killed two Hebrew University students. That is the basis for the charges against her.
Her case has drawn support from Islamist groups, including American Muslims for Palestine and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).