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Pro-Israel Judge Reverses Decision, Recuses Himself from Case Involving Palestinian American

A federal judge in Detroit has reversed his decision issued nearly two weeks ago and recused himself from a case involving a Palestinian American woman, who allegedly committed immigration fraud. She is accused of neglecting to disclose on naturalization forms that she had been imprisoned by Israelis in Palestine for decades for terrorism-related offenses.

Rasmea Odeh is an organizer in Chicago. She has been a naturalized citizen in the US since 1995. But, on October 22, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security suddenly had her arrested. She now faces up to ten years in prison if convicted and immediate deportation after her release.

US District Court Judge Paul Borman had steadfastly refused to step aside, even though Odeh’s defense had argued his support for several pro-Israel groups through his own foundation, The Borman Fund, would make it hard for him to be impartial in the case.

A defense filing submitted [PDF] by Odeh’s attorney, Jim Fennerty, showed Borman’s foundation had donated $2,000 to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) in 2006. FIDF promotes“educational, social, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland.” But he did not think his apparent links to the Israeli military made him seem biased.

In his decision to recuse himself, Borman highlighted the fact that the Israeli indictment against Odeh contained a count related to the bombing of a supermarket in February 1969. It accused Odeh and other co-defendants of planning to place “explosives in the hall of the SuperSol in Jerusalem, with the intention of causing death or injury…and/or cause damage to property. One of the bombs exploded and caused the death of Leon Kannar and Edward Jaffe…”

“The critical relevance of these facts to the instant order is that at the time of the 1969 bombing,” according to Borman, “my family had a passive financial investment connection to SuperSol. There was no family involvement in the operations of SuperSol. Further, there is no present family passive financial investment connection to SuperSol.”

He later added, “The court concludes that my family’s passive financial investment connection to SuperSol at the time of the 1969 bombing could be perceived as establishing a reasonably objective inference of a lack of impartiality in the context of the issues presented in this case.”

Hatem Abudayyeh, a national coordinating committee member of the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and part of the National Rasmea Defense Committee, called this development a “massive victory for the defense and for Rasmea and for the organizers of the Rasmea Defense Committee.”

Abudayyeh sought to set the record straight, since there had been some allegations and innuendo thrown around by Judge Borman and others that Odeh’s defense were going after him for his religion.

“We had said from the very beginning that this motion asking him to recuse himself that we filed a few weeks back had absolutely nothing to do with Judge Borman’s religion,” Abudayyeh stated. “We didn’t even mention that he’s an American Jew in any of the filings. It was all about his historic and decades-long support for Israel. So this is a vindication for us as well.”

Still, Borman insisted on claiming in his order where he recused himself that he was not stepping aside because of donations he had made to groups tied to the Israeli military or to groups in Israel. He maintained there was nothing about that activity that would have made him impartial in the case.

He apparently had not known of this Israeli indictment until it was translated into English and brought to him by the government on August 11.

As previously noted, the judge’s ties to the Israeli military were critical for the defense because they would like to present evidence that Odeh was tortured by Israeli soldiers. As reported by The Electronic Intifada, the defense would like to argue Odeh suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “any call to remember the torture would have reactivated the symptoms of PTSD and thus she, like others suffering from extreme trauma,” avoided thinking or talking about her experience.

Odeh testified in 1979 before a UN special committee in Geneva on the torture she experienced. Josh Ruebner wrote for The Hill, “She was arrested [in 1969] from her home in Ramallah in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers who ‘beat me without asking me a single question.’ She was brought to an Israeli jail in Jerusalem where ‘they beat me with sticks, plastic sticks, and with a metal bar. They beat me on the head and I fainted as a result of these beatings. They woke me up several times by throwing cold water in my face and then started all over again.’”

Soldiers, she recalled, tried to force her father to rape her. “In her father’s presence,” she said, “interrogators threatened to ‘violate me’ and ‘tried to introduce a stick to break my maidenhead [hymen].’” And, “Shackled naked from the ceiling, interrogators,” she added, “they ‘tied my legs, which were spread-eagled, and they started to beat me with their hands and also with cudgels.’”

The defense maintains that the crimes which she confessed to committing were a result of torture, and, therefore, a motion has been introduced to prevent any reference of her 1969 arrest, trial and her imprisonment.

A new judge, Gershwin Drain, who was appointed to the court by President Barack Obama, has taken over the case. The schedule for proceedings has been delayed significantly as a result of the judge’s recusal.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."