Tea with FBI sends chilling message to Cleveland Palestine activist

Abbas Hamideh says activists should not be intimidated by law enforcement visits. (Courtesy of Abbas Hamideh)

Abbas Hamideh, an activist with Al-Awda – The Palestine Right of Return Coalition in Cleveland, Ohio, was on his way home from work yesterday when his wife called to tell him two FBI agents were waiting for him.

“I was pretty shocked,” Hamideh told The Electronic Intifada. “I thought maybe she was joking, like a prank. So I texted her and said, are you serious?”

Hamideh said he immediately posted this information to his Facebook page, which generated much concern from friends.

“When I got home they were actually sitting there having tea and enjoying it,” Hamideh said.

The longtime organizer said he has been contacted by the FBI previously in relation to safety issues for planned public demonstrations, but normally he would speak to them in a public place.

“I thought it was a bit creepy to find them in my house,” Hamideh said. “I didn’t feel comfortable about it but they were already there, because my wife had let them in.”

This time too the agents said they were coming to talk to Hamideh about a protest Al-Awda has called for this Sunday against a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team and Israel’s Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv.

“They told me they just wanted to know is this going to be another peaceful rally, because they understand this is what Al-Awda does,” Hamideh said. “Obviously I told them, yes, it’s going to be a peaceful rally.”

Hamideh said he told them he had notified the Cleveland police department of the location as his group typically does when a large event is planned.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland is promoting the exhibition game as an opportunity to “show your solidarity with Israel.”

It also attacked the planned protest and blamed Palestinians in Gaza for their own deaths during Israel’s summer assault that killed more than 2,100 people, including more than 500 children.

“Once again, this Palestinian group refuses to protest in the right place,” Jewish Federation of Cleveland president Steve Hoffman told Cleveland.com.

“They should be protesting the terrorist leadership of Hamas that started the war this summer, prolonged the war this summer, and, in doing so, caused the death of its own innocent civilians,” he added.

FBI responds

Special Agent Vicki D. Anderson, spokesperson for the FBI Cleveland division, confirmed the visit to Hamideh’s home.

She told The Electronic Intifada that the agents had “a very pleasant visit and drank tea with everyone and it wasn’t something they wouldn’t have done if it was an Israeli group staging this protest.”

Anderson insisted “it’s not in any way an intimidation thing,” but rather was “proactive outreach” to say “if someone in your group is taking your message and perversing it, then here’s who to call.”

Asked if anyone had reported the planned protest to the FBI, Anderson said, “We can’t comment. We’re obviously aware when any gathering is occurring in our territory.”

She said that “we look online and we see where people post things about public events so we’re not caught unawares.”

When asked if the visit to Hamideh had occurred because Al-Awda is a Palestinian and Arab-American related organization, Anderson replied “Absolutely not.”

She said that during the recent Gay Games that were hosted in Cleveland the FBI had carried out similar “outreach” efforts.

“Obviously the FBI does not have an issue with anyone protesting,” Anderson said. “We respect freedom of speech.”

Given that the Jewish Federation of Cleveland had criticized the Al-Awda protest, The Electronic Intifada asked if FBI agents had visited it as well.

“I don’t know. I can’t get into specifics,” Anderson said. “We do know the Jewish Federation. I’m not at liberty to release those details.”

Hot tea, chilling effect

The visit to Hamideh prior to a planned public protest is especially notable in light of persistent efforts by the Anti-Defamation League and other anti-Palestinian groups to paint Palestine solidarity protests as potentially violent, criminal and inherently threatening to Jews.

Hamideh acknowledged that the FBI might have a legitimate interest in ensuring public safety. But he also said that such visits have a chilling effect on the community.

“It makes activists uncomfortable. Because here’s two agents sitting in my house. If I had been home I would not have let them in,” he said.

“I think the impact is if you let them get to you, and if people hear about this, it creates a fear. You know, ‘Abbas is active, and the FBI is on his tail.’”

“I felt there was kind of a deceiving tactic that they went to my door and they went through my wife,” Hamideh said.

“I’m sure to a certain extent they do have concerns about safety issues,” he added. “But I think it’s also to create some fear in the community [saying] that ‘if you’re vocal, we’re monitoring you.’”

Hamideh said there were widespread concerns in the community about the FBI trying to recruit people as informants. He said that while he was prepared to speak to public authorities about safety issues, he would not go beyond that.

“But if it gets too personal and if they start asking questions about other people, I put a stop to that right away,” he said.

Hamideh stressed that no one is required to talk to law enforcement.

Following his own experience, Hamideh’s advice to activists is “don’t let this intimidate you. When we get these types of visits we know we’re doing the right thing and the Zionists are making noise about it.”

Above all, he advises, know your rights.

Know your rights

The National Lawyers Guild has published a pamphlet called “You have the right to remain silent: A know your rights guide for law enforcement encounters.”

It is designed to be “a practical resource for activists and others when dealing with law enforcement.”

If the FBI or the police come to your door, NLG advises:

Do not invite the agents or police into your home. Do not answer any questions. Tell the agent that you do not wish to talk with him or her. You can state that your lawyer will contact them on your behalf. You can do this by stepping outside and pulling the door behind you so that the interior of your home or office is not visible, getting their contact information or business cards and then returning inside. They should cease questioning after this. If the agent or officer gives a reason for contacting you, take notes and give the information to your attorney. Anything you say, no matter how seemingly harmless or insignificant, may be used against you or others in the future. Lying to or misleading a federal agent is a crime. The more you speak, the more opportunity for federal law enforcement to find something you said (even if not intentionally) false and assert that you lied to a federal officer.

This is exactly the advice followed by a member of the Palestinian American community when he was visited recently by FBI agents in Chicago.

Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also published a “Legal and Tactical Guide for Palestinian Human Rights Advocacy in the US.”

In 2012, youths with Chicago’s Arab American Action Network produced this video as “a humorous look at an important topic in our community – the rights that we believe too many of us do not fully understand when approached by the FBI”:

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Cleveland's new coach also a former coach of Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv? Also, isn't Cleveland owner a big donor to Friends of the IDF?

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"“Once again, this Palestinian group refuses to protest in the right place,” Jewish Federation of Cleveland president Steve Hoffman told Cleveland.com.

“They should be protesting the terrorist leadership of Hamas that started the war this summer, prolonged the war this summer, and, in doing so, caused the death of its own innocent civilians,” he added."

care that he's letting anyone with a conscience know how much bigotry and hatred are in his heart?

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This is a common argument seen being used by Zionist activists, kind of a 'Look over there' argument which really fails.
My opinion is to stick to the facts, keep up the factual pressure, don't let them get away with it, and write early and often to your local editor, even if they won't publish.
Here is an LTE I have written several times in different ways to the local paper: www.adn.com

Jews just celebrated 'Rosh Hashana', or the Jewish New Year and it is always wonderful to get a perspective on the lives of minority groups that live here, many other small groups bring flavor to our state that we would otherwise not see. So please let me extend a warm L'Shana Tova to our Jewish friends and hope their celebrations are wonderful.
Unfortunately while we celebrate diversity, there are others in the world who are not afforded the same rights and freedoms as some members of our community and I want to take the opportunity of the Jewish celebration of 'Rosh Hashana' to remind everyone of just that.
Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have suffered a brutal occupation by the Israelis for many decades and it is only getting worse. As our leaders give lip service to Mid-East peace between Israel and Palestine one has to wonder at the futility of it when the Israeli government states in their charter:
"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs."
So in the final say, as far as Israel is concerned, there can be no dialogue, no two-state solution, and no peace until the Palestinians give up their claims to their own lands in favor of being ruled by the Zionist state

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I gotta say this is a non-issue. I think everyone should be glad the FBI is involved as they have been very good about protecting the rights of activists since the days of Jim Crow. I think it's a good sign they are there and means that the Israeli supporters should think twice before starting anything with a group of people with a reputation of having peaceful protests. Local community police can become compromised since they are part of the community, whereas the FBI is national and is interested in the defense of national law and constitution. I think also, that being aloof with the FBI is not in the best interests of this group. Openness, honesty, communication are the best bets to success.

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Maybe over reacting, we are not naive; the role of the fbi is to be disruptive and to inimidate activists for justice. Perhaps you are unaware of former fbi director J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO and their role in attacking and disrupting the civil rights, Black Power, AIM, anti Vietnam war movements of the 1960s and 1970s? They spied on us, sent false letters to people, threatened people, specifically spied on Dr. King and Malcolm X , etc. Or are you here pretending to be a regular citizen, while you too may be fbi?

After recent reports of how Eric Holder's DOJ now plans to train people to basically spy on their friends and neighbors who are activists, the fbi are never to be trusted, they are not our friends. . . . "for a zionist free Palestine!"

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I fully agree. Use the FBI to your benefit. Every moment is a teaching moment. Let them know you at a personal level, this will only allow for greater compassion between your working relationship with them. Also, the same tactics in Israel used by Zionist are the same intimidating tactics used here in the states. Don't lower yourself to the bully stage, have your peaceful demonstration, you will get the message out and gain respect.

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Being concerned about the FBI visiting your home because you're planning a peaceful demonstration is anything but over-reacting. The protocol should have been for them to contact the organization and arrange a meeting in a public location.

I don't believe the FBI spokes-person who claimed they would do this if Jews were organizing a similar demonstration. In fact, I'm sure it's a lie. The reason being that policing local demonstrations is NOT the role of the FBI, but rather local law enforcement. And the article clearly described how they had already been contacted.

Finally, your description of the role of the FBI is naive at best and needs a serious 'reboot'. The FBI has a long and continuing history of persecuting people seen as radicals that ranges from surveillance to entrapment. The fact that the agents were civil doesn't mean anything except that they believed this would be the most effective 'face' to wear that day.

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I know this link I am including is from their own website, but this is but one example of the FBI defending civil rights to American Citizens.
http://www.fbi.gov/news/storie...
The most famous that I can think of is the one they made the movie 'Mississippi Burning' about, where civil rights activists were murdered by the KKK and local police.I believe the FBI is our friends, there to help us as Americans, so if you are an American citizen, and your rights are being trampled on by local officials, then you can expect the FBI to protect you, or at least find out who murdered you and bring them to justice.

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you sound sincere, however, to suggest " I think everyone should be glad the FBI is involved as they have been very good about protecting the rights of activists since the days of Jim Crow." is as naive and gullible as can be. They can't be trusted. The powers the government has given them to spy on us and run sting operations to snag the innocent are dark and devious. This is a police state and the FBI works for the state, not the people.

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It does us no good to argue this way. The FBI must be on our side, they are the ones who can really help, I believe. So far the Palestinian movement has made so many poor decisions, the best decision has been to peacefully protest and get as much awareness out there as can be. When the sky falls, because we all know that the media is controlled, for the most part, by Zionists here in America, we will need some part of the government to back the cause.
1. Violence does no good.
2. Alienating and getting weird with authorities does no good.
3. Alienating the American Public only helps the Zionists

So keep it together, be kind, be friendly, but be assertive about this cause or it will fail.

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@ Maybe overreacting, we are not naive; the role of the fbi is to enforce the status quo of this society, thus they are not our friends, they are not to be trusted.

Some of us are old enough to remember the havoc, disruption and spying done on the civil rights, Black Power, American Indian, anti Vietnam war movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Even Dr. King, Malcolm X, etc, were spied upon. Then fbi director j. edgar hoover was notorious for his hatred for Dr. King.

Protecting the rights of activists since the days of Jim Crow? Are you serious? We know the fbi often lied about people and organizations, sent fake letters, spread lies and rumors about activists to their neighbors, employers, etc. Now, the questions we should ask, is the fbi also visiting the ADL, the JDL and other such groups? We also know that the ADL spied on Dr. King and other civil rights groups during the 1960s and 1970s, and then turned that information over to the fbi, thus many of us believe both the ADL and fbi played some role in Dr. King death. So given what you have said here, makes one wonder, are you an average citizen naive about the fbi or are you the fbi trying to spy on people on websites, social media, etc?

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This is an attempt to intimidate Palestinian activists and the broader Arab & American community in solidarity opposition to Zionism, Israeli Apartheid and and their US supporters such as ADL, AIPAC and all the Jewish Federations of Greater whatever city in America. Kudos to you Abbas for being strong and resolute in your stand. Many stand with us in our struggle to liberate Palestine.
I am no stranger to this attempt at intimidation. Showing fear is the desired result and that is why we cannot do that.

On November 30, 2010 the FBI paid two visits to my home in Toledo, OH because of my activism & organizing. Here is the recount of the incident as posted on FB November 30, 2010:

"Today the FBI knocked on my door (2nd time within 8 days). They said
they wanted to question me because "they received a complaint that I was "anti-Israel" and that I was "very vocal about it". I told them that I
had nothing to say to them. They continued that the US is a free country
and you can be anti-Israel if you want. I guess you can, but not without the FBI knocking at your door to investigate & attempt to intimidate you. Its no surprise that our tax $ go to investigate US citizens on behalf of a foreign power. Maybe the FBI stands for Fighting on Behalf of Israel."

I did not let them in the house and did not consent to the questioning they wanted to conduct. We spoke outside the front door and I got the card of one of the two agents before they left.

A few years prior, Homeland Security office out of Cleveland paid me and a fellow activist a visit wanting to question us about a traveling art exhibit we organized of 100 paintings, 50 from Palestinian and 50 from Iraqi artists, at the University of Toledo Multicultural Center.

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...that members of the Jewish community in Cleaveland called the FBI as soon as they received word about the protests. I would imagine they cited some hyperbolic threat that they knew would force the FBI to conduct a visit. This seems to be a common response to any criticism of Israel -- claim that it's a dangerous, violent protest by terrorist supporters (who must obviously be planning terrorist activities). I'm a non-Zionist Jew, and I'm consistently amazed by the willingness of Zionist Jews in America to request the security state's assistance as a means of suppressing free speech. We of all people should be wary of this behavior.

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Christopher Jensen, you sound like another one of those White liberals, arrogantly taking it upon yourself to tell People of Color how to wage their struggle, what works and what doesn't, etc. "The FBI should be on our side." Such rubbish. The f.b.i. has not only disrupted and destroyed organizations, it has also killed progressive activists as well.

But you want them to be on "our side"? Let them be on YOUR side, ok? :(

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/14/...

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Obviously you couldn't have known,but I am half Native Alaskan and half white. The feds have played a huge role in my world and the fb I has done some good things. Besides that alienating other groups and people is just stupidity.
I grew up in the village. I grew up in a time when natives were shunned and nobody had access to civil rights or education. My mother damn near starved to death at the age of 8. So I am well aware of what racism is and you certainly qualify as a racist. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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I, too, am old enough to recall the FBI's shenanigans as pertains to the activists of the 1960's, and many still believe they had a hand in the assassination of our last great president, JFK. Mawusi is correct; they are NOT to be trusted. As an American Indian, I appreciate Mawusi's assertion that "white liberals" have no idea of the struggles waged by people who are "less than white".
I strongly suggest that any and every activist place a "No Trespassing" sign in a visible place on their property. Even law enforcement cannot violate this unless they have a warrant.
And they cannot get a warrant without probable cause.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.