US government moves to criminalize Palestine solidarity

In an op-ed published by Al Jazeera English today, I write about the US government’s attempts to criminalize the Palestine solidarity activists — including the State Department’s threats to prosecute activists involved with the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I also appeared on Al Jazeera English’s The Stream today to discuss FBI raids and subpoenas targeting activists.

As I write in the op-ed, “I am a Palestine solidarity activist in the US, and one of 23 US citizens who have been issued with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury as part of what the government has said is an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support to foreign ‘terrorist organisations.’”

This investigation takes place in the context of a new Supreme Court decision that greatly expanded what constitutes material support and has been widely criticized. It also takes place in a situation of even more relaxed restrictions on the FBI’s investigative powers — the FBI is planning to issue a revised edition of its operations manual that will give agents “significant new powers” to go through people’s trash and infiltrate groups even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The New York Times recently commented in an editorial entitled “Backward at the FBI” that “Instead of tightening the relaxed rules for FBI investigations — not just of terrorism suspects but of pretty much anyone — that were put in place in the Bush years, President Obama’s Justice Department is getting ready to push the proper bounds of privacy even further.”

The use of counterterrorism tools against social justice acts is nothing new. But it poses a special threat to the growing Palestine solidarity movement in the US, which is increasingly challenging the US government’s military aid to Israel and its diplomatic cover for Israeli war crimes and apartheid.

In my op-ed for Al Jazeera English, I write that what happens to me and the two dozen other activists who have been targeted in this bogus investigation of prominent activists will have a significant impact and set a precedent for Palestine activists in the US. The US State Department is already hinting at the prosecution of activists involved with the Gaza Freedom Flotilla for violating the material support laws:

The State Department also issued a statement on the second flotilla- which will include approximately fifty Americans - in which it warned that “delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to, or for the benefit of, a designated foreign terrorist organisation, such as Hamas, could violate US civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration”.

Hamas, which is the ruling party in the Gaza Strip and which won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, is on the US State Department’s unilateral foreign terrorist organisation list - along with every other major Palestinian political party besides Fatah (though its armed wing is on the list). This means that the US has essentially criminalized the entire Palestinian people and the parties which represent them - except for those that collude with the Israeli occupation.

And as I have reported on previously for The Electronic Intifada, with my colleague Nora Barrows-Friedman, the US government has long attempted to criminalize Palestinians in the country raising money for humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities and for advocating for a change in US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. There are people serving out long prison sentences in the US for doing just that, such as the Holy Land 5 and Abdelhaleem Ashqar. Or they have been subjected to house arrest and are facing deportation, like Dr. Sami al-Arian.

And as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement gains more and more ground in the US, the repression against it will sharpen. It is important that solidarity activists be aware of this but it should not stop us from doing our necessary work. It should compel us to get organized and and push back against political repression today.

As Al Jazeera’s The Stream reported today during their feature on FBI repression of activists, longtime Chicano and immigrant rights activist Carlos Montes’ home was raided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department and he faces up to 18 years in prison for trumped-up charges related to firearms code violations for firearms he holds legal permits for. During the raid, political documents related to his decades of activism were seized and FBI agents questioned him about his political associations. Montes was named in the search warrant used to raid the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis last September.

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression has announced a call-in day to Attorney General Eric Holder for July 6, which is when Montes is called to court to enter a plea.

The committee’s announcement states:

Carlos is a longtime Chicano activist known for his leadership during the 1968 L.A. high school reform walkouts (see HBO film “Walkout!”) and the immigrants’ rights mega-marches of 2006. More recently in September 2010, Carlos Montes’ name appeared on the FBI search warrant left in the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis, where the protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention were centered. The attack on Carlos Montes is part of a sweeping campaign tied to 23 Midwest activists whose homes the FBI raided or who were subpoenaed to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s Grand Jury in Chicago, as the Washington Post reported.

In addition, when the LA Sheriffs broke down Carlos’ door and ransacked his home, they took political documents, a computer, cell phones and meeting notes having nothing to do with the legal charges. Later, the FBI approached Carlos to ask him questions about the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the target of this new McCarthyism. Those who know the history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the American civil rights movement understand the repression Montes now faces.

When Carlos went to court on June 16, he demanded police and court documents. Not surprisingly, the District Attorney grew angry, at first refusing, and eventually relenting. There is the not-so-hidden hand of the FBI at work here and its goal is to disrupt and criminalize activists and movements for social justice.

Make no mistake: The US government trial of Carlos Montes is an attack on the immigrants’ rights and anti-war movements. So please call July 6 and let Attorney General Holder know we are building a movement that will not bow down to dirty tricks and political repression.

The committee adds:

Please call U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at (202) 514-2001

Suggested text: “My name is __________, I am from _______(city), in ______(state). I am calling to tell Attorney General Holder:

Drop the charges! Hands off Carlos Montes! Stop the FBI raids and Grand Jury repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists. Return all property to Carlos Montes and the other activists raided by



Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.