US judge’s pro-Israel activism challenged in Palestinian organizer’s deportation trial

Rasmea Yousef Odeh (Arab American Action Network)

Palestinian American community activist Rasmea Odeh, who is facing charges of immigration fraud, has asked Paul D. Borman, the federal judge presiding over her upcoming trial, to remove himself from the case.

A 14 July motion filed by Odeh’s attorneys says Borman’s life-long support, fundraising and activism for Israel is likely to seriously hinder Odeh’s chance of receiving a fair trial.

Her trial is set to begin on 8 September in a US District Court in Detroit, Michigan.

Rasmea Odeh, 67, is associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. Odeh was arrested by the Department of Homeland Security in October 2013 and charged with obtaining US naturalization by “fraud” for failing to disclose her conviction by an Israeli military court in 1969.

If found guilty, Odeh faces up to ten years in prison, $250,000 in fines, revocation of her US citizenship and deportation.

“Builder of Israel”

The papers filed by attorneys Michael Deutsch and James Fennerty describe Judge Borman’s “long history of support for Israel, including fundraising for, and donating millions of dollars of his own money to the state,” according to a press release from the Coalition to Protect People’s Rights, which works to mobilize support for Odeh.

For more than twenty years, Borman has donated generously — a total of $3 million — to the Jewish Federation of Detroit, an organization that prides itself on having helped send “more people to Israel each year than any other federation community in North America.”

In the Federation’s 2007 annual report, Borman is credited with initiating the organization’s first board meeting in Israel in 1996, and helping to send hundreds of Detroit residents to Israel. He is also honored as one of the “Builders of Israel” — a donor who has given more than $1 million to help “create” the State of Israel.

In 1986, Borman accompanied then US Vice President George H. W. Bush on a delegation to Israel, when the soon-to-be elected president was reportedly trying to curry favor among pro-Israel Jewish voters.

The motion argues that Judge Borman’s record makes him a partial judge in Odeh’s case, which the motion says will “directly raise issues about the legality of the continuing 47 year belligerent occupation of the West Bank by the State of Israel.”   The attorneys argue: “Clearly, one who has been a life-long supporter and promoter of Israel and has deep ties to the State of Israel spanning over fifty years, who no doubt believes that Israel is a great democracy and protector of human rights, cannot be ‘reasonably’ said to be impartial when these claims of torture and illegality are raised by a Palestinian defendant.”

Rape and torture

In 1969, Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court for her alleged involvement in two bombings in Jerusalem, one of which killed two persons. Odeh asserts that her conviction was based on a confession that was extracted from her after 25 days of brutal torture that included repeated rapes.

Odeh, who is pleading not guilty, filed a motion at the start of her case to exclude all evidence of her arrest, conviction and imprisonment from her upcoming trial on the grounds that the Israeli military regime that oversaw her criminal conviction lacks basic fairness and due process, and is inconsistent with international law.

Nearly all Palestinians charged in Israel’s military court system are found guilty, with a conviction rate of 99.7 percent, according to 2010 data leaked to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Right to an impartial judge

The motion to recuse Judge Borman is based on the right for all litigants to have a “neutral and detached judge.” Odeh’s lawyers argue in the motion that Borman’s conspicuous partiality would prevent him from issuing legitimate rulings on crucial matters, including assessing the validity of Israeli military legal procedures, and whether or not her forced confession will be allowed into her trial.

The motion concludes that it is “logical” that Judge Borman would have “made inquiries of Israeli officials about the persistent complaints of torture and illegality of the Occupation and the military court system.”

The motion argues that Odeh’s trial will necessarily refer to Israel’s 47-year-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“The issues of the legality of the Occupation and the treatment of Palestinians, including the torture of detainees, is not an abstract historical dispute,” the motion states, “but one that continues to this day. The government of Israel, and its supporters around the world, and particularly in the United States, have vehemently defended its Occupation of the West Bank and vociferously denied its use of torture to obtain confessions.”

After her conviction, Odeh spent ten years in an Israeli prison and was finally released during a prisoner exchange in 1979, when she was deported to Lebanon. She immigrated to the United States in 1995.

Rasmea Odeh is currently free on bond.




It would be proper forcthe judge to withdraw if there was actual or perceived conflict of interest. In the UK, Lady Butler Sloss, appointed by the Prime Minister to chair an Inquiry into historic cases of paedophilia, recently stood down after criticism of her career and family history. In this case, however competent, honest and well meaning the judge may be in hearing the facts and applying the law, his history of support for Israel means that there is likely to be a perception that his judgement may be biased. The judge should withdraw. It is the honourable thing to do.


Borman will not willingly step down, unless the evidence of his bias is overwhelming.

He is an activist himself. He has a mission.

He will do everything in his power to defend Israel and hurt Palestine (and by inference, any Palestinian).


It is absolutely clear that it is impossible to expect impartiality from this judge. If he lacks the judicial honor to remove himself from the case, he should be removed by his superior.


Thanks for reporting on this. Is there a petition for his recusal or a place to find evidence of this judge's bias? This injustice cannot go on...a Palestinian teen and US citizen from Florida is beaten by Israeli police with no recourse or support from his country, and now Rasmea gets stuck with what may amount to be a proxy Israeli judge?! Why are we Palestinians here then if we seem to get "special" treatment...just deport us all back to where we come from...oh yeah, that's right, where would that be an Israeli open air prison?


This article refers to a married Paul Borman but it refers to the married Paul Borman; I should know, the Judge is my cousin and the other is my father. Both men are named after my paternal grea-granfather.

While he can speak for himself, the attorneys claim of bias is ludicrous. Paul is regarded as one of the most fair-minded men on the bench in Detroit. He is held in the highest regard by the Detroit legal community- a former law professor and head of the Federal Defender's Office, Borman sat on the Jeffrey Feiger campaign contribution case. Feiger is someone with legions of people who feel strongly about him (in both good and bad terms)- ask Feiger if he got a fair trial or anyone else to have ever appeared in front of Borman.

There are numerous other grossly incorrect accusations : prior to his elevation to the bench, Judge Borman was considered a lifelong Democrat and was appointed by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. It was the other Paul Borman who accompanied then Vice President Bush to Israel in 1986. Also, in 2007, Judge Borman, who is not currently married, would not have been listed in the Jewish Federation report as Mr. and Mrs.

I suggest people get their facts straight.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.