Late last year, FBI agents searched, among other locations, the Chicago-area home of Hatem Abudayyeh, the chief of the Arab American Action Network. “The warrants are seeking evidence in support of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism,” explained an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, where other homes were searched.
Subpoenas also went to numerous Chicago activists, including Thomas Burke of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, who was asked for records showing payments to Abudayyeh’s groups and to terror groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to Burke, anxious to show political motivation, he and several other subpoena recipients were contributors to Fight Back!, a socialist newsletter opposing U.S. “wars of occupation” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although presumably uninformed about the details of secret grand jury testimony, one prominent Presbyterian activist has declared dramatically: “The time for all Americans to speak up about these encroachments on our constitutional right to dissent is now. We must not wait until Presbyterians who are Palestinian solidarity peacemakers receive the ‘knock on the door.’”
That activist is Jeff Story, a member of the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) as well as the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee. “To our discredit, [Christians] did not adequately raise the alarm when the DOJ politically prosecuted Muslim charities and mosques in the recent past” and “our present response is long overdue,” he further asserted. In a January 18 news release, faithfully transmitted by the official Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) news service, IPMN and two other pro-Palestinian church caucuses, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the National Middle East Presbyterian Caucus, denounced the “DOJ’s bold attempts to suppress peaceful dissent on the part of those working for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories [OPT].” The three groups complained that Fitzgerald’s office had “served a total of nine federal grand jury subpoenas to Chicago area Palestinian solidarity activists in December alone, raising the total subpoenas served to 23.”
The 3-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long been embroiled in controversies over pro-Palestinian advocacy. In 2004, it sparked an uproar when its General Assembly mandated a process of “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” After protests by Jewish groups and pro-Israel Presbyterians, that divestment mandate was rescinded in 2006. In 2010, the church considered, and ultimately amended, a Mideast policy statement that would have likened Israel to the Third Reich and apartheid South Africa. IPMN is a pro-Palestinian activist group officially sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Although privately funded, the IPMN operates under the PCUSA’s tax-exempt status and advertises its connection to the denomination. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is a left-leaning unofficial caucus group of PCUSA pacifists. It often works closely with the denomination’s official Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. The Middle East Caucus is also unofficial, but has close relations with denominational bodies such as the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns. In the January 18 news release, another IPMN spokesman insisted that “all Christians should be concerned about judicial efforts to silence fellow citizens opposing unjust policy.”