Religious Left Demonizes Chicago Terror-Funding Investigation

The Windy City's radical network creates a smokescreen around Muslim charities and their support for terrorism.

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.”

But the grand jury investigation is likely targeting more than simply opposition to “unjust policy.”  The most prominent recent case targeting funding of Palestinian terror involved the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), once the largest U.S. Muslim charity. In 2008, a federal jury found the HLF and five of its officers guilty on 108 counts related to lending “material support to a foreign terrorist organization.” The five were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years.  Between 1995 and 2001 the HLF funneled more than $12 million to groups connected to Hamas.  In separate prosecutions as recent as October 2010, at least three other HLF operatives have been convicted of providing material support to the Islamist group that rules Gaza. In 2006 Florida professor Sami Al-Arian pleaded guilty to channeling funds to Palestine Islamic Jihad, another “specially designated terrorist” organization.

Clearly, there is a problem of U.S. donations going to Palestinian terrorist groups, and it would appear reasonable for a U.S. attorney to investigate. So why are the Presbyterian groups not awaiting the evidence and instead wanting to shut down Fitzgerald’s grand jury? IPMN activist Jeff Story’s affiliation with the National Lawyers Guild, a longtime radical leftist group, suggests an answer.  The guild says that it “represent[s] progressive political movements, using the law to protect human rights above property interests.” The guild was established in 1937 as a “popular front” of the Communist International, designed to include both communists and non-communists. It is affiliated with the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which the CIA in 1978 characterized as “one of the most useful Communist front organizations at the service of the Soviet Communist Party.”

Over the years, guild lawyers have mounted aggressive, politicized defenses of the likes of the Chicago Seven rioters in 1968, the Black Panthers, and the communist professor Angela Davis. More recently, the guild has a pattern of defending Islamist militants accused of involvement in terrorism. These include Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian Islamic cleric convicted of plotting a campaign of “urban terrorism” including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; Sami Al-Arian (see above); and many of the suspects detained in Guantanamo. Guild lawyer Lynne Stewart was found guilty in 2005 of passing messages between the imprisoned Rahman and his Islamic Group terrorist organization.

The guild has endorsed the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” After 9-11, it advised U.S. Muslim immigrants not to cooperate in FBI anti-terrorism investigations. “The FBI is not just trying to find terrorists, but is gathering information on immigrants and activists who have done nothing wrong,” the radical lawyers’ group then charged.

Obviously, it’s too early to reach any conclusions about Patrick’s Fitzgerald’s current grand jury and its subpoenas of pro-Palestinian activists.  But the rush by Presbyterian groups to oppose any investigation of funding for Palestinian terror seems to be only one more instance of reflexive pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel bias within the denomination’s leading circles.