Matthew David Finkelstein

Two Sides of Hatred

Saturday, August 12, 2017 was a day of seemingly stark contrasts. It was a tale of two tragedies, of two sides of the political spectrum, and of lost loved ones — one acknowledged and the other hidden.

The first story you already know. It happened in Charlottesville. “Unite the Right” was a hate fest designed to bring together a record number of white supremacists. Amid racist and homophobic invectives and chants of “You will not replace us” to “Jews will not replace us” the aggression escalated.

Then there were the courageous ones who stood up to hate. Heather Heyer, 32, was murdered when white supremacist James Alex Fields sped his vehicle head-on into a group of counter-protesters injuring at least 20 people.

Friends say Heather was a woman passionate about racial justice and equality. Senator Bernie Sanders himself paid tribute to her, “Our condolences go out to the family of Heather Heyer who was killed by a terrorist as she protested Neo-Nazism and white supremacy.”

Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, said, “I don’t want her death to be a focus for more hatred, I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion. She added: “No mother wants to lose a child, but I’m proud of her. I’m proud of what she did.”

It’s true. No mother wants to lose a child. Not Susan Bro and not the mothers of Leon Kanner and Edward Joffe.

This brings us to our second story. It may have escaped your notice. The event was called “A Farewell to Rasmea Odeh.” Angela Davis gave the keynote address speaking glowingly about Odeh’s years of struggle and activism.

You see, Rasmea Odeh was convicted in Israel and sentenced to life in prison for the terrorist bombings at two Jerusalem locations in February 1969. The first at a crowded supermarket took the lives of two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner, 21, and Edward Joffe, 22, and injured nine people. The second at the British Consulate where there were no injuries.

The evidence of Rasmea Odeh’s guilt is conclusive. Not only did she confess the day after her arrest, bomb-making materials were found in her room. In addition, her co-conspirator, Ayesha Odeh, in an interview offered of her own accord how Rasmea was directly involved in the bombings.

The path from this to Rasmea’s citizenship in the United States is complex and riddled with lies and deceit. She was granted her freedom from prison after 10 years through ransom and prisoner exchange. She falsified her naturalization papers to gain entry and was later granted citizenship on this invalid basis.

Her lies finally caught up with her. In 2014 Rasmea Odeh was convicted of immigration fraud. She argued that the error was due to PTSD because she had been tortured and sexually assaulted for 25 days in an Israeli prison and forced to give a false confession. This litany of imaginary charges bore no resemblance to her own confession one day after her arrest or any of the well-documented proceedings thereafter.

On April 25, 2017 Odeh finally admitted in court that she lied on her papers and obtained US citizenship illegally.

So why is this self-confessed terrorist now being lauded as a celebrity? How can a convicted murderer become an organizer of the Women’s March and keynote speaker at a Jewish Voice for Peace summit in Chicago?

In Oakland, California near the busy Fruitvale BART station in a café named Reem’s there is a floor to ceiling mural of terrorist and murderer, Rasmea Odeh. A group of us visited Reem’s to pay tribute to the victims and to protest the mural honoring Odeh.

How do you think Heather Heyer’s mother would feel if she walked into a café and spotted a mural of her daughter’s murderer on one of its walls as people sip their coffee, chat, laugh, and eat?

When the same progressive movement condemns senseless violence in one place but glorifies it in another, we have arrived at a dangerously divided moment. In order to confront the weight of injustice and flagrant hatred this country now faces, our words and values must cohere. We cannot afford to water down our condemnation of Heather Heyer’s murder by celebrating Leon Kanner’s and Edward Joffe’s at the hand of Rasmea Odeh simply because it caters to our ill-founded political bias. If we condemn one we must condemn the other.

What separates leftists sipping coffee under the mural of a murderer in Oakland from those marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville? Both are convinced that they are doing the right thing and neither has any intention of honestly examining their own beliefs.

It is now five days after the events that claimed the life of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. It is August 17, the day of Rasmea Odeh’s sentencing hearing before she is deported. Today, once again, we visited Reem’s in Oakland to pay our respects to Leon Kanner and Edward Joffee and to ask that they remove the mural of murderer and terrorist, Rasmea Odeh. We found the people of Reem’s jubilantly dancing in her honor.

When it comes to hate, do we know where the right ends and the left begins?

Co-authored by Matthew Finkelstein and Susan George

About the Author
Matthew Finkelstein is a Democratic party and community activist and leader, Cofounder and board member of Progressive Zionists of California and President of the Jewish Democratic Club of Solano County.