Frozen Bank Accounts and Free Speech in the US

In Palestine, Israel and its surrogates round up residents every day, putting them away for indeterminate amounts of time. The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas makes it likely that these arrests will increase while Tel Aviv contrives to destroy that agreement. After all, it was less than a week after the agreement was announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority could choose peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. If this statement doesn’t make it clear that Israel will do whatever it feels necessary to prevent a united Palestinian liberation movement, then its history of “divide and conquer” tactics against that movement certainly does.

Most readers are familiar with the military campaigns and siege by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza. Fewer, however may be aware of the systemic campaign of arrest and detention carried out in the West Bank. According to Sahar Francis in the web journal Electronic Intifada, “The last year has witnessed continuing mass arrest campaigns….and the detention of high-profile protest organizers and leaders from the popular committees.” Many of those arrested are held on so-called secret evidence that neither the arrestees or their defense are allowed to see. The reasons for the arrests of these organizers are the same as the reasons it opposes the Fatah-Hamas agreement: Israel fears a united and popular resistance against its occupation. Simultaneously, these arrests and detentions isolate the organizers and paint them into the same corner as those Israel and the West call terrorists.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Attorney General Eric Holder are ramping up their attempts to indict and prosecute a number of antiwar and Palestinian support activists in the Midwest.  Most recently, the U.S. government (via the Treasury Department) froze the bank accounts of the Arab-American Action Network’s Executive Director Hatem Abudayyeh and his wife, Naima.  Neither of these individuals have been charged with a crime.  However, both were part of the series of sweeps conducted in late 2010 by the FBI and US Justice Department against antiwar activists in the Midwest.  These raids were conducted under the aegis of the PATRIOT Act and the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996.  Both of these laws intentionally obscure the differences between expressing support for popular struggles in other nations and providing “material support.”  Of course, it is only activists supporting popular struggles opposed by the United States that face the possibility of prosecution.  Those that give millions to Israel, the so-called rebel movements in Libya and other armed groups supported by Washington are hailed as supporters of freedom, much like those that traded cocaine for guns to support the contras in Nicaragua.  Indeed, these latter endeavors are not only cheered but assisted by the federal government itself.

The driving force behind the subpoenas and accompanying harassment in the Midwestern cases is US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.  Of course, he would not have gone forward with the raids and grand juries without the support of US Attorney General Eric Holder.  Fitzgerald is perhaps best known as the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case that resulted in the conviction of former Vice President Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby.  However, Fitzgerald has prosecuted several other high-profile cases including the corruption cases of Illinois governor Dan Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.  Fitzgerald’s prosecutions have been marked by a heavy reliance on circumstantial evidence and a prosecutorial interpretation of the defendants’ conversations and statements –a fact that has aroused some criticism.  Of course, when one is interpreting political statements and associations, such interpretations easily open themselves to misunderstanding and suppositions based on the prosecutor’s own politics and fears.  For example, one could easily share a speaker’s platform at a rally or meeting with a political organizer from a group whose only point of solidarity is that Israel’s occupation is wrong and so is Washington’s support of that occupation.  This sharing of the podium does not condone a wholesale endorsement of every group that share the opinion regarding the occupation.  However, the laws currently defining “material support” can be interpreted as meaning exactly that by a Justice Department intent on doing its part to destroy the Palestine solidarity movement.  Fitzgerald’s previous reliance on circumstantial evidence to make his cases makes him the ideal prosecutor to go after political activists whose primary act is speaking out in favor of groups actively opposed to the foreign policy of the United States.

As of this writing (May 10, 2011), the assets of the Abudayyeh family remain frozen.  This means that they can not buy groceries and pay their bills.  The sheer pettiness of this act reminds this writer of similar actions taken by Tel Aviv against various Palestinians.  In a May 9, 2011 press release from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, they wrote: “The Midwest activists have been expecting indictments for some time. The freezing of the Abudayyeh family’s bank accounts suggests that the danger of indictments is imminent.”

Mark Twain once wrote: “It is by the fortune of God that, in this country, we have three benefits: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the wisdom never to use either.”  These folks have used their freedoms of thought and speech and are now being attacked by the government for doing so.  Should these indictments come down, anybody interested in the first amendment should do whatever is in their power to oppose them.  This entire case is nothing but an exercise in political persecution designed to silence those who have moved beyond their comfort zones to challenge a foreign policy based on murder, lies and greed.

UPDATE.  The Committee to Stop FBI Repression released a statement Tuesday May 10, 2011 regarding the Abudayyeh’s acounts.  Part of the statement read  “In a strange turn of events, the bank admitted today that they shut down the accounts, stating they no longer want to provide banking services to the Abudayyeh family. Simultaneously, TCF management informed the Abudayyehs today that they were issuing them a check for the value of their accounts….

Michael Deutsch, attorney for the family, said, “In my opinion, the bank did not act out of the blue. I suspect that the FBI and U.S Attorney investigation caused the bank to overreact and illegally freeze the Abudayyehs’ banking accounts that had been there for over a decade.”

In response to the seizing of the couple’s accounts, people across the country called the offices of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, and those of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) demanding the return of their money and an end to the repression.

A Code Pink activist from Washington, D.C., called Fitzgerald’s office and was told, “We’ve received hundreds of calls.” The OFAC office was bombarded as well, and journalists from a National Public Radio affiliate, Al Jazeera and other agencies contacted them for an explanation.”

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net





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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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