Facing deportation, convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh on Sunday bid a tearful but defiant farewell as she blasted “Zionists” and President Trump in a fiery speech that drew a standing ovation from a pro-Palestinian crowd in Chicago.
“We need you to continue resisting Trump’s agenda and to continue challenging the Zionists and to continue providing your solidarity and support to the Palestinian and Arab national movement,” said Odeh, a featured speaker at the leftist Jewish Voice for Peace conference at the Hyatt Regency.
Not far away at the same hotel complex, the mood was far more subdued as mourners remembered the two Hebrew University students killed in the 1969 bombing in Tel Aviv, which earned Odeh a decade in an Israeli prison before she was released in a prisoner exchange.
She entered the U.S. more than 20 years ago after giving false answers on her visa application, saying she had not been detained by police, charged with crimes, or incarcerated.
Odeh, 69, agreed last month to leave the country in exchange for no jail time.
“As we learn that the killer will soon be deported from our country, we feel justice has been served, even if just partially,” said Assaf Grumberg, Midwest associate director of Stand With Us. “She tried to deceive everyone, hoping her lies would save her. She tried to erase the memory of her victims while hoping she would become a victim herself. She failed.”
Stand With Us was rebuffed earlier this month in its attempt to hold a memorial at the same hotel as the JVP national members’ meeting. The pro-Israel group responded by reserving a hotel suite and holding the ceremony anyway.
The remembrance included remarks from rabbis and evangelical pastors, as well as statements from the families of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, the students killed in the supermarket bombing.
“Who knows what Edward and Leon would have been, who knows what gifts they and their children could have given to the world?” said Peggy Shapiro, Stand With Us Midwest director, in prepared remarks. “They were robbed of their lives and futures by a killer who is speaking at this very venue.”
There was no mention of the deadly bombing during Odeh’s speech, which came as part of the final plenary session at the three-day conference.
Instead, the applause was thunderous as the 69-year-old Odeh took to the podium after a glowing introduction by Rabbi Alissa Wise, a JVP deputy director.
Ms. Wise praised Odeh’s work as a community organizer working with Arab women in Chicago and said her fight to avoid deportation was backed not only by Palestinian groups, but by “the Movement for Black Lives, the women’s rights movement, anti-torture groups, and sexual-assault survivor organizations.”
Odeh’s effort “has become one of the most prominent social justice campaigns in the entire United States,” said Ms. Wise.
“Rasmea will be leaving us within a few months, but we know that in a short period of time she’ll have another Arab women’s committee going somewhere, and her legacy of principled resistance to Israeli-U.S. crimes against Palestinians and all other oppressed communities will be honored and continue,” said Ms. Wise. “We welcome you today, Rasmea, with love, with appreciation, with gratitude for all that you are.”
Wiping tears from her cheeks, Odeh compared her situation to the “nakba” (the Arabic word for “catastrophe”) in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled during the founding of Israel.
“I was an infant during the nakba, but I hear many stories of pain and bitterness from my family who were forced along with 750,000 other Palestinians to leave their homes, lands, lives and memories. They had been there for generations,” said Odeh, whose remarks were streamed on Facebook live at the Jewish Voice for Peace page.
“Now I face a similar unjust nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S.,” she said. “The relationships, the memories and all the people I know and love, especially the women of Chicago’s Arab communities, but I will continue my struggle for justice.”
Odeh was convicted of fraudulently gaining entry to the country in 2014, but granted a new trial on appeal. She has argued that her confession was coerced under torture, which prosecutors have disputed.
Her supporters have said she accepted the plea deal because she cannot receive a fair trial under “racist” Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Odeh drew cheers by taking a few swipes at Mr. Trump, saying he had lost the battle over the “Muslim ban” and health care, “and he will lose many more.”
“Even though he told us he was going to win more than any other president, he keeps losing because the people in the United States are in the streets resisting every single day,” Odeh said. “Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there and the Palestinian and our supporters here have to stop them with our resistance and our organization.”
She drew international attention last month as an organizer of the Day Without a Woman general strike, and has spoken at Black Lives Matter events, comparing the situation of Palestinians to that of U.S. racial minorities.
Appearing with Odeh on the panel was Women’s March organizer Linda Sansour, who hugged her and said she was “honored” to be on the same stage.
Odeh is scheduled to appear in court April 25 in Detroit to plead guilty and accept the deal.
The JVP conference was described by the Jerusalem Post as the largest-ever conference in favor of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] strategy, with more than 1,000 attendees.
In a statement, the Joffe family described JVP as “another deeply misguided so-called ‘Jewish’ organization.”
“She will soon be forgotten by her supporters who have so misguidedly championed her, but the memory of Edward and Leon will live on forever,” said the statement.
(Correction: A name was misspelled in the original version of the story. It has been fixed in the updated text. Leon Kanner was one of the students killed in the supermarket bombing.)