This past summer, Sara Smith, a young Jewish woman from Chicago, visited Israel/Palestine with two Palestinian-American friends. Sarah had never been and was interested in seeing for herself what life was like for Israelis and Palestinians. As she would later put it, “I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw.”
On Friday, December 3, Sarah received a phone call from an FBI agent, who asked her if she could come in to answer some questions. When she asked what this was about, he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” She asked if she would need a lawyer present; the agent said it was up to her but that she was not in any trouble and that they just wanted to ask her a few questions.
Understandably alarmed, Sarah told the agent that she wanted to consult a lawyer and get back to him. She repeated that it would be easier for her if she knew what this was all about. He replied that it had to deal with the trip she had taken over the summer, adding ominously, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”
Sarah later learned from her lawyer that she, along with her two friends, were being subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
Lest you think that Sara might be an undercover Hamas operative or a naive young radical, let’s let her father introduce her to you:
I don’t think I need to speak in defense of her character. While she was in high school, Crain’s Chicago Business had a special edition called the “100 Most Influential Women in Chicago” and they chose my daughter as being one of Chicago’s six most influential and up-and-coming women high school students. Crain’s Chicago Business chose her partly because they saw she was willing to travel to different parts of the world and see for herself and to make up her own mind about what was happening over there. Evidently, the FBI thinks that there is something criminal in doing that.
I myself have done similar trips as Sara more than once. So have many of my friends and colleagues. This Sunday, I’m going to leave with 20 members of my congregation to visit Israel/Palestine so we can, yes, learn about “what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians.” (More on that very soon.) Is this now standard operating procedure in our country: visit Israel/Palestine to get a real look at the conflict, expect a subpoena from the FBI?
If this all sounds sadly familiar, you might remember that back on September 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists in Minnesota, Chicago and Michigan and issued subpoenas to 14 of them. To date, they have all refused to testify and US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has since withdrawn the summons. However, he recently reissued subpoenas to three Minnesota women who are facing “indeterminate imprisonment” if they continue refusing to testify.
It’s beyond egregious. Back in September, it looked like freedom of dissent was now a potentially punishable crime. This definition of “crime” has now apparently been extended to include honest curiosity about the world around us.
Please visit the website of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression to learn more and for details about how you can take action. Click here to sign a petition that tells President Obama, Attorney General Holder, US Attorney Fitzgerald, et al to stop this growing FBI campaign of repression now.