Decades After a Palestinian American Activist Was Assassinated in California, Two Suspects in His Killing Are Living Openly in IsraelDavid Sheen
Feb. 10, 2020
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Alex Odeh was born in 1944 in British Mandate Palestine to a Christian family in the West Bank village of Jifna, near Ramallah, just four years before the founding of Israel. He immigrated in 1972 to the United States, where he became a spokesperson for the Arab American community, challenging negative portrayals of Middle Easterners and Muslims, which were back then at least as commonplace as they are today.
Odeh, the Southern California regional director at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, or ADC, was known for his efforts to build bridges between Jews and Arabs, but his outreach was rejected by nationalist elements of the Jewish community, which saw him as an emerging threat.
ADC had become a target of the Jewish right after it began challenging the pro-Israel consensus in the U.S., organizing demonstrations against Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In 1984, ADC members were regularly receiving threatening phone calls from an individual or individuals identifying as the leader of the Jewish Defense League, an anti-Arab movement led by Rabbi Meir Kahane. Physical attacks began the following year, after the ADC began taking out advertisements in the Washington Post attempting to convince American voters and public officials that Israel should no longer receive annual allotments of millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid.
On October 11, 1985, Odeh was scheduled to speak at Congregation B'nai Tzedek, a Reform synagogue. As he entered the Santa Ana, California, office of the ADC that morning, however, a bomb exploded. He died on the operating table two hours later. It was the second bomb attack in just as many months against the ADC.
Hours after Odeh was killed, his slaying was justified by the Jewish Defense League. "I have no tears for Mr. Odeh," said Irv Rubin, then the national chair of the JDL. "He got exactly what he deserved."