Detroit judge recuses himself from Palestinian terror case
By Niraj Warikoo | Detroit Free Press | Published: August 13, 2014
A federal judge in Detroit reversed course and recused himself Tuesday from handling the case of a Palestinian-American woman accused by Israel in the 1969 bombing of a supermarket in Jerusalem, saying his family had a financial tie to the supermarket chain.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said that “at the time of the 1969 bombing, my family had a passive financial investment connection to SuperSol,” the supermarket in Jerusalem that Rasmieh Odeh of Chicago is accused of bombing in 1969, killing two people.
She faces immigration charges in Detroit, where she first entered the U.S., for not disclosing that she was convicted in an Israeli court of terrorism.
Defense attorneys for Odeh, 67, had argued that Borman should recuse himself because he “is a lifelong active supporter, fund-raiser and promoter of the State of Israel” who had given money to pro-Israel groups, including the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit.
Two weeks ago, Borman dismissed their request, saying, “I have a history and a heritage, but neither interferes with my ability to administer impartial justice to Ms. Odeh or to the Government.”
Moreover, Borman said that it is inaccurate to say that supporting “certain Jewish organizations was equivalent to agreement with every action taken or tenet held by that organization.”
He denied their request to recuse himself in his July 31 opinion. But Tuesday, he reversed his decision, saying he will recuse himself, but only because of his past financial tie to the supermarket, not because of his support of local Jewish groups that support Israel.
He said he changed his mind after he saw a new document, “the specific Israeli indictment” against Odeh, which mentioned that a SuperSol supermarket was bombed. SuperSol is a supermarket chain in Israel.
“I do not have a personal bias against Defendant Rasmieh Odeh,” he wrote in his order. “However, I recognize that (the U.S. code for judges) ... imposes an objective test that requires recusal whenever impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
He said “my family’s passive financial investment connection to SuperSol at the time of the 1969 bombing could be perceived as establishing a reasonably objective inference of a lack of impartiality in the context of the issues presented in this case.”
In 1965-67, he was vice president and house counsel for Borman Food Stores, which once owned Farmer Jack food stores.
Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, where Odeh works, praised Borman’s decision.
“It’s a huge victory,” Abudayyeh said.
The case has drawn the attention of Arab-American advocates, who have held rallies outside the federal courthouse in Detroit during Odeh’s hearings.
The case is being handled in Detroit because Odeh entered Michigan when she first came to the the U.S. in 1995. She became a U.S. citizen in 2004 and works for the Arab American Action Network in Chicago.
Odeh claims in court filings she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Israeli security, whom she said forced her to confess. An Israeli official said she never made those claims previously during her case in Israel and is only raising them now to win her case.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/nwarikoo.