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The FBI Is Using Unvetted, Right-Wing Blacklists to Question Activists About Their Support for Palestine

Published: June 24, 2018
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Source: The Intercept


Ahmad Aburas. Photo: Meron Menghistab for The Intercept

AHMAD ABURAS WAS sitting in class one evening in September 2016 when a security officer at Seton Hall Law School, the New Jersey school that Aburas attends, came to get him. Gerald Lenihan, the school’s security manager, said he needed to speak to Aburas right away.

Aburas was surprised by the request, but he left his civil procedure class and followed Lenihan to his office, figuring it was about something inconsequential, like his car or school ID.

But when Aburas arrived at Lenihan’s office, it quickly became apparent that this was about something different. In the office were two law enforcement agents: Craig Mott, a New Jersey state police detective, and Ted Kolshorn, an FBI agent, both part of the New Jersey Joint Terrorism Task Force.

For 35 minutes, they interviewed Aburas because they had questions about pro-Palestinian messages he had written on Facebook.

According to Aburas, Lenihan said, “These young men want to talk to you.” Then Lenihan left Aburas alone in his office with the two officers. For 35 minutes, they interviewed Aburas, not because they were interested in him as a criminal suspect, but because they had questions about pro-Palestinian messages he had written on Facebook. His was one in a string of FBI inquiries into pro-Palestine activists across the country in recent years. Some of these interviews have rested on blacklists created by far-right, pro-Israel groups, and focused on alleged and unproven connections to militant groups in the Middle East. The Intercept has learned of four such interviews (though the number could be higher), two of which took place this year.

In two of the interviews, including Aburas’s, the FBI referenced Canary Mission, an anonymously run, right-wing website that compiles dossiers on activists who organize for Palestinian human rights on U.S. college campuses, claiming — without evidence — that the students have ties to terrorism in an effort to make them unemployable.

Advocates for Palestinian human rights have in recent years triggered a national conversation about the seemingly unconditional U.S. military and financial support for the Israeli government. The work of these advocates has drawn increasingly hostile tactics from far-right groups who wish to silence them, and the FBI interviews underscore the power of those groups — whose false claims are now apparently informing government action.

Civil liberties advocates are alarmed by the interviews, which they say intimidate political organizers, chill constitutionally protected speech, and are just the latest manifestation of a 50-year history of U.S. government scrutiny of pro-Palestine activists. That the FBI is relying on information from the likes of Canary Mission creates even more cause for concern, because it signals that federal law enforcement is relying on unvetted blacklists designed to shut down criticism of Israel and smear students voicing pro-Palestinian political opinions.

“This is where Islamophobic, ‘alt-right,’ Zionist harassers in the private sphere intersect with government suppression — your worst nightmare of the government and its law enforcement apparatus, which is already in widespread violation of basic civil rights, responding to the most racist elements of society demanding a crackdown on political expression,” said Liz Jackson, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, a group that assists students interviewed by law enforcement about Palestine.


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