A pro-Palestinian activist and editor whose Web magazine posted a widely read story during the 2008 presidential campaign accusing candidate Barack Obama of hiding and then abandoning his sympathies for the Palestinian cause is facing a federal grand jury subpoena as part of an expanding terrorism support investigation.
Maureen Murphy, who serves as managing editor of the Electronic Intifada, said she received a grand jury subpoena from the FBI on Dec. 21, ordering her to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on Jan. 25.
Murphy told POLITICO she believed the subpoena was part of an effort by the U.S. government to put pressure on Palestinian activists, but she said she doubted that it was related to her work on the Electronic Intifada site. "I don't think it has anything to do with that," she said.
Murphy, who was first subpoenaed in September and re-summoned last month, said she is one of at least 23 activists from the Chicago and Minneapolis areas who have been called to testify in the investigation. In addition, the homes of several individuals in the two cities were searched by the FBI.
"This seems quite clearly related to our Palestinian solidarity work," Murphy said. "All of us believe this is intended to put a chill on the movement. … It's hard to know the scope of this because the government has cast such a wide net [and] they're just casting the net wider and wider."
No criminal charges have been publicly announced in connection with the investigation, but FBI officials have confirmed it relates to potential violations of laws prohibiting material support for terrorism. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office is heading up the probe, had no comment on the subpoenas or the broader investigation.
So far, many and perhaps all of those subpoenaed have refused to testify, according to lawyers advising the activists. Some of the subpoenas were withdrawn, but later reissued, the lawyers said.
The Electronic Intifada article alleging an evolution in Obama's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "How Barack Obama Learned to Love Israel," was widely distributed to reporters and Jewish, pro-Israel Democrats by supporters of Obama's chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Published in March 2007 by Chicago-based Palestinian activist and writer Ali Abunimah, the story claimed that during Obama's career as an Illinois state legislator and during his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2000 he "was forthright in his criticism of U.S. policy [in the Mideast] and his call for an evenhanded approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Even more provocatively, Abunimah asserted that during Obama's 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate, Obama suggested he was deliberately holding back his true views on those issues. "I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race," Abunimah quoted Obama as saying. "I'm hoping when things calm down, I can be more upfront."
Obama aides vehemently denied that Obama ever made such a comment. Abunimah's account could not be independently verified, though some left-leaning Jewish activists also described the hawkish stance he took in favor of Israel as inconsistent with his earlier positions. In any event, Abunimah's claimed exchange with Obama was rarely republished by the mainstream press though it was widely known by reporters, thanks in large part to the efforts of Clinton backers.
Abunimah's story did eventually appear in an April 2008 Los Angeles Times article that recounted Obama's friendly relationship with a variety of Palestinian activists, including Rashid Khalidi, a history professor from the University of Chicago who later moved to Columbia and had earlier served as a de facto spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Obama "always had expressed solicitude for the Palestinian people, who have been ill-served and have suffered greatly from the refusal of their leaders to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist," Obama adviser David Axelrod told the Times.
The connection to Obama through Electronic Intifada Murphy's subpoena looks to be somewhat distant, but there is at least one other link between the White House those caught up in the federal terrorism-support probe. A Palestinian activist whose Chicago home was raided by the FBI in September and who was mentioned by prosecutors in subpoenas delivered to others, Hatem Abudayyeh,attended a White House outreach briefing for Arab Americans in April.
Abudayyeh currently serves as executive director of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, a community group co-founded by Rashid Khalidi and formerly led by Khalidi's wife, Mona, who is still a member of the group's board.
Abudayyeh has denied any involvement with terrorism and has accused federal agents who searched his home of being on a fishing expedition. "They took everything in my home that had the word Palestinian on it," Abudayyeh told an audience at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee last month, according to WLS-TV.
"This is a massive escalation of the attacks on people that do Palestine support work in this country and anti-war work," Abudayyeh said. "We're not going to stop speaking out against the war. We're not going to stop speaking out against U.S. support of Israel's violations of the Palestinian people."
Prosecutors handling the case have sought documents relating to contacts with Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both of which have been designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. Abudayyeh's friend and lawyer, Jim Fennerty, said he suspects the probe may have something to do with suspicions that some U.S. citizens or residents made donations to local groups while traveling in the West Bank, Gaza, Colombia or elsewhere.
"They're eventually going to try and say, maybe, they gave people from these NGOs [non-governmental organizations] a few bucks here and there," Fennerty speculated.
The L.A. Times's April 2008 article on Palestinian support for Obama became a flashpoint in the waning days of the 2008 campaign, when the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and his runningmate, then-Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, demanded that the Times make public a videotape of a 2003 party where Khalidi offered a tribute to Obama, who was launching his U.S. Senate bid.