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Jillian Kestler-D'Amours

Palestine activists face charges for heckling US' Israel ambassador

The heckling took place during Friedman (R)'s confirmation hearings [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2017

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Two Palestine activists may be going to court after a protest held during a United States Congress hearing to appoint the new US ambassador to Israel.
Two Palestine activists may be going to court next fall, after federal prosecutors upheld criminal charges stemming from a protest held during a United States Congress hearing to appoint the new US ambassador to Israel.

Taher Herzallah and Kareem El-Hosseiny, staff members at US advocacy group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), were arrested and charged for interrupting David Friedman’s confirmation hearing on Feb. 16.

More than two dozen supporters rallied outside a Washington, DC, Superior Court hearing on Thursday morning, where they had hoped to pressure the government to drop the charges.

Herzallah and El-Hosseiny were charged with unlawful conduct and disrupting the US Congress, according to an AMP statement.

While they were among six activists arrested for interrupting the hearing, they are the only ones facing criminal charges. Three other activists paid small fines, while another had the charge transferred to traffic court.

Herzallah and El-Hosseiny have argued that they are being singled out on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic bias, and the charges against them should be dismissed.

Herzallah and El-Hosseiny have argued that they are being singled out on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic bias, and the charges against them should be dismissed.

“All of us were detained at the same time for doing the same thing,” Herzallah said in a statement in early April.

“So why were we charged with misdemeanours and the others were not? We feel discriminated against, disappointed in the system and that’s why we rejected the government’s plea deal. We want the judge to decide the case.”

During the Senate committee hearing in February, Herzallah and El-Hosseiny unfurled Palestinian flags and interrupted Friedman as he tried to answer questions. Police then forced them out of the room.

Friedman has been criticised for directly supporting Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and for playing a key role in an organisation that raises money for the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah.

“My grandfather was exiled, was kicked out, by the state of Israel,” Herzallah shouted during the hearing. “We were there, we are there now, and we will always be there. Palestinians will always be in Palestine,” he said.

Friedman has openly espoused incendiary, far-right views, including accusing former US President Barack Obama and the US State Department of anti-Semitism, and calling members of the liberal, pro-Israel lobby group J Street are “far worse than Kapos,” a reference to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

He was formally confirmed as the next US ambassador to Israel in late March.

If that motion is not successful, a jury trial is set to start in October

AMP National Policy Director Osama Abuirshaid said in a statement that the organisation “stands firmly behind [its] employees who, we feel, may be being treated more harshly by the prosecutor because of their heritage and religion”.

“They rejected the plea deal because we cannot be silent when our judicial system shows bias. It’s totally against our American values,” Abuirshaid said.

A group of DC-based religious leaders also showed their support for the men in an open letter to Assistant US Attorney Kelly Archung.

“Please do not allow the Superior Court to sustain disparate charges which suggest anti-Muslim bias,” they wrote.

“The justice efforts of our colleagues are truly interfaith and ecumenical in the most meaningful sense of those words. We seek your support in avoiding any unfair administration of justice which targets Muslims.”

The DC Superior Court is expected to hold a hearing on a motion to dismiss the case “based on selective prosecution, on the grounds the charges result from racial, religious and ethnic bias” in July.

If that motion is not successful, a jury trial is set to start in October, the AMP said.

Herzallah and El-Hosseiny face a maximum penalty of $500 and up to six months in jail. 

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours

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