Civil rights groups are demanding that the FBI solve a 28-year-old California murder long thought to be the work of Jewish extremists.
Alex Odeh, the Palestinian-American regional director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was killed in October 1985 by a pipe bomb that exploded when he opened his office door. No one has ever been charged in the case.
Now, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee has launched a campaign to draw attention to the unsolved killing, in cooperation with other civil rights groups and members of Congress.
“Twenty-eight years is a long time, and, with all due respect, too long a time,” said Michigan Congressman John Conyers on a conference call announcing the effort.
NAACP president Ben Jealous and ADC president Warren David spoke on the call, as did Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson.
Though officially unsolved, press reports have named a handful of suspects in Odeh’s murder over the past three decades, often sourcing the reports to FBI officials. An FBI spokesman said in the immediate aftermath of the murder that it believed the Jewish Defense League was responsible for the bombing, though officials later would only say that they suspected Jewish extremists.
Reports in 1990 by Robert I, Friedman, a Village Voice journalist who has since died, named Jewish Defense League members then living in Israel as suspects.
Founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who went on to found the banned Kach party in Israel, the JDL was a Brooklyn vigilante group with an underground terrorist wing. JDL members bombed Soviet targets in the United States in the early 1970s to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews. A smoke bomb it set in 1973 ended up asphyxiating a young Jewish secretary employed by a Sol Hurok, a Jewish performing arts promoter who managed concert tours for Soviet classical musicians.
Kahane moved to Israel in 1971, but the group continued its U.S. activism and its terrorist violence without him. The day after the Odeh murder, JDL chairman Irv Rubin brushed off the attack.
“I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over it,” Rubin said. Later, Rubin was harsher. “No Jew or American should shed one tear for the demise of Mr. Odeh,” Rubin said. “Regarding the death of Mr. Odeh, unfortunate as it may be, as they say, ‘What goes around comes around.”’
In a television interview the day before the bombing, Odeh said that Palestinian Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat was not involved in the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro days before, and that Arafat was a “man of peace.” Arafat maintained at the time and throughout his life that he was not involved in the Achille Lauro hijacking, though some have questioned his account.