Anti-Israel activists gathered Sunday inside the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago to hear a discussion featuring convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmeah Odeh. Unbeknownst to Odeh and the attendees of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) conference, while she was receiving a standing ovation, a memorial service for her victims was in progress just a few floors above.
Being remembered were Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, two friends who had been studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, until their lives ended in February 1969 in a Jerusalem supermarket bombing masterminded by Odeh for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.
Odeh’s star has been on the rise in left-wing political circles. In January, she shared a stage with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) during an immigration travel ban protest at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Last month, she was a co-organizer for the “Day Without a Woman” march.
When the pro-Israel education organization StandWithUs inquired with Hyatt about renting space to hold a multi-faith memorial service for Odeh’s victims, the hotel responded, “Your request has been denied,” claiming it needed permission from JVP.
Refusing to take no for an answer, StandWithUs Midwest Director Peggy Shapiro took matters into her own hands.
“Sometimes things are just too important to be easily dissuaded,” Shapiro told the Haym Salomon Center. “When something really matters, you don’t just give up. If you allow history and memory to be distorted or erased—and not just the story of these two boys, which is tragic enough — it dishonors the memory of all terror victims in the past and increases the threat to all terror victims in the future.”
After Hyatt refused to rent space, StandWithUs began exploring other options. Shapiro and her staff booked a suite at the hotel and began inviting clergy of different faiths as well as local supporters to attend. An exact location and room number would not be made available to attendees until two hours before the start.
About 40 people attended the service—near capacity for the room. Attendees were greeted by private security professionals and StandWithUs staffers.
“Today we gather to remember Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, their lives cut short and their futures denied,” Shapiro said. “We will hear from their siblings, who today are grandparents. Who knows what Edward and Leon would have been, who knows what gifts they and their children could have given to the world. They were robbed of their lives and futures by a killer who is speaking at this very moment and at this very venue.”
She continued, “Let me tell you a bit about Jewish Voice for Peace, whose conference is taking place next to us. This group, funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, is listed as one of the 10 most anti-Israel groups in the nation. They and the killer they are featuring are now trying to repress our memories of the victims. In fact, they tried to prevent this memorial. That is why we must remember them for their sake and for ours. Simply put, there is too much at stake. This is not only about the memory of two young men, but about the memory of a people. In remembering Leon and Edward, we are defending memory itself.”
Letters from the families of Joffe and Kanner were read aloud. StandWithUs Midwest Campus Coordinator Sebastian Parra read a letter of gratitude and remembrance from Joffe’s brother. StandWithUs Midwest High School Coordinator Vida Velasco read words written by Kanner’s sister at a memorial held years earlier in Israel.
Clergy from various Christian denominations took part in the service.
Pentecostal Pastor Wesley Shaw recited Psalm 116 and declared, “Israel, we have your back. There are millions of Pentecostals worldwide, saying in unison, ‘Never again’!”
Evangelical Pastor Levi Velasco offered the Prayer for the Soul of the Departed. He affirmed, “I am solemnly behind the Jewish people and Israel.”
“I came out to show my support because these days, we see less and less support for Israel,” Rev. Jerry Caesar of Addison, Ill., told Haym Salomon Center. “I came out to support these two young men, whose lives were taken way before their time.”
Capturing the essence of the service in her final words, Shapiro said, “I thank you for being here today to help us remember, to remember and honor the stories of two beautiful young men and to hold dear memory itself—as memory is our ultimate vindication. Let’s remember, so the executioner doesn’t get the last word. The last word belongs to the victims.”
JVP did not respond to requests for comment.
Last month, Odeh pled guilty to unlawful procurement of naturalization. She is being stripped of her U.S. citizenship and deported to Jordan.
Paul Miller is president and executive director of the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group.