Pro-Israel Activist Still Dealing with Fallout from Confrontation at Presbyterian Meeting
The death of Bassem Masri from fentanyl poisoning in Missouri on November 27, 2018 was a tragedy. Masri was the victim of an overdose, or as the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s report states, “fentanyl poisoning.” Post-mortem tests recently released by the coroner’s office reveal that Masri, who had a history of drug addiction, had both fentanyl and cannabis in his bloodstream. Hopefully, the public release of the coroner’s report will stop Masri’s supporters in Jerusalem from using his death to incite hostility towards Israel and its defenders.
One target of this hostility is Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid.
Eid was harassed by Masri on the streets of St. Louis outside the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)’s General Assembly on June 18, 2018.
Masri, who had been invited to the assembly by Presbyterian anti-Israel activists who were offended by what Eid said at hearings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called Eid “a collaborator with the Israelis.” Despite these ugly statements, Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, former moderator of the PCUSA, defended Masri from being expelled from the event. Peace activists at the assembly also applauded Masri’s actions on their Facebook pages.
During the confrontation, which Masri videotaped and posted on the Internet, Masri called Eid a “gasus” — or spy in Arabic. A Palestinian American with extended family and connections in Jerusalem, Masri was taking advantage of his status as a prominent player in the Ferguson protests that helped jump-start the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2014.
“This is a clear call to kill me,” Eid said soon after the confrontation.
Sadly, Masri’s hostility toward Eid was still at play weeks after his death. On December 23, 2018, Eid flew back to Israel after a trip to Africa. When he tried to scan his passport at Ben Gurion Airport, the machine displayed a red cross — indicating there was a problem with him getting into the country, Eid explains.
“I tried another machine and it [did] the same thing,” he said. “I couldn’t get the entry permit. I asked employees at the airport what I should do. They said … to go to [the] police office at the airport.”
Eid went to the station and met with the chief. “He checks on the computer and says to me, ‘Please wait outside for a few minutes to fix the problem.’”
Eventually, the police at the airport gave him an entry permit, but at the same time, they gave him a summons to appear at a police station in Jerusalem at 9 am the next day. The officials at the airport also gave Eid a mobile phone number for an investigator at the station, which Eid immediately called.
“I ask him, ‘What is the problem? Why are you imposing a non-entry on me? Is it something that urgent? Am I criminal?,’” Eid said. “He said, ‘I promise you tomorrow morning things will be cleared up in a few minutes, and you will leave the station.’”
When Eid arrived at the station, the investigator met him at the door and asked him how his trip to Africa was before asking, “Do you know why you are here?”
“No, I don’t,” Eid said. “He took me into his office, asked me how many sugars I wanted, and he prepared two coffees.”
Then the officer got down to business.
“Do you know someone named Bassem Masri?” the officer asked. Immediately, Eid knew what it was about. “He was the guy who harassed and threatened me when I was in St. Louis a few months back. He died a few weeks back.”
The police officer said, “Yes, that’s the problem. People locally are saying that Masri was assassinated by the Mossad because he threatened you in June.”
The investigator informed Eid that Masri had relatives in the Holy Land who are big supporters of Hamas. They didn’t want to accept that he died of a drug overdose, and were using the conflict to distract people from the underlying tragedy.
The investigator told Eid to pay close attention to his surroundings for a while.
“He told me, ‘You don’t have to change your daily life, but you’ll have to be more careful,’” Eid said. “From time to time, look around yourself and … see if someone is following you and just … be careful.”
The so-called peace activists who invited Masri to the PCUSA’s General Assembly made the world a more dangerous place. By setting the stage for an ugly confrontation between Masri and Eid (and demonizing Eid afterwards), they helped broadcast hate and hostility toward a genuine human rights activist.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA). Van Zile’s work has appeared in a number of publications including The Jerusalem Post and The Boston Globe.