March 2, 2023, Washington, D.C. – The D.C. Superior Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) and some of its former leaders for a 2013 resolution endorsing the academic boycott against Israel. The court found that the claims primarily arose from advocacy on an issue of public interest and were not likely to succeed. Those targeted by the suit included Dr. Steven Salaita, an advocate for Palestinian rights represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which secured dismissal of all the claims against him under a D.C. law to deter SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
“I welcome the judge’s decision to dismiss this long-running lawsuit as a waste of time and money,” said Salaita. “I am happy to finally be freed of this burden and hope that the ruling will deter pro-Israel outfits with no means of winning a debate beyond harassment and defamation from trying to impoverish those of us committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.”
In 2013, two-thirds of ASA members voted to join a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as part of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to generate opposition to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. Four professors originally sued the ASA and some of its leaders in federal court, claiming that the vote had violated the group’s by-laws and that its officers had breached their fiduciary duties. In 2018, they amended the suit to add several defendants, including Salaita, even though he had joined the ASA board two years after the vote.
A federal court dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, and the plaintiffs promptly filed a nearly identical complaint in the D.C Superior Court. The court initially denied the anti-SLAPP motion, but in response to an appeal by Salaita and the other defendants, the D.C. Court of Appeals ordered the court to reanalyze the case, resulting in yesterday’s ruling.
The purpose of anti-SLAPP laws is to deter lawsuits that target people who speak out on matters of public concern. Often, the goal of plaintiffs in such cases is not to win in court but simply to harass and intimidate advocates. Under the D.C. anti-SLAPP law, once the defendants show that the lawsuit is based on protected advocacy, plaintiffs must show that they are nonetheless likely to prevail in court; if they cannot, the suit is dismissed as it was in this case, and defendants may collect attorney’s fees from the plaintiffs.
“This ruling should send a clear message to those trying to silence advocates speaking out against Israel’s human rights abuses: boycotts are legally protected, and attempts to stifle such advocacy through the misuse of courts will not be tolerated,” said Astha Sharma Pokharel, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “These lawsuits will face strong opposition that will only grow the movement for justice and freedom in Palestine.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights also represented Salaita in his case against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which unlawfully fired him in retaliation for his criticism of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The lawsuit against him and the other academics is part of a broader nationwide effort to suppress speech critical of Israel, advocates say. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented censorship efforts on college campuses and at other institutions.
Defendants Lisa Duggan, Curtis Marez, Neferti Tadiar, Sunaina Maira, Chandan Reddy, John Stephens, and the American Studies Association were represented by Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P., and defendants J. Kehaulani Kauanui and Jasbir Puar were represented by Mark Allen Kleiman and Richard Renner.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
Proposed resolution targeted Palestinian rights advocacy
In January, we sent letters urging the American Bar Association (ABA) to remove its reference to the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism” in its proposed Resolution 514, explaining that rather than fighting antisemitism, the controversial IHRA definition is used to silence Palestinian rights advocates. In a victory for human rights and free speech, the ABA decided to drop the definition in passing its resolution.
Meanwhile, we continue to fight the use of IHRA as it is being pushed through in various arenas to suppress Palestinian voices. Virginia legislators are considering HB 1606 which would adopt IHRA, including its contemporary examples related to Israel, as a tool and guide for recognizing and combating antisemitic discrimination and hate crimes in Virginia. We joined Palestine Legal and other groups in a letter to legislators explaining the dangers of the definition, and how it has widely been used to suppress criticism of Israel, not to combat antisemitism. The bill passed out of committee on Friday, and the fight continues.
I am writing to invite you to join Omar Barghouti and me for a virtual discussion on corporate BDS organizing this Thursday, January 26 at 11 am ET/10 am CT/6 pm Palestine.
Adalah Justice Project has played a key role in campaigns to compel corporations like Ben & Jerry’s to withdraw their complicity from Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people. This webinar gives us an opportunity to reflect with Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, on what these campaigns have accomplished and what more we can do together to advance BDS wins.
This event is hosted by our friends at Al-Shabaka and will be moderated by Al-Shabaka’s Nadim Bawalsa.
We hope you will be able to join us this Thursday, January 26.
You can register for the webinar here.
Adalah Justice Project
Confronts Challenge to Human Rights Advocacy
Last week a U.S.-based Palestinian rights organization asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Jewish National Fund and several U.S. citizens who live in Israel. Citing the speech and expressive activities of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, including its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the lawsuit had argued that the group provided “material support” for terrorism.
In dismissing the suit in March 2021, the lower court said the arguments were, “to say the least, not persuasive.” The suit is part of a broader effort to criminalize and silence the political activities of supporters of Palestinian rights, advocates say.
“The worldwide movement for Palestinian freedom is growing,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “USCPR’s work to advocate for Palestinian human rights is a critical part of that freedom struggle, or else right-wing forces allied with the Israeli government would not be repeatedly trying to silence us. All the more reason to keep up our work to build toward justice for all.”
Visit our website to learn more.
One of the primary tactics opponents of the movement for Palestinian freedom have used to silence political debate is the branding of all support for Palestinian rights as anti-Jewish. Roughly half of the incidents of suppression Palestine Legal responds to each year include false accusations of antisemitism, totaling 895 incidents from 2014 to 2020.
In an effort to add legitimacy to this tactic, Israel lobby groups have employed a distorted definition of antisemitism that encompasses virtually all criticism of Israel and have attempted to entrench this definition through policy changes and legislation.
This page tracks the evolution of the cynical ways Israel lobby groups have abused the definition and the definition’s impact on advocates for Palestinian rights.
We invite you to explore the following components:
2004 – 2008
After decades of attempting to smear Palestine advocacy with false antisemitism accusations, Israel lobby groups develop a new Israel-centered definition of antisemitism. It is adopted by an EU body, and the U.S. State Department cites it in a report.
The European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) begins working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Jewish and Israel advocacy groups to expand the definition of antisemitism. The AJC encourages inclusion of criticism of Israel in this redefinition.
At the same time, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky creates the “3Ds Test” which defines “delegitimizing,” “demonizing” or “applying double standards” to Israel as examples of antisemitism.
Israeli lobby groups redefine antisemitism to include criticisms of Israel as a means of stifling speech
The Electronic Intifada, 21 December 2022,
In September, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
The council was following a global trend. Institutions around the world are increasingly adopting the IHRA definition which purports to be a tool for identifying and combating anti-Semitism.
In reality, it is merely the latest attempt to criminalize support for Palestinian liberation. Indeed, the West Hollywood City Council’s vote – and the public outcry it generated – provides valuable insight into the growing threat the adoption of this flawed definition poses to political activism and education.
The council’s actions were foreshadowed by the West Hollywood Public Safety Commission which, on 8 August, voted to recommend that the City Council adopt the IHRA definition. During that meeting, Public Safety Commissioner Tony Berger asked fellow commissioner Robert B. Oliver, who brought the proposal, what the purpose of a safety commission making such a recommendation would be.
“It’s not in our purview to do anything like this,” Berger said. “Aren’t we trying just to protect everybody?”
Oliver, who is currently running for West Hollywood City Council, said his proposal was to recommend to the City Council that the city adopt the IHRA definition as a “non-legally binding working definition to inform the different agencies of our city what anti-Semitism is.”
The West Hollywood move came after both Manhattan Beach and Beverly Hills city councils voted to adopt the IHRA definition. Oliver cited the latter as a reason for West Hollywood to follow suit.
During public comment on 19 September – when the West Hollywood City Counci eventually voted to pass the IHRA definition in accordance with the public safety commission’s recommendation – Palestinian West Hollywood resident Rami Kabalawi said he felt the IHRA definition silenced Palestinians and was concerned with prohibiting criticisms of Israel rather than authentically challenging anti-Semitism.
Kabalawi told the council: “If it’s codified, it will position Palestinian freedom of speech as explicitly anti-Jewish and create a situation of divisiveness that is fueled not about ending bigotry, but classifying our right to speak out as a form of it.”
Many fear that Kabalawi is right.
What is the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and why is its passage by the West Hollywood City Council such a troubling development?
The story behind the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism begins with a working definition of anti-Semitism conceived of by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenobophia – a European Union agency – in the early noughties.
While the EUMC working definition is uncontroversial, it features several alleged examples of “anti-Semitism” that are simply criticisms of the Israeli state. This working definition was never formally endorsed by the EUMC.
Complaint from Israeli lawfare group prompts investigation over student group challenging Zionism
MICHAEL ARRIA, MONDOWEISS, DECEMBER 16, 2022
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has announced that it’s launched a probe into the University of California’s Berkeley Law School. According to an email obtained by Jewish Insider the investigation will determine whether the school acted appropriately in response to a complaint “from Jewish law students, faculty and staff that they experienced a hostile environment at the law school based on their shared Jewish ancestry.”
This past summer, the campus group Law Students for Justice in Palestine developed a bylaw in support of Palestine, which called on other student organizations to refrain from inviting Zionists speakers to the school or holding events “in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” Nine groups immediately signed onto the pledge.
The effort was immediately mischaracterized by pro-Israel groups across social media and even mainstream outlets. Kenneth Marcus, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights chairman and assistant secretary for civil rights under former president Donald Trump, published an Op-Ed in Jewish Journal op-ed made the spurious claim that Berkeley Law was establishing “Jewish free zones.” He also asserted that anti-Zionism of any kind is antisemitic.
“Anti-Zionism is flatly antisemitic,” reads the article. “Using ‘Zionist’ as a euphemism for Jew is nothing more than a confidence trick. Like other forms of Judeophobia, it is an ideology of hate, treating Israel as the ‘collective Jew’ and smearing the Jewish state with defamations similar to those used for centuries to vilify individual Jews.”
The “Jewish free zones” lie also found a home in Newsweek, where Toronto-based writer Laura Rosen Cohen inexplicably claimed that they are becoming a “new progressive trend.” Cohen warns of a “civilizational decline” if Palestine campus activism continues.
“Is it any surprise that law students think it’s ok to bar Jewish speakers when a member of Congress feels comfortable doing the same thing for the progressive movement writ large?,” reads that article. “This isn’t something progressives are ashamed of, but something they are proud of. Which is why society more broadly must firmly reject this discrimination when it comes for Jews.”
The phony narrative was even embraced by some liberal celebrities on Twitter. Singer and actress Barbra Streisand tweeted the Marcus op-ed with the caption, “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?” Comedian Sarah Silverman shared it and wrote, “9 student law groups from UC BERKELEY Ban any Jews who believe Israel should be able to exist. Even those (MOST JEWS) who are against occupation and who fight for a two state solution. This is just the beginning. PLEASE help fight anti-Jewish racism.”
In August, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky sent an email to student leaders expressing concern about the bylaw and pointing out that he was a supporter of Israel, but he dismissed the allegations of “Jewish-free zones” as ridiculous.
“The Law School’s rules are clear that no speaker can be excluded for being Jewish or for holding particular views,” wrote Chemerinsky in The Daily Beast. “I know of no instance where this has been violated..Ironically, most students and faculty in the Law School were unaware of this controversy or paid little attention to it. After the first couple of weeks of the semester, it was virtually never mentioned. But some media outlets have brought it worldwide attention.”
In October, over two dozen pro-Israel groups (including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Democratic Majority for Israel, and Christians United for Israel) wrote a statement calling for the school to be sanctioned. “Jewish faith and identity for millennia have been anchored by the desire to restore sovereignty in our indigenous homeland, the core idea of Zionism,” it reads. “Like observing Shabbat and kosher dietary laws, Zionism is vital to the consciousness of many, if not most, Jews.”
The Department of Education’s investigation comes in response to a complaint filed by pro-Israel, right-wing lawyer Gabriel Groisman and International Legal Forum CEO Arsen Ostrovsky. The International Legal Forum is an anti-BDS group based in Tel Aviv and funded by the Israeli government.
Join CODEPINK and Meera Shah of Palestine Legal on Zoom December 14th at 2pm ET/11am PT for an important and timely call on recent anti-BDS legislation and its impacts on movements for Palestine solidarity, and various forms of divestment.
Since 2014, U.S. legislators have introduced over 200 bills targeting boycotts for Palestinian rights – and the volume of these bills have only increased, with a huge wave of legislative attacks in recent months. What are the latest developments with these anti-boycott laws, and what do they mean? Join us as we explore the impacts these bills are already having on Palestine advocacy work, on other forms of divestment activism, and what we can do in this critical moment.
Meera Shah joined Palestine Legal in 2019. She supports the organization’s casework and public education and oversees the advocacy work on free speech, academic freedom, and the right to boycott.