Jewish doctor denied payment for refusing Israel pledge


Dr. Steve Feldman, pictured on a trip to the West Bank. Feldman was denied payment from the state of Arkansas for refusing to sign a pledge promising not to boycott Israel. (Courtesy of Steve Feldman)

ANDREW LAPIN, JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY, MAY 3, 2023

Dr. Steve Feldman, a dermatologist, delivered a Zoom lecture to University of Arkansas at Little Rock medical students in February, for which he was entitled to a $500 honorarium from the state. But Feldman said that the state is withholding payment because he refused to sign a pledge, required for public contractors under Arkansas law since 2017, to commit to not boycotting Israel.

“They have a law in place that makes contracts with Arkansas dependent on your agreement not to boycott Israel, which I think is wrong,” Feldman, who is a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “To me, growing up Jewish, the very strong lesson of the Holocaust that I learned is it’s wrong to mistreat other people.”

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that have passed laws aiming to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. The laws either bar the state from investing in companies that boycott Israel or, as in Arkansas’ case, mandate that state contractors promise not to boycott the country. Most of those laws have been struck down by courts, but Feldman’s lecture took place the same month the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Arkansas’ law. His case is the latest example of how such laws are affecting what would otherwise be ordinary state business transactions.

Feldman has close relatives who live in Israel. But he said the pledge conflicted with his religious and moral views. In addition to his medical work, he is a pro-Palestinian activist who created the online-only Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience. The website says that the Jewish commitment to fighting injustice should lead Jews to stand up for Palestinian rights. Feldman said he does support boycotting Israel. 

“I think the only thing that will lead to Israel allowing Palestinian families to return to their homes, so that everybody can live together peacefully, will be some kind of boycott,” he said.

While the Arkansas law, passed in 2017, applies only to contractors earning more than $1,000 from the state, Feldman said he was still refused his $500 payment. The justification, he said, was that being added to the state’s vendor system would make him eligible for future assignments that could add up to more than $1,000.

Feldman told JTA he is exploring his legal options and wouldn’t rule out a lawsuit against the state as a means of advocating for Palestinian rights and challenging last year’s federal Eighth Circuit Court ruling that the law was constitutionally protected. “I would love to sue and have the Circuit Court either retract what they said, or go to the Supreme Court in order for people to see things that they didn’t know,” he said.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, has said the law combats discrimination on the basis of nationality. Following the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he works to “ensure that taxpayers aren’t required to pay for anti-Israel and anti-Israeli discrimination.”

Feldman’s story was first reported by the Arkansas Times, a publication that has itself become entangled in the state’s anti-boycott law. The paper’s publisher, Alan Leveritt, challenged the law in court after he was asked to sign the anti-boycott pledge so that the paper could run advertising from a state university. The suit, which is the one that reached the Supreme Court, argued that the law was a violation of the publication’s First Amendment rights and attracted support from progressive Jewish groups, as well as opposition from some pro-Israel groups. Leveritt argued that he doesn’t have strong feelings about Israel boycotts but that his paper does not take political positions in exchange for advertising. 

Since the inception of state-level laws prohibiting Israel boycotts, some state lawmakers have used them as a template for legislation barring other types of divestment campaigns, such as those targeting fossil fuels or the firearms industry. 

Feldman mused that he could have signed the pledge, taken the money and then engaged in an Israel boycott to see how the state would react, but concluded, “I can’t lie on a form. That also goes against my Jewish moral character.”

D.C. Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Israeli Boycott

Court dismisses claims arising from 2013 Boycott Resolution as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), siding with Steven Salaita and others


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

 

Victory! ABA removes controversial definition of antisemitism

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.

 

Harvard Reverses Course on Advocate Who Criticized Israel

Blocking the former head of Human Rights Watch stirred debate over academic freedom and donor influence


Kenneth Roth, the former director of Human Rights Watch, in New York last April. The Harvard Kennedy School recently reversed its early decision to reject his fellowship application because of his criticisms of Israel. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Jennifer Schuessler and Marc Tracy, New York Times, Jan. 19, 2023

The Harvard Kennedy School reversed course on Thursday and said it would offer a fellowship to a leading human rights advocate it had previously rejected, after news of the decision touched off a public outcry over academic freedom, donor influence and the boundaries of criticism of Israel.

The controversy erupted earlier this month, when The Nation published a lengthy article revealing that last summer, the school’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, had vetoed a proposal by the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to offer a one-year fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the recently retired executive director of Human Rights Watch. At the time, Elmendorf told colleagues that he was concerned about perceptions that Human Rights Watch had a bias against Israel, according to two faculty members.

The revelation prompted sharp rebukes from prominent free expression groups; a letter signed by more than 1,000 Harvard students, faculty and alumni criticizing what it called “a shameful decision to blacklist Kenneth Roth”; and private complaints from faculty.

In an email to the Kennedy School community on Thursday, Elmendorf said his decision had been an “error” and the school would be extending an invitation to Roth.

Elmendorf, an economist who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2009 to 2015, also pushed back against the charge that donors had influenced his initial decision, which was suggested in the Nation article and reiterated in public statements by Roth.

“Donors do not affect our consideration of academic matters,” he said in the statement. “My decision was also not made to limit debate at the Kennedy School about human rights in any country.”

He did not specify why he had rejected Mr. Roth’s fellowship except to say that it was “based on my evaluation of his potential contributions to the school.”

As for Roth, who after Harvard’s about-face accepted an offer from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is now a fellow at Perry World House, Elmendorf said, “I hope that our community will be able to benefit from his deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues.”

Roth, reached by phone after the reversal was announced, said he was pleased by the decision, which he attributed to “overwhelming” concern from the faculty, and that he would use the fellowship to work on a book about his decades of human rights advocacy. But he also called for more transparency.

“Dean Elmendorf has said he made this decision because of people who ‘mattered’ to him at the university,” Roth said, referring to published accounts by faculty members. “He still refuses to say who those people who mattered to him were.”

And he called on Harvard to make a stronger commitment to academic freedom, including for people who aren’t in a position to mobilize public opinion.

“Penalizing people for criticizing Israel is hardly limited to me,” he continued. “What is the Kennedy School, and Harvard more broadly, going to do to show this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom, rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?”


The Harvard Kennedy School, a public policy school in Cambridge, Mass., is home to a dozen research centers, including the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. (Kayana Szymczak)

The incident was the latest flare-up in the ongoing debate about when criticism of Israel shades into antisemitism, and when charges of antisemitism, in turn, are used to shut down criticism.

In interviews (and on Twitter), Roth, a Jew whose father fled Nazi Germany as a child, said that Elmendorf’s initial decision reflected the influence of those who seek to delegitimize Human Rights Watch, which has monitored abuses in more than 100 countries, as an impartial observer on Israel. And he has described it as a case of “donor-driven censorship,” though he said he had no proof.

“It clearly looks like this is donor influence undermining intellectual independence,” he said in an interview with The New York Times last week.

(A spokesman for Harvard said the university and its president, Lawrence Bacow, had no comment.)

Donor influence can be murky, with the details of conversations held behind closed doors rarely coming to the surface. But Israel has been a particular flash point in recent years, as some donors concerned with what they see as antisemitic or anti-Israel trends in academia have sought to reverse gifts or sway hiring decisions.

In 2020, the University of Toronto halted the hiring of Valentina Azarova as the director of its law school’s human rights program, after a major donor contacted an administrator to express concerns about her academic work criticizing Israel’s human rights record. (After a public outcry, the university offered the job to Azarova with protections for academic freedom, but she declined.)

Last year, the University of Washington returned a $5 million gift, after a donor to its Israel Studies program expressed unhappiness with a professor who had joined other Israel and Jewish studies scholars in signing an open letter criticizing the Israeli government’s conduct toward Palestinians and Arabs in the country and the Palestinian territories. The donor, according to the university, had requested that the gift agreement be amended to forbid scholars supported by the donation from making statements “seen as hostile to Israel.”

Douglas Elmendorf, currently the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, testifying before the House Congressional Budget Committee in 2015. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

The Kennedy School, a confederation of 12 centers and dozens of other initiatives, is one of the nation’s leading public policy schools. It’s also no stranger to controversy, often stemming not from its regular faculty but from its more than 750 visiting fellows, who include prominent figures from politics, government and media.

In 2017, Elmendorf rescinded a fellowship offered to Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who in 2010 leaked archives of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, following criticism from Mike Pompeo, then C.I.A. director, and others in the intelligence community. In 2019, Rick Snyder, a former governor of Michigan, withdrew from a fellowship after his appointment sparked a backlash on social media and from students who cited his role in the Flint water crisis.

As for partisan voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the school has hosted a variety of fellows in recent years, including Amos Yadlin, a retired top Israeli general, and Saeb Erekat, then the chief Palestinian negotiator and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Roth had been recruited for the fellowship, which includes no teaching duties, by Mathias Risse, the director of the Carr Center. In an email to Carr Center students, faculty members, fellows, alumni and others following the Nation article, Risse called him “one of the most distinguished human rights leaders of our time” and said the fellowship rejection was “one of the lowest moments of my professional life.”

In interviews and emails with the The Times, Risse and another faculty member, Kathryn Sikkink, said that Elmendorf, in explaining his rejection of Roth, had cited the perception that Human Rights Watch was “biased” against Israel. He told them he had become aware of the issue following discussions with unnamed people within the university, they said.

Roth, right, at Ben Gurion Airport in 2019 with Omar Shakir, an American Human Rights Watch employee who was expelled by Israel. (Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Donors, they said, were not mentioned. But they said a 2021 report by Human Rights Watch, which concluded that Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the occupied territories met the legal definition of “the crime of apartheid,” was discussed.

Whether Human Rights Watch is fair to Israel has long been a source of contention, inside and outside the organization. In a 2009 opinion essay in The Times, Robert Bernstein, one of the group’s founders, charged that its criticisms of Israel were “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

In 2019, Israel expelled the group’s director for Israel and Palestine and the lead researcher and author of the 2021 report, Omar Shakir, under a law barring foreigners who support a boycott of Israel or its territories. At the time, Shakir denied that either he or Human Rights Watch had called for a wholesale consumer boycott of Israel or its settlements.

Continue reading

U.S. Palestinian Rights Group in Federal Appeals Court 

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.

Distorted Definition: Redefining Antisemitism to Silence Advocacy for Palestinian Rights

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 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

Origins of a Politicized Redefinition

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.

  • The EUMC publishes a “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” which includes criticism of Israel and the “3Ds Test.” The body posts the definition to its website as a “practical guide for identifying incidents,” but never formally adopts it. After the EUMC, now renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency, quietly drops the definition from the agency website in 2013, a spokesperson explains that the agency never viewed the document as a valid definition.

  • The U.S. State Department uses the EUMC redefinition in a report, but states that some international approaches to defining antisemitism would violate the First Amendment if used in the United States. The report states that the State Department “does not endorse any such measures that prohibit conduct that would be protected under the U.S. Constitution.”


2008 – 2014

Pro-Israel Groups Unsuccessfully Target Students in the U.S.

Lawyers affiliated with pro-Israel groups attempt multiple times to abuse U.S. civil rights law to claim that campus advocacy for Palestine is antisemitic, filing federal complaints against three University of California campuses and Rutgers University.

Continue reading

Department of Education to investigate Berkeley Law School

Complaint from Israeli lawfare group prompts investigation over student group challenging Zionism

MICHAEL ARRIA, MONDOWEISS, DECEMBER 16, 2022

The Case Against ALEC Lawmakers Continues in Arizona Supreme Court

On November 15, the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance (APSA), Black Lives Matter (BLM) Phoenix Metro, Mijente, and Puente continue their fight against the corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Arizona Supreme Court. The groups will join the Center for Consitutional Rights and the Peoples Law Firm for oral argument in court.

Our lawsuit argues that the lawmakers, who together make up a quorum of several Arizona legislative committees, have violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law by meeting behind closed doors at a private ALEC gathering in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2019. A closed meeting of a quorum of an Arizona legislative committee where members debate, discuss, deliberate, or otherwise work is a violation of the Arizona Open Meeting Law. In a major victory in the case, on February 15 this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that we may continue to pursue the lawsuit against 26 Arizona lawmakers who attended ALEC’s closed meetings in 2019. The court said the legislature cannot exempt itself from its own Open Meeting Law, rejected all of the defendants’ other arguments for dismissal, and sent the case back to the trial court. 

The initial filing in 2019 came after the Center for Constitutional Rights, Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal, The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights together released the report “ALEC Attacks: How evangelicals and corporations captured state lawmaking to safeguard white supremacy and corporate power,” which examines the harmful impact of ALEC laws on people of color. 

ALEC provides a ‘pay-to-play’ membership system in which its corporate members pay high fees in return for closed-door meetings with lawmakers to deliberate, draft, and vote on “model bills,” which are later introduced by ALEC-affiliated state lawmakers across the country. ALEC boasts that approximately one third of all state lawmakers are members. They are required to sign “loyalty oaths” to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.”

Between 2010 and 2018, ALEC’s “model bills” were introduced nearly 2,900 times, and more than 600 became law. The Arizona groups leading this fight point out that marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, have been disproportionately harmed by laws produced by ALEC. These include Stand Your Ground laws, voter ID laws, legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights, and “critical infrastructure” laws that criminalize protests by Indigenous people and other activists against oil and gas companies. 

At ALEC’s 2009 meeting, anti-immigrant former state senator Russell Pearce introduced to ALEC members what would later become Arizona’s infamous SB 1070. The law granted authority to law enforcement to racially profile Latinx people in the state. Similar laws were soon adopted in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, and South Carolina. 

 

Rising up against Israel’s repression


Twitter StandWithThe6 600

Today across Palestine, we’re witnessing the Palestinian people rise up united once again. It is a moment in which our people declare we will not die quietly at the hands of Israel’s massive violence, but we will resist, and keep resisting, until Palestine is free.

Palestinian people on the ground are on a general strike today. The youth of Shuafat refugee camp called for the strike after Israel killed 17 Palestinian people in October alone, including Odai Tamimi yesterday, and after a series of violent attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers.

At the same time, we’re nearing the one-year mark since the Israeli government attacked six Palestinian organizations to stop their essential human rights work, on Oct. 22, 2021. Israel wants to shut down the #StandWithThe6 organizations, and we can’t let that happen.

Israel’s brutal violence and repression of Palestinian human rights defenders is part of its all-out assault on the Palestinian people, especially anyone who dares to challenge the colonial Israeli regime.

Today, prominent supporters of Palestinian human rights like Dr. Cornel West and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are speaking up to #StandWithThe6, and you can join them.

The #StandWithThe6 organizations are currently facing Israel’s continued repression, from the shuttering of their offices this past August to Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian human rights defender Salah Hammouri of Addameer without charge or trial.

Today, they’re asking: What happens #IfWeDisappear? Who will hold the Israeli government accountable for its brutal violence, as Israel continues to kill Palestinian people every day?

Watch and share the videos now.

Palestinian people on the ground are creating bold new ways to resist Israel’s colonial violence day by day, and we must defend their rights as we all push toward liberation.

Take action:

  1. Watch the videos.
  2. Share on social media.
  3. Contact Congress.