April 14, 2021
Webinar: The Movement Will Not Be Censored

On Wednesday, April 14, join us for a powerhouse event on Palestine advocacy and how to push back against attacks on the movement.

The panel will feature Sumaya Awad of Adalah Justice Project, Beth Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and Palestine Legal client and Florida State University student Ahmad Daraldik. Senior staff attorney Meera Shah will be moderating.

Register Here to receive a reminder and link to the webinar and to submit your questions for the panel.

You can also watch without registering on the sponsors' Facebook pages:

The Eighth Circuit’s Narrow Decision About Arkansas BDS

One provision has been invalidated, but the general ban on boycotts of Israel by most state government contractors still stands.

An Arkansas statute generally bans the government from contracting with companies that are boycotting Israel. It defines such boycotts as

  • “engaging in refusals to deal,
  • terminating business activities,
  • or other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner” (bullets added).

District Court Judge Brian S. Miller refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the statute, and granted the state’s motion to dismiss the challenge. The court concluded that “other actions …” should be read as dealing with other commercial behavior, and not, say, speech urging boycotts:

While the statute also defines a boycott to include “other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel,” this restriction does not include criticism of Act 710 or Israel, calls to boycott Israel, or other types of speech. Familiar canons of statutory interpretation, such as constitutional avoidance and [ejusdem] generis [“[w]here general words follow specific words in a statutory enumeration, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to those objects enumerated by the preceding specific words”], counsel in favor of interpreting “other actions” to mean commercial conduct similar to the listed items.

And as thus limited to commercial behavior, the court held, the statute likely didn’t violate the First Amendment. (Michael Dorf, Andrew Koppelman, and I filed an amicus brief on appeal agreeing that the law is constitutional if read as limited to commercial refusals to deal.)

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Illinois faculty rejects efforts to suppress Palestinian freedom

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism
Grave implications for free speech, distracts from actual racism

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN. (INSTAGRAM)

OPEN LETTER, Mondoweiss, DECEMBER 23, 2020

As faculty and staff within the University of Illinois system, we are writing to renew our outrage at the rampant anti-Semitism and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred and dehumanization.

We are also deeply concerned about the way anti-Semitism is defined in a joint statement issued by UIUC, the Jewish United Fund, Hillel groups, and the Brandeis Center in response to complaints that these avowedly pro-Israel groups filed against the University based on student speech and activism for Palestinian human rights.

Specifically, the statement identifies incidents “that demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students…[or] subjects them to double standards” as expressions of anti-Semitism. This conflation of Jewish religious and ethnic identity with a viewpoint that supports the state of Israel or Zionism as a political ideology is a dangerous tactic that is expressly aimed at silencing any and all debate about Israel and Zionism on college campuses.

The way that anti-Semitism is defined in UIUC’s statement correlates with a definition that has been pushed by pro-Israel groups in legislatures, agencies, and institutions around the country and that was adopted by Donald Trump in an executive order issued in 2019. Those same groups have often funded Islamophobia across this country and have allied themselves with right wing organizations. The definition itself is uncontroversial, but it is accompanied by several illustrative examples intended to guide its interpretation and use. For instance, critiques of Israel as a racist state are treated as expressions of anti-Semitism. As the Brandeis Center has said explicitly in the complaint it filed against UIUC, the definition means that: “anti-Zionism is a contemporary form of anti-Semitism.”

The political project to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is harmful on several levels, and we urge the University of Illinois administration to reject this effort because of the grave implications it has for academic freedom and student free speech on our campuses, the way it distracts from actual racism happening on our campuses, and the ironic consequence of creating an anti-Palestinian/Arab/Muslim environment on campus by targeting students for expressing their experiences and views.

1) The harm to academic freedom and student speech

Whether or not one agrees with Israeli policy, anyone concerned about academic freedom should be gravely concerned about this definition because repressing the free exchange of ideas is antithetical to the purpose of campus life and the opportunity for students to learn how to engage with diverse viewpoints.

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Biden needs to reverse Pompeo on Israel/Palestine


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

Tsela Barr and Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, The Cap Times, Dec 4, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in another lame-duck effort to tie the hands of the incoming administration and give a parting gift to the far right in Israel and to right-wing Christian Evangelicals at home, has just poured kerosene on the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The most senior U.S. official ever to publicly visit an Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, Pompeo proclaimed that settlement-produced goods imported to the U.S. will no longer be labeled as they had previously been, “made in West Bank/Gaza.” Instead, they can now be labeled “made in Israel,” despite the fact that neither U.S. law, nor the United Nations, recognizes Israel’s de facto annexation of large swaths of Palestinian territory.

Trump and Pompeo hope to drive one more nail in the coffin of long-standing official U.S. policy, which, while not sufficiently supportive of the aspirations of the Palestinians for legitimate self-governance on their own land, at least until now has held the settlement enterprise to be illegal, illegitimate, counterproductive to the cause of regional peace and stability, and even damaging to Israel’s own interests.

But there is an even more dangerous part of Pompeo’s pronouncements: that henceforth, the U.S. will officially label the international grassroots movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as anti-Semitic and will create what amounts to a blacklist of organizations that support it.

The BDS movement is an international effort by millions of people to try to pressure the Israeli government to respect the human, political and economic rights of Palestinians. It is inspired by a similar movement that targeted and helped overthrow apartheid rule in South Africa.

While, as American Jews, we have serious concerns about rising anti-Semitism, which is traditionally defined as hostility to, prejudice toward, or discrimination against Jews, we are united in opposition to labeling BDS (or other criticism of Israeli policies), as anti-Semitic and even worse, to using the power of governments at all levels to outlaw or punish the BDS movement.

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Pompeo Labels BDS Antisemitic, Threatens Blacklist

This week Pompeo broke with longstanding U.S. policy and visited illegal Israeli settlements. On his trip, he made several announcements, including that the State Department is designating BDS as antisemitic and calling for the U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism to create what is essentially a blacklist of organizations that support BDS. We will have more on this soon, but for now:

  • Please share the JVP Action statement condemning this widely (this is compliant to share on chapter lists and chapter social media). You can also re-share our petition to the State Department on this issue.
  • Here are other statements you can check out and lift up:

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  • DNC Delegates Demand Apology from the Biden Campaign

    Attacks on Palestinian-American Delegate Linda Sarsour

    After DNC delegate and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour spoke at an official DNC event of the Muslim Delegates and Allies Assembly on August 18th, 2020, Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the Joe Biden campaign, issued a statement saying,

    “Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform. She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever.”

    As Palestinian-American delegates and allies, we stand by our fellow Palestinian-American delegate Linda Sarsour and condemn any effort to exclude elected national DNC delegates from official DNC events. We reject efforts to marginalize and demonize the Palestinian narrative. We also call upon the Democratic National Committee to renew its commitment to its own core principles of equality and justice for all.

    The DNC seeks to represent an inclusive and diverse population and should not discriminate against any segment on the basis of ethnicity, religion or political dissent. The vast majority of Democratic voters are calling for accountability, including BDS as a nonviolent form of curbing Israeli violations and challenging Israel’s impunity. The statement by the Biden campaign has willfully dropped the reference to freedom of speech from its platform language quote in the rush to malign, condemn and exclude Sarsour. Such an attack goes against the principles of the Democratic Party and the 2020 Democratic Party Platform to end systemic racism and to build a coalition.

    While we recognize the prevalence of anti-Semitism, criticism of Israel must not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Israel has repeatedly violated international humanitarian law and human rights as well as American international aid conditionality. Moreover, Jake Tapper of CNN has a history of singling out Palestinian-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone who stands behind Palestinian human rights or criticizes the Israeli occupation.

    This disavowal of Linda Sarsour reeks of misogyny, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry. It provides a false shield for Israel’s human rights abuses. The Biden campaign must not follow the lead of the Trump administration and should rise above these attacks and make a concerted effort to be inclusive and represent the collective vision for a truly democratic Party.

    Palestinian-American delegates and allies demand an immediate retraction and apology from the Biden campaign that smeared a prominent Palestinian-American activist, undermined her constitutional right to free speech, and weaponized anti-Semitism to silence the just critique of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

    Sincerely,

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    Breaking! Fordham University is still trying to silence Students for Justice in Palestine


    July 27, 2020

    July 27, 2020, New York –  Students asked New York’s Appellate Court on Friday to reject an effort by Fordham University to overturn a decision ordering the school to recognize the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club. The students are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and cooperating counsel Alan Levine. 

    “It’s ridiculous to us that our university is still trying to censor us now,” said Veer Shetty, vice president of SJP at Fordham. “We’ve already been active for a year, and appealing the court’s ruling feels especially cruel.”

    The original case stems from a fall 2015 effort by Fordham University students to start a Students for Justice in Palestine club on campus. Administrators dragged out the application process for a year – including multiple meetings, questioning students on their political views, and amendments to SJP’s constitution.

    In November 2016, Fordham’s undergraduate student government approved SJP as a student club. One month later, Fordham University Dean of Students Keith Eldredge took the unprecedented step of vetoing the student government’s approval based on SJP’s “political goals” and the possibility it would lead to “polarization.” 

    The Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and Alan Levine sued Fordham on behalf of four students in April 2017, winning the case in August 2019 when a New York court annulled Fordham’s decision, mandating that the university recognize SJP as an official club. 

    Fordham appealed the ruling in January 2020. Oral argument is expected in the Court’s September term.  

    While all of the original students who wanted to form SJP have since graduated, petitioner Veer Shetty was successfully added to the suit in 2019 as a sophomore who wanted to join SJP.   Shetty has served as SJP’s vice president during the 2019-2020 school year following the legal victory. Fordham is also challenging the ruling accepting Shetty as a petitioner. 

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    Palestinian Rights Organization Challenges Meritless Lawsuit


    06 Mar 2020

    Case is Part of Broader Assault on Human Rights Defenders

    March 6, 2020, Washington, DC – Last night, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) moved to dismiss a meritless lawsuit filed against it by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and several individuals. Human rights attorneys say the lawsuit targets USCPR’s support of Palestinian rights and is intended to chill them from engaging in constitutionally protected advocacy. 

    “The fact that we’re under attack is no surprise: human rights defenders around the world are under attack from repressive regimes and their allies. This lawsuit is part of this global, right-wing assault on civil society and movements seeking to build a better future for all,” said Ramah Kudaimi, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights Deputy Director. “We will not be intimidated, and our work dedicated to the rights of the Palestinian people—work that is grounded in the principles of equal rights, justice, and freedom for all—will continue.”

    Attorneys say the lawsuit makes outlandish claims, casting collective activism and expressions of solidarity as unlawful. Plaintiffs base their far-fetched accusations of conspiracy and material support for terrorism on USCPR’s support for Palestinian rights, including for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. Their claims also rely on USCPR’s criticism of Israel’s unlawful use of force against Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza who are demanding their internationally recognized right of return to their homes, as well as its participation in the Stop the JNF Campaign aimed at exposing and challenging the JNF’s role in dispossessing Palestinians of their land. 

    In arguing for dismissal of JNF’s lawsuit against USCPR, attorneys emphasized the threat to free speech and association if a group of activists can be sued on such tenuous theories of liability.

    “Anyone who cares about civil liberties and human rights should be deeply concerned by the frivolous and malicious lobbing of accusations of conspiracy and terrorism at a human rights organization,” said Diala Shamas, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This case is part of a broader and well-resourced effort to attack advocates for Palestinian rights—whether through anti-boycott legislation, university administrations silencing student activists, or meritless lawsuits filed against supporters of Palestinian human rights. We will continue to support movements as they advocate for rights and dignity.” 

    The JNF, or Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, is a quasi-state institution in Israel that acquires and administers land for the sole benefit of Jewish people. The JNF has been instrumental in the Israeli state’s dispossession of the Palestinian people. While the JNF has been the target of lawsuits for its discriminatory policies, this is the first time it has tried to use US courts to silence critics.

    Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. The organizations report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Palestine Legal has responded to 1,494 incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2019. See 2019 Year in Review

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    Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of 8-year Lawsuit Over Israel Boycott

    Case Dismissed Against Former Board Members of Olympia Food Co-op

    Center for Constitutional Rights, March 9, 2018

    Olympia, WA — A Washington appeals court has upheld a ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op for the co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. The ruling came yesterday in a case that was originally filed in 2011 by five co-op members, purporting to act on behalf of the co-op and seeking to block the boycott and collect monetary damages against the board members. The case was dismissed five months later as a SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, but reinstated when Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute was struck down. The ruling affirmed today dismissed the case a second time.

    “As a co-defendant, I am pleased, but not surprised, that the courts have once again found in our favor. When the plaintiffs first threatened to sue us, they promised a nuisance lawsuit, and they have delivered. It is well past time to end this abuse of the legal system by ending this baseless suit,” said defendant Grace Cox.

    The boycott was adopted by the Olympia Food Co-op in 2010 as part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights by Israel. Five of the 22,000 Co-op members, two of whom later dropped out of the lawsuit, sued sixteen board members, those who had made the decision to boycott and the board members who were elected after the boycott. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the case, deferring to the business judgment of the board members, given that they had the authority to adopt the boycott and because there was no evidence of bad faith.

    “In the face of widespread assault, the right to advocate for Palestinian freedom, including via the time-honored tradition of boycotts for social change, has again been vindicated.  This victory demonstrates that although the fight can be long, it’s necessary in order to achieve justice,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood.

    Discovery in the case revealed emails between the plaintiffs celebrating the news from StandWithUs that the lawsuit had successfully discouraged other co-ops from boycotting Israeli goods.  StandWithUs, one of many groups trying to suppress the growing U.S. movement for Palestinian freedom, took credit for filing the case, stating that it was a byproduct of the partnership between StandWithUs and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

    “The Court of Appeals properly deferred to the business judgment of the Co-op board in making their boycott decision, which is a fundamental principle of governance that applies to every nonprofit corporation. It’s unfortunate that the plaintiffs and their funders have dragged these Co-op board members through 8-1/2 years of unnecessary litigation,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

    Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. The organizations report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Palestine Legal has responded to 1,494 incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2019.  See 2019 Year in Review

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    To Prison, Again, for Protesting Against Israel’s Colonial Rule

    Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack pens a powerful Op-Ed in Haaretz on his arrest, putting into context his act of solidarity with Palestinians who face altogether different circumstances than his own.

    The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009.
    The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

    Jonathan Pollak, Haaretz, Jan 07, 2020

    I am currently detained in an Israeli jail, the result of refusing to attend or cooperate with criminal charges laid against me and two others for joining Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israel’s colonial rule. Because I am an Israeli citizen, the proceedings in the case are held in an Israeli court in Jerusalem and not at the military court, where Palestinians are tried.

    >> Police arrest left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak in Haaretz building

    It has been almost nine years since the last time I was incarcerated for more than a day or two. Much has changed since. Politically, reality does not even resemble that of a decade ago, and none of the changes were for the better.

    Politically, the world seems to have lost much of its interest in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, placing Israel at one of the historical peaks of its political strength. I am in no position to discuss the profound changes within Israeli society and how even farther to the right it has drifted. Israeli liberals are much better suited for such a task, because they hold their country dear and feel a sense of belonging that I cannot feel and do not want to feel.


    Jonathan Pollak at Hermon Prison in 2011. (Yaron Kaminsky)

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