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.

Part of the university experience means hearing ideas that may clash with your own, being challenged to consider different perspectives, and approaching issues with intellectual rigor. UIUC’s statement eviscerates this by demanding that students with a certain political viewpoint – that is, support for Israel – be shielded from opposing ones. That is impossible, and untenable. No one would expect the university to protect students from Myanmar from criticism of its treatment of Muslims, or supporters of South Africa’s apartheid regime from its critics. That’s because we do not conflate criticism of a country with hatred of people who are from or support that country’s policies. And we must not do that for Israel either. Neither Israel, nor any other country, can be shielded from criticism in a university setting, and people who support Israel – as with any other issue – must learn to contend with differing viewpoints.

We are especially concerned about the impact this definition will have upon academic freedom in the area of teaching and debate in our classrooms, as well as on our scholarship. This creates an environment of fear in our classroom, making even faculty worried about being attacked for scholarship they assign in their courses and lectures and research projects they pursue. At colleges and universities across the US, pro-Israel organizations have called on the US Department of Education to enforce this definition by silencing students, faculty, courses, and events expressing support for Palestinian freedom. It is particularly concerning to see the adoption of this definition by the UIUC administration, in light of Prof. Steven Salaita’s experience having a job offer withdrawn by UIUC for comments made on his personal social media and other experiences of harassment of faculty and graduate students at UIUC. Indeed, the University has at times been responsive to ensure that explicit Islamophobic comments are not tolerated by staff, especially those in key positions on campus. Yet these responses are not nearly enough. Anti-Muslim sentiment and practices are integral to today’s unleashing of white supremacy across the country. Students across various U of I campuses continue to raise grave concerns about the lack of administrative response to the ways Islamophobia impacts their lives and academic success and they continue to fear for their safety. In January 2020, UIUC extended an invitation to JUF to train staff of the housing department. And now, for example, the University is dismissive of student concerns.

If UIUC accepts that criticism of Zionism, or opposition to Israel’s establishment as a state in historic Palestine that privileges Jews over indigenous Palestinians, is the equivalent of anti-Semitism, the University will insert itself into the position of a political censor of classroom, scholarly and campus discourse. The First Amendment won’t allow that, and neither will faculty or students who are here to experience a diversity of thought and to think and associate freely.

Continue reading

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.

Labelling BDS and other criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is a cynical move to suppress speech and action critical of Israeli violations of human rights. This is plainly and simply wrong, and indeed dangerous. What happens when actual anti-Semitism does take place? Will it be taken seriously when politicians make up their own contemptuous definitions of genuine hatred of our people?

In 2018, we worked together to try to stop such an effort right here in Wisconsin, where both then-Gov. Walker and the majority of the Wisconsin Legislature — from both parties — succeeded in writing unconstitutional anti-BDS legislation into law.

All who believe in free speech and the right to press governments to end injustices must speak out against yet another authoritarian move from this lame-duck administration. We call upon the incoming Biden administration to firmly reject Trump and Pompeo’s Israel/Palestine policy, including the dangerous BDS-as-anti-Semitism falsehood.

While Pompeo’s last-ditch efforts may make finding a just solution for the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult for President-elect Biden, they don’t make it any less necessary.

Continue reading

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:
  • Amnesty International, 19 November 2020

    Continue reading

    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,

    Palestinian American Delegates
    Huwaida Arraf, MI Delegate (CD-10)
    Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, VA Delegate (CD-10)
    Samia Assed, NM At-Large Alternate (CD-1)
    Summer Awad, TN Delegate (CD-2)
    Sam Hindi, CA Delegate (CD-14)
    Hatem Natsheh, TX Delegate (SD-25)
    Emad Salem, TX Delegate (SD-10)
    Murad Sarama, CA Delegate (CD-6)
    Ibraheem Samirah, VA At-Large Delegate (CD-11)
    Endorsed by the following delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention:
    Abdul-Khabir, Kareema – CA Delegate, CD-8
    Ahmad, Nadia – FL Delegate, CD-7
    Alexander, Cory – ID Delegate, CD-1
    Ali, Faiza – NY Delegate, CD-10
    Alvarez, Roberto – CA Delegate, CD-38
    Aszterbaum, Joey – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Bagheri, Aaron – CA Delegate, CD-24
    Baker, Dana – CA Delegate, CD-4
    Beall, Elise – CO At-Large Delegate
    Beichler, Amber – VA Delegate, At Large
    Bellanca, Jay – NY At-Large Delegate
    Bernal, Karen – CA PLEO Delegate, CD-6
    Beyer, Timothy – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Bignell, Mark – MI Delegate, CD-4
    Bishop, Heather – OR Delegate, CD-4
    Blochowiak, Patricia – OH Delegate, CD-11
    Bonge, Sam – AZ Delegate, CD-8
    Britto, Lisa – FL Delegate, CD-10
    Brown, Michele – FL Delegate, CD-18
    Caballero, Josie – CA Delegate, CD-53
    Cea, Sergio – PA PLEO Delegate
    Choudhury, Leila – VA Delegate, CD-5
    Chrisliquori@gmail.com
    Chu de León, Chris – TX Delegate, SD-13
    Corley, Troy – CA Delegate, CD-26
    Cramer, Gina – TX Delegate, SD-26
    Culver, Jon – WA Delegate, CD-1
    Davis, Mina – TX Delegate, SD 5
    De Delva, Namcy – NY Delegate, CD-5
    Dean, Amy – VA Delegate, CD-7
    Derton, Robin – TX Delegate, PLEO Delegate, SD-5
    Dinkin, Leah – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Dlugosz, Anne – Delegate, Democrats Abroad
    Dominguez, Silvia – MA Delegate, CD-05
    Dunbar, Melissa – WA Delegate, CD-6
    Dupont, Aimee – MA Delegate, CD-2
    East, Shana – IL Delegate,
    Enriquez, Ivan – CA Delegate, At-Large CD-46
    Espinosa, Giancarlo – FL Delegate, At Large
    Ester, Lesley – CA Delegate, CD-2
    Evans, Stevevonna – CA Delegate, CD-33
    Farokhia, Sudi – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Farokhnia, Sudi – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Fleming, Joanne – WA Delegate, CD-5
    Foley, Linda – TX Delegate, SD-12
    Garcia Centeno, Krystal – IL Delegate, CD-11
    Garcia, Brandon – TX PLEO Delegate, SD-19
    Giardinelli, Bryan – CA Delegate, CD-42
    Gibson, Emily – OR Delegate, CD-2
    Gloria, Ernesto – TX Delegate, SD-9
    Gonzalez, Ana – CA Delegate, CD-35
    Gonzalez, Elizabeth – CA Delegate, CD-46
    Gordon, Patrick – IL Delegate, CD-8
    Hassan, Syed – TX Delegate, SD-22
    Hastings, Erika – TN Delegate, CD-8
    Hernandez, Thomas – WA Delegate, CD-3
    Hicks, Jared – MA Delegate, CD-7
    Hill, Lauren – NC At-Large Delegate
    Hoyt, Margie – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Huntley, Paul – CA Delegate, CD-19
    Huynh, Katherine – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Ibarra, Antonio – IL Delegate, CD-11
    Isak, Barbara “Babs” – UT Delegate, CD-3
    Jiang, Zhenzhen – CA Delegate, CD-14
    Johnson, Cavla – FL Delegate, CD-15
    Johnson, Heather – CA Delegate, CD-31
    Johnson, Valerie – TX Delegate, SD-9
    Hanieh Jodat Barnes – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Joyce, Rommy – CA Delegate, CD-19
    Jun Nawabi, Aleena – CA Delegate, SD-52
    Kain, Matthew – MI Delegate, CD-14
    Kang, Mani – CA Delegate, CD-46
    Kaur, Gurdeep – CA Delegate, CD-40
    Kessel, Michelle – TX Delegate, SD-25
    Khan, Varisha – WA Delegate, CD-1
    Khoury, Kari – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Klemmer, Isabel – WI Delegate, CD-6
    Knight, Mary Ann – TX Delegate, SD-10
    Langford, James – FL Delegate, CD-7
    Larranaga, Chris – NM Delegate, CD-1
    Lee, Briana – MN Delegate, CD-5
    Lefebvre, Lyndsey – CA Delegate, CD-39
    Lim, Cheng-Sim – CA Delegate, CD-28
    Liu, Melanie – CA Delegate, CD-18
    Ly, Ricky – FL Delegate, At Large
    Lynch, Nita – CO Delegate, CD-1
    MacLeod, Duncan – MI Delegate, CD-3
    Manos, Michelle – CA Delegate, CD-29
    Mansoor, Nabila – TX Delegate, SD-18
    Maro, Anthony – CO Delegate, CO-5
    Martin, Beth – WA Delegate, CD-9
    Martin, Grayson – CA Delegate, CD-52
    Martinez, Eduardo – CA Delegate, CD-11
    McClain, Christopher – CA Delegate, CD-31
    McCord, Kathleen – NM Delegate, CD-1
    McGrath, Bob – CO Delegate, CD-7
    McLain, Brian – IA Delegate, CD-3
    Merritt, Madeline – CA At-Large Delegate
    Meyer, Katie – CA Delegate, CD-53
    Moffa, Jamie – MO Delegate, CD-1
    Mohammed, Sabina – TX At Large Delegate, SD-22
    Moran, Kate – WA Delegate, CD-46
    Moreno, Gabriel – MD Active Alternate Delegate, CD-2
    Moxley, Kyle – MI Delegate, CD-8
    Nasrullah, Mohammed – TX Delegate, SD-11
    Nguyen, Lisa – OH Delegate, At Large
    Nygard, Dorothy – CA Delegate, CD-10
    O’Hea, Justin – NJ Delegate, CD-12
    Ocampo, Christina – CA Delegate, CD-8
    Okuzumi, Margaret – CA Delegate, CD-17
    Omeish, Abrar – VA PLEO Delegate, CD-11
    Orgel-Olson, Shawn – CA Delegate, CD-20
    Palma, Dayja – TX Delegate, SD-22
    Parr, Andrew – VA Delegate, CD-8
    Patterson, Kevin – TX Delegate, SD-30
    Perkel, Leah – WA Delegate, CD-3
    Pfeiffer, Mindy – CA Delegate, CD-27
    Phillips, Gregory – FL At-Large Delegate
    Pierce, Eric – CA Delegate, CD-28
    Ramos Rios, Virginia – NY Delegate, CD-7
    Ramos, Stacey – CA Delegate, CD-35
    Rawson, Katherine – UT Alternate Delegate
    Recendez, Denis P. – CA Delegate, CD-32
    Rehmani, Tasneem – CA Delegate,
    Reynolds, Samantha – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Rizvi, Maha – CA Delegate, CD-42
    Rodriguez, Maya – CA Delegate, CD-41
    Rodriguez, Tisa – CA Delegate, CD-41
    Roemer, Katy – CA Delegate, CD-13
    Saines, Koran T. – VA PLEO Delegate, CD-10
    Scoville, Carrie – CA PLEO Delegate, CD-44
    Shaughnessy, Christian – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Shepherd, Jeri – CO Delegate,
    Shergill, Amar – CA Delegate, CD-7
    Shimizu, Christine – CA Delegate, CD-30
    Siddiqui, Aftab – TX Delegate, CD-6
    Siddiqui, Zahid – CA Delegate,
    Smith, Benjamin – TN Delegate, CD-02
    Smith, Megan – ME Delegate, CD-2
    Solomon, Norman – CA Delegate, CD2
    Sondahl, Birrion – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Stevens, Karen – CA Delegate, CD-26
    Sukaton, Samuel – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Sullivan, Maureen – IL Delegate, CD-3
    Summervillle, William Moses – CA Delegate, CD-48
    Talevski, Susie – IN Delegate, CD-1
    Tatlock, Nina – FL PLEO Delegate,
    Taylor, Tarah – TX Delegate, SD-15
    Terpening, Stephanie – MI Delegate, CD-4
    Terrazas, Stephanie – CA Delegate, CD-39
    Thompson, Victoria – CA Delegate, CD-7
    Torres, Nelly – PA Delegate, CD-11
    Touati, Khalid – TX Delegate, SD-16
    Toy, Shirley – CA Delegate, CD-6
    Ty, Yaddi – WA Delegate, CD-2
    Uddin, Nazim – NC Delegate, At-Large
    Usman, Sameena – CA Delegate, CD-17
    Valladares, Victor – CA Delegate, CD-48
    Vazquez, Juan – CA Delegate, CD-10
    Verhey, Molly – WA Delegate, CD-08
    Wang, Anlin – PA Delegate, CD-3
    Ward, Kenneth – ID Delegate, CD-2
    Weekley, Dakin – FL Delegate, CD-26
    Wells, Marley – FL Delegate, CD-1
    Williams, Susana – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Winograd, Marcy – CA Delegate, CD-24
    Wong, Audrey – CA Delegate, CD-33
    Woodhall, Adam- FL Delegate, At Large
    Wright, Lissette – Delegate, Democrats Abroad
    Wunderly, Maggie – IL Delegate, At Large
    Youngblood, Brandon – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Zaman, Rubina – TX Delegate, SD-11
    Zeisel, Jodi – OR Delegate, CD-3

    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. 

    “Last August, the court found that Fordham acted irrationally in banning SJP and ordered Fordham to recognize the club,” said Maria LaHood, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Now, even after SJP has been active on campus for a year, Fordham is still shamelessly trying to stop them – for what?”

    The brief filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and Alan Levine argues that the lower court properly found that Fordham violated its own rules in denying SJP club status and that Fordham’s focus on the reported conduct of SJPs at other schools in denying club status to SJP at Fordham was irrational. 

    “Fordham should never have vetoed SJP in the first place,” said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath. “The fact that the school is still trying to stop students from speaking out for Palestinian freedom, now, with annexation and in the middle of a pandemic, is beyond belief.” 

    “We are confident that the appeals court, like Supreme Court Justice Bannon, will find that Fordham‘s denial of club recognition for SJP was no more than an act of naked political censorship,” said attorney Alan Levine.

    Continue reading

    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

    The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in JNF v. US Campaign for Palestinian Rights with cooperating counsel Judith Chomsky, Beth Stephens, and Michael Deutsch.

    For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

     The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

    Follow the Center for Constitutional Rights on social media: Center for Constitutional Rights on Facebook, @theCCR on Twitter, and ccrjustice.org on Instagram.

    Continue reading

    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

    Read yesterday’s ruling here.

    For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

    The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al. with Seattle attorney Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

    Continue reading