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.

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.

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

For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com/.

Strangers in Our Homeland


MK Aida Touma-Sliman, January 15th, 2019. Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk via Flickr

Aida Touma-Sliman, JewishCurrents, February 6, 2020

LAST WEEK, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal that is intended to determine the future of the Palestinian people, without a single Palestinian present in the room or involved in the consultation process. They unveiled the plan in the midst of Trump’s impeachment trial and on the same day that Netanyahu was indicted for corruption. Like a group of men deliberating women’s reproductive freedoms, the Americans and Israelis who drafted the plan intend to unilaterally decide the fate of Palestinians, our land, and our fundamental rights. The plan’s total erasure of Palestinian voices and blatant denial of these rights lays bare the real intentions of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.

Just as importantly, the past week clarifies the positions of so-called moderates—from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Israel’s Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party—who have either barely protested or outright endorsed the plan. While it is no secret that the US and Israel have always rendered Palestinian narratives, demands, and aspirations secondary, centrist acquiescence to Trump’s plan suggests that the “deal of the century” is the logical culmination of a long-held vision of an apartheid Palestinian pseudo-state, bereft of meaningful sovereignty or self-determination. 

Trump and Netanyahu have inherited this vision and added their typical vulgarity. Their plan would enshrine Jewish supremacy in all of Israel and historic Palestine, annexing Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem, while leaving Palestinians in the occupied territories with a patchwork of isolated ghettos surrounded by walls and military checkpoints. Israeli law would be applied in all settlements, which violate international law and numerous UN resolutions. Israel would retain sovereign control over the air and sea, as well as absolute “security” control in the entire territory west of the Jordan River. Jerusalem, including occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and its holy sites, will remain entirely in Israeli hands. And Palestinian refugees will be categorically denied their right to return to the land from which they were expelled by Israel because they were not Jewish. 

The plan would also have dire consequences for Palestinian citizens of Israel, many of whom would probably be stripped of their citizenship and transferred to the new Palestinian “state” under the plan’s proposed land swaps. To those ends, Israel’s Tourism Minister, Yariv Levin, has already raised the specter of de-nationalizating Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who make up about 20% of the population, or about 1.8 million people. Many people in this category would likely lose the ability to travel within most of historic Palestine and be subject to the same restrictions, including on movement, imposed on citizens of the new Palestinian “state.” 

As a Palestinian citizen of Israel myself, I have been treated with suspicion and as a threat by the government for my whole life, a fifth column in my own homeland. Will I now be told to move to the new Palestine, or remain and accept permanent second- or third-class Israeli citizenship? We already face dozens of laws that discriminate against us—including the so-called “Jewish nation-state” law, which has effectively made segregation official national policy—because we are not Jewish. With Trump’s plan, Israel’s claim to being a liberal democracy that values human rights has been discredited once and for all.

Trump and Netanyahu’s plan, then, is outrageously unapologetic in its denial of Palestinian rights and its whitewashing of Israeli colonization. In key respects, however, it does not represent a radical break with the many previous plans proposed over the past several decades—by both Democrats and Republicans, by Israel’s Labor and Likud—to “grant” Palestinians nominally autonomous, discontiguous parcels of land surrounded by Israeli settlements and under the control of the Israeli military, and to pass off these bantustans as an independent state. As far back as 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin proposed granting Palestinians a limited “autonomy” or home rule in scraps of the occupied Palestinian territories in an attempt to quash Palestinian demands for independence. The 1993 Oslo Accords offered Palestinians limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while allowing unfettered Israeli settlement expansion—with the number of Israeli settlers more than tripling since the signing of the peace agreement. 

Gantz, supposedly a moderate alternative to Netanyahu, has embraced Trump and Netanyahu’s racist annexation plan, and vowed to bring it for approval in the Knesset. The Joint List—the coalition of Arab-majority parties, of which I am a member—will not support any candidate or party that supports annexation, including Gantz. Indeed, with rare exceptions, most Jewish Israeli politicians subscribe, implicitly or explicitly, to Trump and Netanyahu’s agenda of segregation, intolerance, and xenophobia, as evidenced by the nation-state law and others passed in recent years, like the so-called Nakba law, which is intended to suppress public discussion and debate of the mass expulsion of Palestinians that accompanied Israel’s establishment as a Jewish state in 1948.

In the US, meanwhile, even some Democrats critical of Trump and Netanyahu have been muted in their criticism of this scheme. Reacting to a summary of the plan last week, Pelosi declared that it “appears to be a basis for negotiations . . . so let us be optimistic and hopeful.” Echoing Pelosi, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York declared: “There’s some good room for hope there.”

With the notable exception of Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential hopefuls have thus far refrained from proposing concrete ideas to end US complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime, with some even proudly reiterating their support for Israel. Because our shared values of freedom, equality, and democracy are on the line more clearly than ever before, Democrats can no longer get away with claiming progressive credentials in some arenas while remaining willfully blind to injustice elsewhere. Trump and Netanyahu recognize their own shared values and are working hand in hand; Democratic leaders likewise need to understand that Palestinians are their natural allies in resisting the onslaught of Trumpism in the US and around the globe.

The time has finally come for Israeli leaders to pay a price for their half-century-old occupation of Palestinian lands, for seven decades of ethnic cleansing, for blockading the Gaza Strip for over a decade, and for their relentless incitement against and attempts to exclude us—Israel’s Palestinian citizens—from equal citizenship in our own homeland.

Aida Touma-Sliman is a member of the Israeli Knesset representing Hadash/The Joint List.

Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Has Led to Violence Not Peace

February 08, 2020

(WASHINGTON, D.C. 2/8/20)—Since President Donald Trump released the details of his much-derided so-called “deal of the century,” a total of five Palestinians, including a teenager, have been killed by Israeli forces while protesting a “peace plan” that has delivered nothing but promises of further dispossession and apartheid. Rather than achieving peace, this plan has only emboldened the Israeli government to continue its policies of land theft and aggression against Palestinians. As AMP warned prior to the release of this “steal of the century,” this atrociously one-sided plan was always a recipe for more bloodshed and a prolonging of suffering. AMP condemns this plan and the inevitable violence it has provoked with Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters, including settlers parading through the Jordan Valley, taunting Palestinians with the impending annexation of their lands. 
 
Within the 1948 borders, Trump and Netanyahu’s Apartheid plan has proposed that an Arab-populated region there be added to a future Palestinian state. Not only is this suggestion tantamount to the illegal forced transfer of people but, like in Apartheid South Africa, it will result in the denaturalization of Israel’s minority population. Netanyahu has already vowed that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he is prime minister—nothing more than swiss cheese-like Bantustans in which Israel and the Trump administration wish to segregate Palestinians. This racist plan, which deprives Palestinians of every basic right, sets impossible conditions on Palestinians who must prove themselves worthy of existing before any rights may be bestowed on them. 
 
Of course, Palestinians would never accept such a humiliating proposal and have been protesting this initiative since its announcement last week. Israel has expectedly responded with violence, shelling and shooting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, and killing young protesters with impunity. The first victim, 17-year-old Mohammad Al-Haddad from Hebron, was shot and killed by Israeli forces while protesting Trump’s plan. In the following days, as Israeli forces began a military incursion in Jenin, a protester who demonstrated against the demolition of a Palestinian home was killed. 

Unsurprisingly, Jared Kushner blamed Palestinians for this escalation in violence in an effort to absolve himself of responsibility for his failed policies. As the region continues to descend into further chaos and instability, the world has begun to recognize that not only is the blood of innocent Palestinians on the hands of Israeli leaders, but also on the hands of the Trump administration which has waged a war on the Palestinian people over the last three years. 

THE ANSWER IS PALESTINE

THE_CORRECT_ANSWER_IS.png

CODEPINK, 1/13/20

On Friday, January 11, 2020, on the Beloved game show Jeopardy, Katie Needle of Brooklyn, N.Y. correctly answered the clue “Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity” by responding What is Palestine?” But host Alex Trebek responded “nope” and told Jack McGuire, who answered, “What is Israel?” that he was correct — he was not!.

Take action now: tell Alex Trebek and Jeopardy that the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, is in Palestine, not Israel! 


Dear Alex Trebek and Jeopardy,

On Friday, January 11, 2020, answering the clue “Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity,” Katie Needle replied CORRECTLYwhat is Palestine?.” But you falsely told McGuire, who followed up with the INCORRECT answer “what is Israel?” that he was right — he was not!

The Church of the Nativity, located in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, is not located in Israel, but in Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt). Palestine is a member of the United Nations. The United Nations and the US State Department list the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as being located in Palestine. International law and world consensus are clear that Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem are Palestine, not Israel. Israel’s occupation and annexations of these lands are entirely illegal.

Please immediately apologize for the politically dangerous inaccuracy that took place on your show.

Sign the Petition!

ICC’s Pursuit of War Crimes Probe in Palestine

“Accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action” during Israel’s 52-year occupation, said UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk


People run through tear gas carrying an injured woman on May 15, 2018 in Gaza City, Gaza. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, December 31, 2019

A United Nations human rights researcher on Tuesday hailed the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to pursue a formal investigation of alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel as a “momentous step forward in the quest for accountability.”

“Over the years, the international community has adopted hundreds of resolutions through the United Nations condemning various features of Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory. Yet rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel.”
—Michael Lynk, U.N. special rapporteur 

“Accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action throughout the 52-year-old occupation,” Michael Lynk, the U.N. special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, said in a statement.

“Over the years, the international community has adopted hundreds of resolutions through the United Nations condemning various features of Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory. Yet rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel,” he continued. “Now, the possibility of accountability is finally on the horizon.”

As Common Dreams reported, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced on Dec. 20 that after a nearly five-year preliminary probe “there is a reasonable basis to proceed” with an investigation based on evidence that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

With his statement, Lynk—who was appointed to his position by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016—joined a chorus of human rights experts and advocates worldwide who have welcomed the ICC’s announcement.

Lynk noted that Bensouda revealed in her announcement that she is first seeking a ruling by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber to confirm the territory over which the court can exercise its jurisdiction—a decision that has led some critics to express concerns about delayed accountability.

“In a world that proclaims its devotion to human rights and a rules-based international order, it is vital that the international community defend the decision of the ICC prosecutor to advance her investigation and to seek a favorable ruling from the Pre-Trial Chamber on the issue of territorial jurisdiction,” Lynk said, urging the global community to “resolutely” support international laws and institutions.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he added. “Should the allegations of war crimes then proceed to the formal investigation stage, every effort must be made to advance the work of the prosecutor’s office in a reasonably speedy manner consistent with legal fairness, so that the many victims of this conflict can realistically hope that justice might yet prevail within their lifetimes.”

As Bensouda detailed (pdf) in a document submitted to the Pre-Trial Chamber earlier this month, “there is a reasonable basis to believe” that war crimes have been committed in the occupied territories by not only members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli authorities but also members of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups.

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Trump strategy to stifle campus organizing for Palestinian rights


UNC-Chapel Hill Students for Justice in Palestine, December 24, 2012. (Photo: Facebook)

Josh Ruebner, Mondoweiss, December 12, 2019

President Trump signed yesterday an Executive Order empowering the federal government to crack down on campus organizing for Palestinian rights under the guise of combating antisemitism. 

“This is our message to universities: If you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject antisemitism,” Trump stated during a White House Hanukkah reception which doubled as a signing ceremony.

But Trump’s Executive Order has nothing to do with combating the scourge of antisemitism, the revival of which he is greatly responsible for by stoking white supremacy. Instead, it is primarily designed to pressure universities to disallow students to boycott for Palestinian rights. 

This aim, however, is not self-evident in the text of the Executive Order, which omits any reference to Israel, Palestinians, or BDS. The true intent of Trump’s action is obfuscated in a brief mention that government agencies “shall consider” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and its associated contemporary examples of antisemitism in determining whether Jewish people have had their civil rights violated under Title VI of Civil Rights Act.

To be clear, the federal government should ensure that the civil rights of all religious minorities are upheld. And, also to be clear, what the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism describes, along with many of its contemporary examples, are unambiguously and unimpeachably anti-Jewish bigotry.

However, some of the IHRA’s examples of antisemitism touching upon criticism of Israel are problematic. These include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

These vague and subjective examples are designed to be flexible enough to cover large swaths of First Amendment-protected free speech. For example, campus Zionist groups could argue that Jewish students’ civil rights are being violated if a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter advocates for a single, democratic state in which indigenous Palestinians would have equal rights to Jewish Israelis; hosts an academic panel deconstructing Israel’s foundational racist policies and laws; or organizes a campus boycott of Israeli goods to protest Israeli governmental policies without simultaneously and with equal vigor organizing boycotts against every other single country in the world with a parliament.

While the text of the Executive Order requires this background knowledge to understand its real impact, the Trump administration’s dubiously entitled “fact sheet” accompanying the order necessitates no such digging. 

Immediately under a bullet point noting “horrific acts of violence against Jewish Americans and synagogues in the United States,” the Trump administration oh-so-subtly pivots to a smear campaign against “18 Democrat [sic] Members of Congress [who] cosponsored legislation in support of the anti-Semitic ‘Boycott, Divest, Sanctions’ (BDS) movement,” claiming they “shockingly compared support for Israel to support for Nazi Germany.”

In fact, the resolution in question, H.Res.496, introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), reaffirms in general terms the First Amendment right of people to engage in boycotts and maintains that “Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad,” including “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.” 

These aptly-named bullet points are the quintessence of the Trump administration’s weaponization of antisemitism and its concomitant Islamophobia.

It is worth noting that the president resorted to this Executive Order only because a similar legislative effort has stalled in Congress due to First Amendment concerns. The order mirrors the misleadingly-named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which is currently languishing in committee and has failed to pass previous congressional sessions.

It is also important to acknowledge that Trump’s Executive Order was not issued on a whim but as the culmination of a deliberate strategy to stifle campus organizing for Palestinian rights. On the campaign trail, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman menacingly pledged that “the Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.” And the FBI has dutifully responded by siccing its agents on students who would threaten the supply of Sabra hummus in cafeterias. 

The Trump administration stepped up its attack on students organizing for Palestinian rights by nominating Kenneth Marcus to be the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Marcus has spent the better part of his career filing baseless Title VI discrimination claims against student organizers for Palestinian rights, trying to defund Middle East Studies programs demonstrating insufficient fealty to Israel, and advocating for the IHRA antisemitism definition.

Last year, Marcus wrote a letter to the Zionist Organization of America announcing that the Office of Civil Rights was now unilaterally employing the controversial IHRA definition and examples of antisemitism in its investigations. This move was made absent regular interagency coordination or a public comment period. 

Trump’s Executive Order provides Marcus with the post-facto regulatory justification he needs to bolster his hasty fiat. 

The stage is now set for an even more unprecedented governmental crack down against student organizers for Palestinian rights.

Josh Ruebner is Senior Principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books).

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