Legal initiative launched to fight back against harassment of Palestine solidarity activists

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
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Irvine A security officer removes a student who disrupted the Israeli ambassador’s speech at the Irvine campus of the University of California  (Photo: UprisingRadio.org)

Legal help for Palestine solidarity activists facing harassment and repression in the U.S. is on the way. Two leading civil liberties groups in the U.S. have launched what they’re calling the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support initiative, a resource for activists focused on Palestinian rights.

The initiative is being run by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The website dedicated to the project indicates that the initiative is focused on providing legal support for Palestine solidarity activists. The harassment and repression solidarity activists face includes spying from police agencies and legal claims filed against universities.

“This legal support initiative comes at a crucial time and responds to growing efforts to obstruct advocacy in support of Palestinian rights and brand it as anti-Semitic,” Baher Azmy, CCR’s legal director, said in a statement.

Here’s more from a press release:

The initiative will track incidents of repression and provide legal support to advocates facing legal and other challenges to their activism. Attorneys familiar with the issues that activists face will respond to questions related to Palestine solidarity organizing and to requests for advice and legal assistance. The initiative also provides advocacy support, as well as trainings and other resource materials.

CCR and NLG stand with advocates for Palestinian rights as part of their mission to fight for human rights accountability more broadly. Both organizations are dedicated to supporting activists and movements engaged in efforts to achieve social justice. The Student Speech Working Group is a coalition dedicated to supporting the free speech of students advocating for Palestinian rights, and other Muslim and Arab student activists. The coalition includes the Asian Law Caucus, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the Council on American-Islamic Relations – San Francisco Bay Area, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other individual lawyers and students.

Activists who have questions or need support can request help and resources by going to palestinelegalsupport.org, calling (312) 212-0448, or emailing [email protected] Attorneys cautioned that confidential facts about a situation should not be shared on the webform or via email. Attorneys working with CCR, NLG and other partners will respond to inquiries.

The initiative represents a concerted effort to forge coalitions between student groups, other Palestinian rights activists and civil liberties lawyers.

The formation of the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support group comes at an opportune time. For years, Israel lobby groups have filed Title VI claims against universities in California for allegedly allowing an “anti-Semitic” environment to flourish. Title VI is a key part of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against anyone on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Last Spring, Israel lobby groups led by the Zionist Organization of America successfully lobbied the Obama administration’s Department of Education to extend that protection to Jewish students. That decision opened the gates for a number of so far unsuccessful Title VI claims against universities. Many of the claims of anti-Semitism center around Palestine solidarity activism like mock checkpoints and fake separation walls that Students for Justice in Palestine groups utilize to mobilize action against Israeli human rights abuses.

California campuses have been at the center of many of these battles. A Title VI complaint filed against the University of California, Berkeley alleges that the university has allowed a “hostile environment” for Jewish students to flourish. 

In December 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union said that the complaint against Berkeley raises “constitutional red flags” and reflects “either a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment, or an attempt to persuade the government to use its power to restrict speech based on its content and political viewpoint.”

In addition, California activists are battling HR 35, a bill that conflates activism with anti-Semitism and singles out the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Palestinian rights activists are also concerned about a “campus climate” report on Jewish students that recommends prohibiting so-called “hate speech.”

But it’s not only campus activists that are experiencing trouble with authorities over Palestine solidarity activism. As Mondoweiss has reported, both the New York Police Department and the Boston Police Department (working with the FBI) have spied on Palestine solidarity activists. And the “material support” law related to terrorist groups has been used in a variety of contexts to crack down on Palestine solidarity.

For instance, in 2011 the U.S. government warned activists on the U.S. Boat to Gaza that they were at risk of prosecution if they delivered “material support” to Hamas.
 

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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3 Responses

  1. Hostage
    January 28, 2013, 3:56 pm

    Last Spring, Israel lobby groups led by the Zionist Organization of America successfully lobbied the Obama administration’s Department of Education to extend that protection to Jewish students. That decision opened the gates for a number of so far unsuccessful Title VI claims against universities.

    Not quite. In September of 2004, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a series of policy statements announcing that for the first time, it would assert jurisdiction to pursue claims alleging harassment of Jewish and Arab students.

    Kenneth L. Marcus, (then) Staff Director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that OCR issued a public “Dear Colleague” letter informing recipient institutions of its new enforcement approach. This guidance letter, issued to over 20,000 colleges, universities, public school districts, and state education departments, announced OCR’s decision to “exercise its jurisdiction to enforce the Title VI prohibition against national origin discrimination, regardless of whether the groups targeted for discrimination also exhibit religious characteristics” and thus “aggressively investigate alleged race or ethnic harassment against Arab Muslim, Sikh and Jewish students.” See Kenneth L. Marcus, Anti-Zionism as Racism: Campus Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 15 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 837 (2007), link to scholarship.law.wm.edu

    So this has been going-on since the Bush administration. It’s nice to see someone is finally going to push back regarding the atmosphere of harassment and repression on campus that Jewish groups have created for Arab Muslim students.

  2. Annie Robbins
    January 28, 2013, 5:20 pm

    great news, great reporting alex.

  3. W.Jones
    January 29, 2013, 3:23 am

    Congratulations to the NLG and CCR!

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