The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) is the target of a $90 million lawsuit that accuses the group of engaging in environmental terrorism.
The legal action was brought forward by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and 12 Americans citizens who live in Israel last month. Although they’re identified as the KKL-JNF in Hebrew, the group is widely known as the Jewish National Fund. The complaint alleges that USCPR has funneled money to the Boycott National Committee (BNC) to be used for terrorist activities and that BNC is directly connected to HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front-General Command and the Palestinian Liberation Front. The group’s press release on the action asserts that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement itself is a “campaign of terror against Israel.”
According to the lawsuit, USCPR helped bankroll the release of balloons from Palestine. These balloons allegedly started fires and caused “extreme emotional pain” for residents of Israel. “[M]embers of the public have been denied the use and enjoyment of KKL-JNF forests and public areas including scenic trails, recreation areas, bicycle trails and public areas and amenities provided by KKL-JNF and others for their use and enjoyment, as the rockets, incendiary terror balloons and kites have interfered with the public’s health, safety and peace,” reads the complaint.
The lawsuit fits into an emerging pattern of pro-Israel legal organizations using the practice of lawfare, or the use of the legal system to damage or delegitimize political opponents, in attempts to hamper the BDS movement. The evidence cited in the lawsuit was compiled by the International Legal Forum, a group with connections to the Israeli government. A recent In These Times report by journalist Alex Kane details how pro-Israel groups partner with the country’s government in an effort to defund BDS activities throughout the world. Kane revealed that, in early 2018, the International Legal Forum joined forces with the Shurat HaDin–Israel Law Center and Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs to terminate the financial accounts of BDS groups. BNC’s Donorbox account (which the group used to fundraise) was shut down as part of that effort.
“The open collaboration between the Ministry and Israeli nonprofit groups to shut down the financial infrastructure of Palestinian rights groups is a new front in Israel’s battle against the nonviolent BDS movement,” wrote Kane.
“[KKL-JNF], which displaces Palestinians from their land for Jewish-only use, is perversely claiming that its business operations are harmed by the USCPR’s peaceful advocacy for Palestinian rights,” Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood told Mondoweiss, “The lawsuit is a ludicrous abuse of U.S. courts to silence calls for Palestinian freedom, revealing how threatened it is by the growing movement.”
KKL-JNF’s lawsuit was filed by Heideman Nudelman & Kalik. The firm’s website identifies the pro-Israel, anti-impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz as part of its Associate Counsel Team. Dershowitz has spent the last month fighting sexual abuse accusations from Virginia Giuffre, a victim of the late, alleged pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Dershowitz was able to secure a plea deal for Epstein in 2008, but Giuffre’s lawyers are currently trying to obtain communications between the two men.
USCPR released the following statement to Mondoweiss in response to the allegations:
At the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, we are clear about what we stand for: freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people in a world without racism and oppression. Movements for social justice and for freedom have always been attacked and the law has often been twisted to silence advocates of justice. The solidarity movement for Palestinian rights is no exception, particularly in the current atmosphere of intense right-wing repression. We will not succumb to legal intimidation by those who would continue to deny the Palestinian people their right to live in safety and freedom.