WASHINGTON, D.C., Friday, January 13, 2022 (WAFA) – A U.S. Palestinian rights group is confronting a challenge in a Federal Appeal Court equating the group’s engagement in advocacy for Palestinian human rights to ‘ international terrorism’.
In November 2019, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and several individuals who live in Israel near the besieged Gaza Strip filed a complaint against the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) alleging that the group is liable for militant attacks against Israelis and American citizens because of its support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Gaza's Great March of Return.
In 2021, a federal judge dismissed the case, saying the plaintiffs failed to establish a direct link between the UCPR’s activities and actual attacks against Americans.
The JNF then appealed the case and both sides engaged in oral arguments on Thursday at the US Court of Appeals in Washington.
In a press statement issued Thursday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who is representing the USCPR, said that the Palestinian rights group said that the Palestinian rights group asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a federal district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit brought by JNF and several U.S. citizens who live in Israel.
“Citing the speech and expressive activities of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), including its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the lawsuit argues that the group provided “material support” for terrorism,” CCR added in the statement.
In dismissing the suit in March 2021, the lower court said the arguments were, “to say the least, not persuasive.” The suit is part of a broader effort to criminalize and silence the political activities of supporters of Palestinian rights, advocates say.
“The worldwide movement for Palestinian freedom is growing,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “USCPR’s work to advocate for Palestinian human rights is a critical part of that freedom struggle, or else right-wing forces allied with the Israeli government would not be repeatedly trying to silence us. All the more reason to keep up our work to build toward justice for all.”
Headquartered in Jerusalem, the JNF is a quasi-state institution that acquires and administers land for the sole benefit of Jewish Israelis. The lawsuit alleges that USCPR bears responsibility for “incendiary terror balloons and kites” sent from Gaza onto JNF land during the Great Return March.
At issue are USCPR’s fiscal sponsorship of the Boycott National Committee and expressions of support for the rights and demands of Palestinians participating in the Great Return March, when Palestinians protested to demand respect for their right to return to the villages from which Israeli settlers expelled them in 1948. These two activities, the lawsuit claims, amount to a violation of the Antiterrorism Act, which prohibits “material support” for terrorism. The lawsuit fails to establish a direct connection between USCPR’s activities and terrorism. The charges are a mixture of guilt by association and bigoted insinuation, USCPR’s attorneys say.
“This lawsuit is no more than a fishing expedition that casts protected advocacy as a violation of the law. Smearing human rights advocates as terrorists is a tired and cynical tactic,” said Diala Shamas, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who presented the oral argument on Thursday.
Supporters of Palestinian rights face mounting attacks on their ability to engage in advocacy, from the United States to Germany to Palestine. In August 2022, the Israeli government raided and shut down the offices of seven leading Palestinian human rights groups in the occupied West Bank. It had previously designated many of these organizations as “terrorist” in an authoritarian effort to stop their essential human rights work.
Also representing USCPR are cooperating counsel Judith Chomsky and Beth Stephens.