STUDY: Advocating for Palestinian Human Rights Could Make You a Target

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 01, 2015

From job loss to lawsuits, a new report reveals what it describes as the true cost of advocating for Palestinian human rights in the United States.

The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US” uses incidents reported to legal and advocacy organization Palestine Legal to assert that individuals and groups that are critical of Israel’s policies regarding Palestine are routinely censored and punished. Palestine Legal reports that in the first six months of 2015 alone, it responded to 140 incidents of censorship, punishment or "other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights." They cite another 33 requests for legal assistance in anticipation of such treatment. A full 80 percent of the reports involved students or university faculty. Palestine Legal created the report in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights

“In the U.S. we have free speech rights that are meant to protect those who challenge the status quo, yet some groups who defend Israel’s policies are attempting to strip those protections from Palestinian rights activists,” Dima Khalidi, Palestine Legal’s founding director and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a press statement. “The tactics being used across the country to silence one side of a debate undermine both First Amendment and democratic principles.” 

The report cites those tactics, including:

Accusing activists of anti-Semitism and support of terrorism. Palestine Legal says that some prominent pro-Israel groups—they name 16 in the report—monitor the speech and activities of Palestine advocates and conflate criticism of Israeli political policy with anti-Semitism. According to the report, these groups also accuse critics of supporting or sympathizing with terrorism without evidence. 

Denunciation. The pro-Isreal groups, the report says, pressure institutions that promote Palestine human rights to publically disavow advocates.

Bureaucratic barriers. The report cites cases where university officials have altered polices to prevent or impede pro-Palestine student organizing. These include mandating advance approval for events and promotional materials and charging pro-Palestine groups security fees.

Event cancellations. Universities, the report says, cancel, move or alter programming that is critical of Israeli policy.

Sanctions. Universities investigate and discipline pro-Palestine students differently than those who work with pro-Israel groups, the report alleges.

Threats to academic freedom. The report says that academics who support Palestinian human rights are routinely blacklisted, demonized and even fired.

Lawsuits. The report accuses some pro-Isreal groups of filing lawsuits and administrative civil rights complaints to intimidate Palestinian rights advocates.

The Palestine Legal report also includes recommendations for reversing what the nonprofit considers to be a trend. These include: The review of university policies to be sure they protect academic freedom; the government clearly distinguishing between criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism; investigations that allow for due process and First Amendment protection; the removal of barriers that block pro-Palestine student groups from advocating; clarify that expression that criticizes unlawful policies does not lead to a hostile environment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.