From college campuses to community centers across the country, students and other activists have faced orchestrated and aggressive attacks when speaking in support of Palestinian rights. Many have had their viewpoints shut down and have even been called anti-Semitic. Once vibrant forums for free speech are becoming restrictive places where individuals daring to speak out against injustice are unabashedly bullied.
In response, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has launched the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support initiative in collaboration with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and other organizations. The resource is meant to ensure that Palestine solidarity activists have the legal support they need to exercise their First Amendment rights and continue organizing.
NLG member and CCR Cooperating Counsel Dima Khalidi said, "We are hearing more and more reports of Palestine solidarity activists being targeted—legally and otherwise—for speaking out about human rights violations against Palestinians. We intend to support them at this significant time, when the movement for Palestinian rights is starting to have an impact in the U.S. and a reactionary backlash is in full swing. As lawyers dedicated to supporting social justice movements, NLG members are a crucial part of this effort."
This campaign is the outgrowth of sustained NLG work over the past several years in defense of targeted solidarity activists and of CCR’s commitment to seeking accountability for human rights violations against Palestinians.
The National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee recognizes that the campus movement for Palestinian rights is a central battleground for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) organizing, for consciousness-raising, and of course, for Zionist groups to wage their campaign of legal bullying when Israel’s actions toward Palestinians are challenged. In response, the NLG’s Free Palestine Subcommittee helped to form the Student Speech Working Group in collaboration with CCR, the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Area Council on American-Islamic Relations, American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and others. The NLG and its partners are building a coordinated national support infrastructure for the Palestine solidarity student movement.
Since October 2011, the coalition has been active in several areas, including lending support to Palestine solidarity, Arab, and Muslim activist students to advocate for their free speech rights in the University of California (UC) “campus climate” assessment process. Through direct advocacy with campus officials and in coalition with grassroots student campaigns, the coalition has been aggressively fighting back against the assault on free speech. The coalition has also responded to Title VI investigations, as Zionist groups have begun to aggressively warp Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (prohibiting discrimination in federally funded educational institutions) into a tool for repressing students’ free speech rights on Palestine in particular. The coalition has supported student groups at Rutgers, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley by securing representation.
After the Florida Atlantic University group Students for Justice in Palestine faced a hailstorm of attacks and legal threats for posting mock eviction notices on dorm room doors, the coalition provided immediate legal advice and support, helped to find legal representation for student activists, and drafted a sign-on letter to the university in support of students’ free speech rights. Faculty members who came under attack for their sponsorship of forums with Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein also received support from the coalition. Lawyers provided hands-on initial legal advice, secured permanent representation, and prepared a memorandum on the California Public Records Act.
Through the launch of the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support initiative, students and other community activists can contact lawyers to request legal advice, seek advocacy support, or to report incidents of repression related to their Palestine solidarity activism or other Muslim and Arab student activism. Activists should get in touch if they:
- Face attempts to shut down their activism
- Believe their First Amendment rights to organize and protest have been violated
- Need legal advice about BDS or other campaigns
- Experience verbal or physical intimidation or assault
- Experience treatment that is different from other groups on campus
- Have questions about their rights to engage in activism.
The NLG and its partner organizations are proud to lend legal support to the vibrant movement for the liberation of Palestine.