Anti-Palestinian at the Core: The Origins and Growing Dangers of U.S. Antiterrorism Law

New white paper shows a decades-long campaign by Israel-aligned organizations to use U.S. anti-terrorism law against advocates for Palestinian liberation

Anti-Palestinian at the Core: The Origins and Growing Dangers of U.S. Antiterrorism Law, a white paper published by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, shows how core features of U.S. antiterrorism law were driven by anti-Palestinian agendas from the beginning. Such laws have been pushed by Israel-aligned groups exploiting moments of crisis in order to reflexively cast the veil of “terrorism” on Palestinians. Over time, these legal mechanisms, shaped by U.S. support for Israel, were expanded and “brought home” to repress other protest movements.

Read the white paper here

Since October 2023, there has been an upsurge in attempts to crack down on advocacy for Palestine in the United States, including demands to weaponize terrorism laws against student activists. These efforts are a dangerous attack on constitutionally protected speech and association. They also represent the culmination of a decades-long campaign by Israel-aligned organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to expand U.S. antiterrorism law to turn it against advocates for Palestinian liberation.

Telling this story is critical right now to prevent those seeking to silence Palestinian advocates from exploiting the current crisis, Israel’s U.S.-backed genocide. In the face of unprecedented popular criticism of Israel in the United States, Israel-aligned groups are working overtime to weaponize U.S. antiterrorism law to both criminalize a growing movement calling for justice in Palestine and to isolate Palestinians further.

This paper reconstructs the history of a joint U.S.-Israeli effort to suppress Palestinian opposition to Israel’s colonization of Palestine whether diplomatic, armed struggle, or other forms of protest. Key findings include that the earliest mention of “terrorism” in a federal statute, in 1969, dealt specifically with restricting humanitarian aid to Palestinians and inaugurated a pattern of rendering Palestinians synonymous with terrorism. Furthermore, the first and only time Congress has labeled a non-state group a terrorist organization was in a 1987 law aimed at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Understanding this historical context has important strategic implications for advocates seeking to challenge this fresh wave of anti-Palestinian repression.

In order to stop the use and expansion of antiterrorism laws, this white paper encourages decision-makers to:

  1. Publicly affirm the constitutional rights of Palestine advocates against malicious efforts to undermine them
  2. Reject efforts to expand terrorism laws to criminalize advocacy for Palestinian rights
  3. Cease treating organizations like the ADL as credible sources of information on these issues

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Last modified 

February 21, 2024