Palestine Legal responded to 240 incidents of censorship, punishment, and other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights in 2015. While the vast majority of those incidents occurred on college and university campuses, lawmakers in Congress and at least 21 states introduced – often at the behest of Israel advocacy organizations – more than two dozen bills aimed at curbing Palestinian rights advocacy.
CCR and Palestine Legal sent copies of their report to legislative leaders in the following states:
- New York, where the state legislature was considering two sets of anti-boycott bills, including the blacklisting of individuals, non-profit organizations, and companies that advocate for BDS (one of four pending bills was amended to no longer blacklist individuals).
- California, where an anti-boycott bill passed through a legislative committee despite a legal analysis drafted by the committee’s counsel which warned that the bill “raises very serious and possibly insurmountable First Amendment concerns.”
- Pennsylvania, where the state legislature was considering three anti-boycott bills, one of which would defund colleges and universities that support BDS.
- New Jersey, where the state legislature was considering two anti-boycott bills, including one aimed at punishing academic associations that endorse BDS.
- And Ohio, where a bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott Israel was being considered in committee.
For more information about these bills, including a list of states where they have been introduced, visit http://palestinelegal.org/righttoboycott.
This mailing is part of a continuing effort to challenge bills that threaten core First Amendment-protected activity in support of Palestinian rights and raise serious due process concerns, following from the efforts of CCR, Palestine Legal, and other allies to challenge legislation in New York, California, Ohio, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, and the U.S. Congress. These bills are part of a growing trend of introducing legislation intended to silence Palestinian rights advocacy in numerous states and the U.S. Congress. For more information about other efforts to suppress First Amendment-protected activities in support of Palestinian rights, including other legislative efforts to restrict Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign efforts, see CCR and Palestine Legal’s report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the U.S.
The text of the cover letter sent alongside the report to New York lawmakers is below.
April 28, 2016
Dear Assembly Member:
Our organizations, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, write to share with you our enclosed report, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US,” documenting a pattern of suppression that targets protected speech in favor of Palestinian rights. The report is also available online at http://palestinelegal.org/the-palestine-exception.
Palestine Legal is dedicated to advancing the constitutional rights of people in the U.S. who advocate for Palestinian freedom. The Center for Constitutional Rights has been dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, including the First Amendment, for fifty years.
The global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and has gained momentum in the U.S. in recent years. BDS is a nonviolent strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians in their homeland when all other diplomatic efforts have failed to achieve their rights. Those who support human rights boycotts―like the boycott of Israel―see them as a peaceful means of putting an end to injustice, just as supporters of the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s, the California grape boycott in the 1960s, and the boycott of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s saw those boycotts as a means of ending injustices.
As the BDS movement grows in the U.S., so too have efforts to suppress BDS activism. Our report documents how Israel advocacy organizations routinely level false accusations of antisemitism and support for terrorism against Palestinian rights activists and even threaten and bring meritless legal complaints to restrict protected speech. Many of these attacks occur on college campuses. Universities have sometimes responded to pressure by stifling criticism of Israeli policy on campus, whether through erecting bureaucratic barriers to thwart advocacy for Palestinian rights, cancelling or restricting events, disciplining students or groups, or punishing faculty who speak out.
We are increasingly seeing lawmakers—often at the behest of Israel advocacy organizations—introduce bills aimed at suppressing Palestinian rights advocacy. Last year, Palestine Legal responded to 240 incidents of censorship, punishment, or other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights. This includes the introduction of legislation aimed at punishing, suppressing, or chilling Palestinian rights activism. Lawmakers in Congress and at least sixteen states are currently considering more than two dozen bills aimed at countering the constitutionally-protected right to engage in or advocate for BDS campaigns for Palestinian freedom.
Here in New York, lawmakers have introduced two such bills, S6378A/A9036 and S6086/A8220. These bills are misguided and unconstitutional attempts to punish and chill First Amendment-protected speech activity related to Palestinian human rights. We urge you to honor your commitment to upholding the U.S. Constitution by opposing these bills.
We trust that you will reaffirm bedrock values of free expression by opposing any legislation aimed at punishing constitutionally-protected boycott campaigns intended to bring about political, economic, or social change, including boycotts to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights. We hope the enclosed report will provide you with a broader context of the assault on advocacy for Palestinian rights and bolster your commitment to ensuring that expression on matters of public concern is not only tolerated in your state, but invited.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss these issues.
Director, Palestine Legal
Cooperating Counsel, Center for Constitutional Rights
Maria C. LaHood
Deputy Legal Director
Center for Constitutional Rights