February 5, 2019, Washington, D.C. – Last night, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against Dr. Steven Salaita over the American Studies Association’s (ASA) resolution to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The entire lawsuit against the ASA and other individuals was dismissed as well. Dr. Salaita, who is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, joined the board of the ASA after the boycott decision was made, but was nonetheless added as a defendant to a lawsuit filed by four ASA members. He is an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights who was unlawfully fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for tweets criticizing Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.
“I'm thrilled that this baseless case has been dismissed. It served no purpose other than persecuting those who dare to criticize Israeli policy and seek to end the occupation through peaceful means,” said Dr. Salaita. “Our victory further illustrates that it's important to stand firm against attempts to silence those devoted to the cause of justice.”
The case was filed in April 2016, claiming that the resolution to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions violated the ASA’s by-laws and the ASA officers breached their fiduciary duties. In March 2018, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add several new defendants, including Dr. Steven Salaita, who did not join the ASA board until two years after the vote. The Center for Constitutional Rights moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs had failed to establish jurisdiction over Dr. Salaita and failed to state any claims against him. Dr. Salaita was clearly sued for his advocacy around boycotting Israel, which is protected by the First Amendment. Last night, the judge found the plaintiffs had failed to show they suffered injury sufficient to be in federal court, and that they lacked standing to sue on behalf of the ASA.
“These desperate lawsuits brought to silence advocates of Palestinian rights are not only losers—they’re helping to grow the movement by making even clearer who’s on the wrong side of history, who is the aggressor, who is unreasonable, and who wants to silence debate,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “Freedom, justice and equality have always been on the right side of history.”
This lawsuit is part of a broader nationwide phenomenon suppressing speech critical of the state of Israel and in support of Palestinian rights. Advocates have documented censorship efforts on college campuses, against public libraries, and at other institutions, targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks to withdraw economic and social support for human rights violations by the state of Israel. Advocates for Palestinian human rights have lost jobs and incomes, been punished, and faced harassment for their advocacy.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights also represents former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op who were sued over the co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods. That case was dismissed last year because plaintiffs failed to show that the co-op suffered any injury. See Davis v. Cox.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.