US Supreme Court upholds free speech in Palestinian rights advocacy case

Does the high court's decision mark a significant moment for free speech and Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S.?

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to review a lawsuit against the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR). This case, initially brought by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), claimed that the USCPR provided “material support” for terrorism through its advocacy for Palestinian human rights. The high court’s decision marks a significant moment for free speech and Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S.

The lawsuit, Jewish National Fund v. U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, originated with the JNF’s accusation that USCPR’s support for Palestinian human rights amounted to providing “material support” for terrorism. This legal challenge was seen as a direct attack on the free speech rights of those advocating for Palestinian causes.

Prior to reaching the Supreme Court, the case was dismissed by lower federal courts. A federal judge initially dismissed the lawsuit in March 2021, finding the plaintiffs’ arguments unpersuasive. This dismissal was subsequently upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed that the accusations did not hold legal merit.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of USCPR, expressed relief and determination. Abuznaid stated, “There’s no lawsuit in the world that can stop us from pushing our demands for human rights. We will remain focused on opposing Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people and pursuing justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.”

USCPR’s work involves fiscal sponsorship of the Boycott National Committee and support for the Great Return March, a series of protests demanding the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes. These activities, though controversial, form the core of USCPR’s advocacy efforts for Palestinian rights.

The JNF’s lawsuit alleged that USCPR’s advocacy during the Great Return March constituted a violation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The JNF, established in 1901 to acquire land for Jewish settlement in Palestine, claimed that USCPR’s actions directly supported terrorism.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case effectively upholds the lower court’s rulings, which have dismissed the JNF’s allegations. This decision is a significant affirmation of the right to free speech, especially in the context of advocacy for contentious international issues like Palestinian rights.

Legal experts have voiced support for the Supreme Court’s decision. Diala Shamas, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, commented, “The JNF’s accusations were baseless, as recognized by the district court, the court of appeals, and now confirmed by the Supreme Court. Now, as the government of Israel is carrying out an unfolding genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, it is more important than ever that activists be free to speak out without fear.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case marks a pivotal moment in the protection of free speech rights, particularly for those advocating for Palestinian human rights. The ruling reinforces the legal standing of advocacy groups like USCPR to continue their work without fear of unfounded legal reprisals.

“This is an important victory,” said Diala Shamas, “But USCPR shouldn’t have been subjected to these smears in the first place.”

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