[News] US court throws out lawsuit against academic boycott of Israel

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 5 12:54:48 EST 2019


  US court throws out lawsuit against academic boycott of Israel

Ali Abunimah <https://electronicintifada.net/people/ali-abunimah> - 5 
February 2019


A federal judge in Washington, DC, on Monday dismissed a lawsuit against 
the American Studies Association 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/american-studies-association> over 
its decision to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The ruling is a significant blow to efforts by Israel lobby groups to 
use courts to harass, intimidate and silence supporters of Palestinian 
rights in US universities – a tactic known as lawfare 

In April 2016, several current and former members of the ASA filed the 
against the group over its 2013 resolution backing the academic boycott 

In his 20-page ruling, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that 
the plaintiffs had no standing to file a lawsuit seeking damages on 
behalf of the ASA, and that their individual damage claims came nowhere 
near the $75,000 minimum required for them to seek relief in federal court.

At most, the individual plaintiffs could seek damages of a few hundred 
dollars to cover membership dues they allege were misappropriated, but 
they would have to find some other venue to pursue their claims, the 
judge found.

“The court basically said, in no uncertain words, that the plaintiffs 
suing ASA lied when they claimed to have ‘suffered significant economic 
and reputational damage.’” Radhika Sainath, senior attorney with the 
civil rights group Palestine Legal, told The Electronic Intifada. “But, 
as the court explained, ‘nowhere’ in the lawsuit could could the 
plaintiffs explain what that damage was. It didn’t pass the smell test.”

    “Desperate lawsuits”

“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,” Steven 
Salaita <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/steven-salaita>, one of the 
defendants, told The Electronic Intifada.

“Our victory further illustrates that it’s important to stand firm 
against attempts to silence those devoted to the cause of justice.”

In 2014, Salaita was fired 
by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for social media 
comments criticizing Israel’s assault on Gaza that year. He sued the 
university for breach of contract 
alleging administrators acted under pressure 
from pro-Israel donors, later settling the case 

Salaita then found himself targeted by the lawsuit against the American 
Studies Association.

Along with Salaita, the lawsuit named as individual defendants the 
academics and Palestinian rights advocates Lisa Duggan 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/lisa-duggan>, Curtis Marez 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/curtis-marez>, Avery Gordon, 
Neferti Tadiar, Sunaina Maira 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/sunaina-maira>, Chandan Reddy, 
Jasbir Puar, J. Kehaulani Kauanui and John Stephens.

“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,” Maria 
LaHood, deputy legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, 
told The Electronic Intifada.

LaHood, who represented Salaita in the ASA lawsuit, added, “Freedom, 
justice and equality have always been on the right side of history.”

The complaint alleged 
that a “cabal of USACBI leaders” surreptitiously took over the ASA and 
used their positions on its executive committee and national council to 
foist the boycott resolution on the association’s unsuspecting 
membership, misspending ASA money in the process.

As part of the solidarity movement, USACBI, the US Campaign for the 
Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, argues 
<https://usacbi.org/academic-boycott/> that Israeli academic 
institutions should be boycotted because they are complicit in Israel’s 
systematic violations of Palestinian rights.

    Driven by Israel lobby

The force behind the lawsuit was the Louis D. Brandeis Center 
an Israel advocacy organization that has for years worked to smear 
Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitism, and attempts to suppress 
it with frivolous lawsuits and bogus civil rights complaints 

Until February last year, the Brandeis Center’s president Kenneth Marcus 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/kenneth-marcus> was an attorney for 
the plaintiffs.

Last June, the Senate confirmed 
Marcus as the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the 
Department of Education, a position that potentially allows him to 
pursue his campaign to repress supporters of Palestinian human rights 
from within the federal government.

The lawsuit against ASA had previously suffered a major setback.

In March 2017, the court threw out the plaintiffs’ key claim 
that the ASA had acted beyond its charter by backing the boycott.

“The boycott resolution was aimed both at encouraging academic freedom 
for Palestinians and strengthening relations between American 
institutions and Palestinians,” Judge Contreras wrote at the time. 
“Thus, it was not contrary to the ASA’s express purposes.”

But Contreras allowed other claims to go forward – until he eventually 
threw the lawsuit out altogether.

“The Zionists can’t accept the extent of revulsion over Israel’s crimes 
so they imagine that any group that stands up for justice has been 
tricked and manipulated into doing so,” Mark Kleiman, the attorney for 
J. Kehualani Kaunui and Jasbir Puar, told The Electronic Intifada.

“This blindness partially stems from their own reliance on tricks, 
bribes and subterfuge to slow down what is rapidly becoming a mass 
movement,” Kleiman added.

“In this lawsuit they simply made up accusations and then pretended they 
had been harmed by the things they imagined people had done.”

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