Mondoweiss / March 3, 2023
“I hope that the ruling will deter pro-Israel outfits with no means of winning a debate beyond harassment and defamation from trying to impoverish those of us committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian people,” Dr. Steven Salaita said in a statement.
After nine years of legal battles the Superior Court of Washington, DC has dismissed a lawsuit targeting academics over their support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The case was dismissed on the basis of a DC law aimed at discouraging Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are often used as a means to stifle and censor certain viewpoints by burdening public advocates with legal fees.
“This ruling should send a clear message to those trying to silence advocates speaking out against Israel’s human rights abuses: boycotts are legally protected, and attempts to stifle such advocacy through the misuse of courts will not be tolerated,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Astha Sharma Pokharel, “These lawsuits will face strong opposition that will only grow the movement for justice and freedom in Palestine.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights represented the defendants in the case.
In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted on a resolution honoring Palestinian civil society’s call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Over 66% of members endorsed the measure. “We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA,” read a statement from the organization’s National Council at the time.
The pro-Israel Louis Brandeis Center sued the ASA in 2016 on behalf of four members of its members who opposed the resolution. The case was dismissed in 2019, but the group filed a complaint in the D.C. Superior Court. That effort was also dismissed, but the D.C. Court of Appeals was ordered to consider it again after the defendants launched their own appeal.
One of the defendants was Dr. Steven Salaita, the Palestinian rights advocate who was unlawfully fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over tweets attacking Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The plaintiffs amended their lawsuit to include Salaita in 2018 despite the fact that he joined the ASA two years after they held the resolution vote.
“I welcome the judge’s decision to dismiss this long-running lawsuit as a waste of time and money,” said Salaita in a statement. “I am happy to finally be freed of this burden and hope that the ruling will deter pro-Israel outfits with no means of winning a debate beyond harassment and defamation from trying to impoverish those of us committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.”
In recent years a number of academic organizations and campus groups have endorsed the BDS movement, often leading to backlash from pro-Israel organizations. State authorities in New York recently opened a probe into the City University of New York (CUNY). The complaint that sparked the investigation alleges that Zionist and Jewish are being discriminated against because the faculty at CUNY Law School unanimously voted to endorse BDS. Additionally, New York Councilwoman Inna Vernikov pulled $50,000 in funding to a university program that provided free legal services in response to the BDS endorsement.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss