by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.
A federal judge in Washington, DC, on Monday dismissed a lawsuit against theÂ American Studies AssociationÂ 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 â a tactic known asÂ lawfare.
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.
âThe court basically said, in no uncertain words, that the plaintiffs suing ASA lied when they claimed to have âsuffered significant economic and reputational damage.ââ Radhika Sainath, senior attorney with the civil rights group Palestine Legal, told The Electronic Intifada. âBut, as the court explained, ânowhereâ in the lawsuit could the plaintiffs explain what that damage was. It didnât pass the smell test.â
âIâm 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,âÂ Steven Salaita, one of the defendants, told The Electronic Intifada.
âOur victory further illustrates that itâs important to stand firm against attempts to silence those devoted to the cause of justice.â
In 2014, Salaita wasÂ firedÂ by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for social media comments criticizing Israelâs assault on Gaza that year. He sued the university forÂ breach of contract, alleging administratorsÂ acted under pressureÂ from pro-Israel donors, laterÂ 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 advocatesÂ Lisa Duggan,Â Curtis Marez, Avery Gordon, Neferti Tadiar,Â Sunaina Maira, Chandan Reddy, Jasbir Puar, J. Kehaulani Kauanui and John Stephens.
âThese desperate lawsuits brought to silence advocates of Palestinian rights are not only losers â theyâre helping to grow the movement by making even clearer whoâs on the wrong side of history â who is the aggressor, who is unreasonable and who wants to silence debate,â Maria LaHood, deputy legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, told The Electronic Intifada.
LaHood, who represented Salaita in the ASA lawsuit, added, âFreedom, justice and equality have always been on the right side of history.â
TheÂ complaint allegedÂ that a âcabal of USACBI leadersâ surreptitiously took over the ASA and used their positions on its executive committee and national council to foist the boycott resolution on the associationâs 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,Â arguesÂ that Israeli academic institutions should be boycotted because they are complicit in Israelâs systematic violations of Palestinian rights.
The force behind the lawsuit was theÂ 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 andÂ bogus civil rights complaints.
Until February last year, the Brandeis Centerâs presidentÂ Kenneth MarcusÂ was an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Last June, the SenateÂ confirmedÂ Marcus as the Trump administrationâs top civil rights enforcer at the Department of Education, a position that potentially allows him to pursue hisÂ campaign to repress supporters of Palestinian human rightsÂ from within the federal government.
The lawsuit against ASA had previously suffered a major setback.
In March 2017, the courtÂ threw out the plaintiffsâ key claimÂ that the ASA had acted beyond its charter by backing the boycott.
âThe boycott resolution was aimed both at encouraging academic freedom for Palestinians and strengthening relations between American institutions and Palestinians,â Judge Contreras wrote at the time. âThus, it was not contrary to the ASAâs express purposes.â
But Contreras allowed other claims to go forward â until he eventually threw the lawsuit out altogether.
âThe Zionists canât accept the extent of revulsion over Israelâs crimes so they imagine that any group that stands up for justice has been tricked and manipulated into doing so,â Mark Kleiman, the attorney for J. Kehualani Kaunui and Jasbir Puar, told The Electronic Intifada.
âThis blindness partially stems from their own reliance on tricks, bribes and subterfuge to slow down what is rapidly becoming a mass movement,â Kleiman added.
âIn this lawsuit they simply made up accusations and then pretended they had been harmed by the things they imagined people had done.â
~Electronic Intifada/Days of Palestine