USACBI celebrates court victory over anti-boycott lawsuit

The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel stands with the American Studies Association in celebrating the dismissal by a District of Columbia Superior Court of a spurious lawsuit targeting the ASA membership’s 2013 vote to boycott Israeli Universities. The ruling finding that this was a SLAPP suit–or a strategic lawsuit against public participation–is a decisive blow to Zionist organizations that seek to curtail BDS work, and to punish those working for a free Palestine.

The lawsuit in DC Superior Court brought by the Louis Brandeis Center and individual pro-Israel members of the ASA (Simon Bronner, Michael Rockland, Michael Barton, and Charles Kupfer) was filed by the plaintiffs in 2020. This followed their initial lawsuit in federal court, first filed in 2016, which was dismissed with prejudice. Both lawsuits are prime examples of Zionist lawfare–pure legal harassment meant to discourage academic boycotts and BDS work. Even as they purported to have the interests of the Association in mind, those initiating the suit wreaked financial havoc on the scholarly organization. They also seriously harassed and sought to defame the individual plaintiffs named in the suit: its then-executive director, John Stephens, and eight former ASA officers or committee members, many of them distinguished scholars of color and/or LGBTQ+, and five of them USACBI Organizing Collective or Advisory Board members: Lisa Duggan, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Sunaina Maira, Curtis Marez, Jasbir Puar, Chandan Reddy, Steven Salaita, and Neferti Tadiar.

Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued statements affirming the importance of this ruling, for BDS organizers, and for the movement for Palestinian liberation.

“This victory comes as Israel is intensifying its attacks on Palestinian civilians and underscores the importance of boycotts and other campaigns for Palestinian rights,” said senior Palestine Legal staff attorney Radhika Sainath. Palestine Legal filed an amicus brief in support of the ASA in the lawsuit. “We’re pleased the court recognized that this is an archetypical SLAPP suit brought by an anti-Palestinian organization that openly brags about using this tactic to chill speech supporting Palestinian rights.”

“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 Astha Sharma Pokharel, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “These lawsuits will face strong opposition that will only grow the movement for justice and freedom in Palestine.”

All of the USACBI organizers who were named in the lawsuit–J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Sunaina Maira, Jasbir Puar, Steven Salaita, and Neferti Tadiar–also celebrated the dismissal of this lawsuit, which was an attack on USACBI as well as on the ASA, the whole of the BDS movement, and the Palestinian people.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, a professor at Wesleyan University and an Advisory Board member of USACBI noted, “The aim of the legal attack was to intimidate those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but it had the opposite effect – emboldening us to mobilize even more support for the BDS movement.”

Sunaina Maira, a founding member of USACBI and a professor at UC Davis, stated, “This victory against Zionist lawfare is a victory for the BDS movement that has been fighting the lockdown on challenging Israel’s settler colonial violence. While justice is not ultimately won in courts, the current brutality against Palestinians sanctioned by the US makes it imperative for all of us here, especially in the academy, to do what is in our power to smash US exceptionalism regarding Palestine: to write, teach, and learn about Palestine, and to boycott Israel till apartheid ends!”

Rutgers University faculty member and USACBI Advisory Board member Jasbir Puar asserted that, “Despite these kinds of lawsuits, the BDS movement is stronger than ever.” “Lawfare” she observes, “ is designed to squash dissent, ostracize activists and scholars, and drain emotional and financial resources. Instead, we formed an amazing community of support and used the lawsuit to educate colleagues and grow the solidarity movement. Just as important as this legal victory are the connections we have nurtured and sustained with each other and with other movements for social justice.”

Steven Salaita, a USACBI Organizing Collective member now on the Advisory Board, said in a Center for Constitutional Rights press release, “I welcome the judge’s decision to dismiss this long-running lawsuit as a waste of time and money. 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.”

Barnard faculty member and USACBI Advisory Board member Neferti Tadiar echoed many of these sentiments, saying, “I am relieved and heartened by the public defeat of almost a decade of lawfare against our solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation. My gratitude goes to all those who stood with and supported us, not least of all Palestine Legal. Our commitment is only deepened. This is a victory for the Palestinian struggle!”

The USACBI Organizing Collective joins these comrades in welcoming this victory, and in refusing the tactics of intimidation directed against our movement, which have included not only individual attacks on our members, but the subpoenaing of USACBI email correspondence.

We have full confidence that the court’s dismissal of this case will further inspire other academic organizations to pursue the global boycott of Israeli universities. In 2022, the Middle East Studies Association became the most recent major academic professional organization to vote to support the academic boycott of Israel.  Other associations are involved in similar campaigns as we write. The movement for academic boycott was not stopped by this lawsuit, and the unequivocal dismissal of the lawsuit as a SLAPP case will further energize the struggle for justice in Palestine! We join our comrades in celebrating this monumental victory. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

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