- Hello, everyone. We’re just gonna give, all do, get started with intros as we give folks another minute to sort of file into the virtual Zoom room, but for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting my name’s Kendra Albert, I’m the Director of the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment, IfRFA, which is the host organization for this panel today, and I’m so, so excited to be hosting this conversation and basically getting to sit back and learn from this incredible group of panelists.
00:37 - And I wanna just sort of like open with a couple of thank yous and then sort of tee off our topic and then I’ll turn it over to Ahmad to actually run that run the conversation.
00:49 - But first, before I get started, I want to thank Khaled Beydoun and Afsaneh Rigot, who provided both like, a logistical as well as a substantive support for planning this event.
01:00 - Really grateful, I’m really grateful to them for making sure that we could pull together this incredible group.
01:08 - And I wanted to sort of say a little bit about IfRFA and how excited we are about this event and our support of this event.
01:14 - You know, when the sort of more recent social media censorship of pro-Palestinian voices was happening, it was not surprising to folks who had necessarily worked on social media censorship, or surprising to folks who had worked on pro-Palestine issues advocacy before, but it, I think, resonated for the first time with a new group of people about how this might impact advocacy online and who is being heard, but of course, this work goes back a long way.
01:45 - I remember when I was actually sort of researching for putting together this panel, finding Palestine Legal’s report from, I think it was 2015, on, yeah, seeing some nods, on what they called the Palestine exception to free speech law, and so our goal with this event is to sort of maybe, I don’t think in one hour we’re gonna remedy the Palestine exception to free speech law, but to bring to folks who may come at this from more of a First Amendment angle, some of the issues and questions and concerns that folks doing pro-Palestine advocacy have seen around social media, but also offline speech censorship, and to do that, I’m super thrilled to introduce Ahmad Abuznaid, who is the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and he’ll be moderating today, so I’m gonna give it to him, take a back seat and listen and learn, and I’ll just be wrapping up at the end.
02:44 - Like with all IfRFA events, please put questions in the Q&A box and although we have such amazing panelists that we may only have time for one or two questions, we’ll see if we can get there, but Ahmad, over to you.
02:59 - Thank you. - Hi, thank you, Kendra.
03:02 - Thank you to Khaled Beydoun, Jasjot, and everyone who’s been a part of putting this together.
03:09 - Really excited for this conversation. Once again, I’m Ahmad Abuznaid.
03:13 - I direct the United States Campaign for Palestinian Rights, AKA USCPR, and one of the reasons I’m most excited about this conversation is I feel like we’ve had it, you know, a bit segregated.
03:26 - We’ve talked about offline stuff and we’ve talked about online stuff, and today we have a collection of individuals that are gonna help us put it all together and understand what’s at stake for advocates, for the Palestinian cause, for Palestinians themselves, and the many ways we’re seeking to, you know, disrupt this oppression by advocating for justice.
03:46 - So, we’re gonna go around and actually ask for our panelists to introduce themselves.
03:52 - What I’d like is for each of our colleagues here to say their name, where they’re, you know, communicating to us from, and then a little bit about their organization and the work so that folks can have the background context needed for when we get into these questions.
04:09 - And so I’m going to ask that we start with Diala first, and then we’ll go to Radhika and then Nadim.
04:18 - - Hi, so just introductions. Hi everyone, My name is Diala Shamas.
04:23 - I’m a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
04:25 - We’re a legal and advocacy organization based in New York.
04:29 - I work on a range of issues in CCR, but sort of generally at the intersection of what’s called national security law and sort of human rights law or immigration law.
04:42 - A lot of my work has been around Palestinian rights, whether it’s defending Palestinian advocacy here in the US or working with Palestinians, sort of on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel.
04:58 - - Thank you, Diala. Radhika? - Hi everyone, my name is Radhika Sainath.
05:04 - I’m a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal.
05:06 - I’m based in our New York City office. We work closely with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Diala.
05:11 - For those of you who don’t know much about Palestine Legal, we are basically legal defense for Palestine activists in the United States.
05:20 - We provide legal support for people who are censored, punished, falsely accused for speaking out for Palestinian rights, and I oversee our in-taking casework.
05:31 - - Thank you, Radhika. Nadim? - Hi everybody, my name is Nadim Nashif.
05:38 - I’m the Director of 7amleh. 7amleh is a Palestinian rights organization that works to defend and promote Palestinian rights basically through monitoring and researching the policies and the actions of the different three governments: the Israeli government, the Palestinian authority and the defacto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.
06:02 - We also do a similar work in front of the internet companies, specifically the social media companies and the digital economy companies and their policies towards Palestinians, and we do work with the Palestinian Civic Society to empower them on digital advocacy tools.
06:20 - - Thank you, Nadim. So, I’m gonna actually stay with you here for this first question, and then we’ll get a chance to hear from Radhika and Diala.
06:29 - Nadim, what have we seen over the last few months that’s felt different to you, and what has been more of the same? - Yeah, so before speaking about the different, I think it’s important to see the picture in general, that there is a ongoing fight, fight and war of narratives.
06:49 - There is an ongoing, in the last few years, an attempt to suppress Palestinian voices on the online, and this takes in many shapes and forms, but it’s important to understand that there is a systematic effort that has been going on in the last few years, and the Israeli government has been using different tactics and strategies to implement this.
07:13 - Part of this is, are legislations that criminalize the human rights defenders of Palestinian activists.
07:20 - Part of this is developing and encouraging a whole industry of surveillance against Palestinians.
07:27 - Palestinians in the last few years have been a kind of a laboratory for the Israeli security establishment and Israeli companies to develop these technologies that actually later on are sold abroad, including to some of the Arab regions, we know then famous company FNSO and Adivision and others.
07:50 - Other kinds of tactics and strategies that they were used as basically to put heavy pressure on social media companies to adopt their own definition of incitement and their own definition of what is tourism and what is a kind of not legitimate speech on those platforms.
08:10 - Other tactics that have been used in the last years is to organize different groups.
08:16 - We kind of converse, basically, governmentally supported NGOs that are supported financially and also coordinated like ACTIL, 4IL and others that basically, together, they do mass reporting on Palestinian content, even without understanding what’s the content about or knowing the language, and obviously publishing lots of pages and content that’s supporting the Israeli narrative as an opposite toward what they have to have been doing with the Palestinian narrative.
08:53 - So, this is normally what’s happening, and this is the fight or the war that’s happening in the last year on the narrative, but on the other hand, what we saw in May, it’s the same war, but on steroids.
09:06 - So basically, a heavy pressure on the companies, the Israeli Cyber Unit working the.
09:13 - I mean, according to the Director of that unit, they had seven times more requests of take downs from the companies than what they are usually doing, and to understand that the Israeli Cyber Unit under the Israeli Ministry of Justice, through the different secretive agencies, they are systematically, as I mentioned, surveilling Palestinian social media, and basically asking for the take downs or what’s so-called voluntary take downs without any due process regarding Palestinian content, and this is what happened in May, basically was like, you know, as happening usually, but in so many, on so much more cases.
10:00 - I mean, 7amleh Center alone documented 600 cases in three weeks.
10:05 - We assume that there were thousands of cases.
10:08 - So, basically everything was amplified in that time, and all of these kinds of directly from the Israeli government or whether it’s, say, like, NGOs that are related and supported by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs or other groups who are intensifying their work to suppress the Palestinian voices at that time.
10:31 - - Thank you, Nadim, and thank you for the work of 7amleh to be able to give us some data and some chances to learn from some of these tactics of suppression.
10:41 - So, I’d love to shift over to, you know, our folks based in the US.
10:47 - Let’s have Diala go first and then we can get to Radhika.
10:52 - - Sure, and I’ll just step back even one more bit, ‘cause I’m not sure what level of familiarity folks in the audience have around this just general situation on the ground in Palestine, but in some, what we have been seeing in the late, in the latest months has been fairly unprecedented uprisings in not just where we’re sort of more used to seeing them, whether it’s the West Bank or Gaza, but also in Israel, right, in the, what we call, what Palestinians call 48, so areas where Palestinians who live there are citizens of Israel and where we’ve been seeing, I think in many ways, unprecedented connection of the issues that affect and impact Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank, both occupied territory, and Palestinians in 48, and it’s sort of moving beyond the usual international law narratives that have really focused on the law of occupation and speaking much more about, you know, fundamental questions of equality and justice.
12:04 - So that’s just like, a really big background to how, what we’re seeing.
12:11 - So, it feels like an opening in many ways, and then with new audiences too, right? People are hearing the message differently, globally, coming out of Palestine, and a lot of this was sparked by events in Jerusalem as the sort of process of the Israeli government policy of essentially, what we call ethnically cleansing or removing Palestinians from neighborhoods in East Jerusalem was reaching a fever pitch, in a couple of neighborhoods, Sheikh Jarrah provided sort of a, it’s a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, provided like a sort of particular example of this as they were facing some of what are called eviction proceedings, forced eviction proceedings in Israeli courts, but also efforts to, just massive marches by Israeli far right groups onto Jerusalem, and then solidarity from Palestinians in Gaza, you know, in response to these or viewed assaults on Palestinians in Jerusalem.
13:20 - So that’s all, you know, there’s been a lot of social media advocacy around these flashpoints, right? Places like Sheikh Jarrah, this is like the old city of Jerusalem, and then of course, inevitably with the massive Israeli military assault on Gaza and civilian deaths, seeing the sort of social media around that.
13:45 - So with this increased attention, you see the increased repression of efforts to go beyond, to have Palestinian voices reach outside of the usual mainstream media.
13:58 - Those efforts feel relatively successful, considering the amount of repression that’s faced and generally how these voices rarely make it to more mainstream media channels, and so I think that a lot of this suppression that we’re seeing is in direct response to that kind of increased attention.
14:18 - Another thing that seems different has been, you know, Nadim mentioned the way that social media companies have been removing content in large part at the request of, you know, organized efforts by the Israeli government.
14:37 - What we’ve seen on the US side is how these efforts to get, they sort of, I mean, this is a, to summarize, really, like, two main directions that this has taken.
14:55 - One is, and they’re both long standing, but again, as Nadim mentioned, kind of on steroids more recently.
15:02 - The use of the sort of antisemitism framework as a way, particularly the pushing of particular definitions of antisemitism that equate any criticism of Israel with antisemitism and hoping that social media companies and third parties, third party platforms adopt this redefinition of antisemitism.
15:25 - Oftentimes we’ll hear about it referred to as the IHRA.
15:29 - I’m hoping Radhika can get into that a little bit more.
15:32 - And so that’s kind of one way in which this is done.
15:35 - So we’re seeing, you know, very active efforts to get these social media companies to adopt these definitions, which then justify the removal of content that is critical of Zionism, of Israeli government policies and so on.
15:49 - And in the other direction that we’re seeing, again, increase is the use of anti-terrorism laws or regulations and the weaponization of these US anti-terrorism regulations to remove content from social media platforms, and that’s not the only ways, and I’ll talk a little bit more in the ways in which anti-terrorism laws are being used online and offline to suppress Palestinian speech, but I just kind of wanted to flag these two things.
16:18 - - Thank you so much, Diala. Radhika, you’re up.
16:25 - - Sounds good. So, you know, sort of along the lines of what Diala mentioned, you know, in Palestine, right? So, you have a situation where Palestinians, for over 70 years have been living in a situation of, you know, colonialism and apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and here in the United States, you know, people have been speaking out in support of Palestinian rights and against ethnic cleansing and the political ideology of Zionism, and what we’ve seen at Palestine Legal over the past few years, you know, we started in 2013, is that the movement for Palestinian rights has largely been student led, and this makes sense if, you know, if you think about sort of US history and who leads social justice movements, from the Civil Rights era to, you know, the Vietnam anti-war movement to the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1980s, often students were on the sort of cutting edge of activism and sort of free speech, right? And so when Palestine Legal started, you know, we started to be here for anyone whose free speech was censored because of a principled speech supporting Palestinian rights in the United States.
17:39 - But we, what we found was that about 80%, like the vast majority of people who came to us were either students or professors and, you know, in some ways this really made sense.
17:50 - You know, where change is happening, where were, where the activism was was also where the suppression was.
17:58 - And so, you know, in some ways it’s exciting to see this growing movement of Palestinian rights.
18:03 - You know, I just want to like, zoom out a little bit and not be all negative.
18:06 - Like, it is incredible to see how, how, I feel like the tide is changing in the United States.
18:12 - You know, I’m not normally like, so positive, living in the United States, when it comes to Palestinian freedom, and I will just say, you know, I’ve been an activist on this issue for almost 20 years now.
18:23 - I lived in Palestine during the second Intifada in 2002⁄2003 for about a year and a half.
18:28 - I lived in Gaza for a few months as well, so I’ve been involved in this issue for a long time now.
18:35 - So, what I’ve really noticed in the past, you know, since May, some things that have changed here in Palestine Legal that we’ve been seeing is that people are speaking out more, and it’s not just people who might call themselves activists.
18:50 - It’s not just those student activists or those progressive groups.
18:53 - It’s not lefty professors purely. You know, we track incidents of suppression, and since 2014, when we started tracking these numbers, we’ve responded to over 1,700 incidents of suppression.
19:06 - And that, by that, I mean, it’s just really what people come to us and report, so that’s just really just the tip of the iceberg.
19:12 - And so we’ve seen some patterns over time, but what we really saw recently is sort of what I’m gonna call regular people getting censored and punished.
19:22 - So it’s not like just leftists or people who kind of know what’s up when it comes to speaking up for Palestinian rights in the United States.
19:29 - You know, we’ve been getting calls from farmers, from, you know, doctors and healthcare workers, you know, people who work in fashion and beauty, I mean, big law, like private sector, publishing, media, like, you name it.
19:46 - Because people come to us confidentially, I can’t share with you all of these stories, but some of them are really high profile to just sort of, you know, regular people trying to go about their daily lives, who are really upset and horrified by what is happening in Palestine and maybe are new to the issue and hadn’t really understood what was happening there and felt compelled to speak out about it on social media often, or sometimes it’s really just in their workplace, and then they’re called in by their bosses, they’re told you need to delete all of your tweets supporting Palestinian rights or they’re fired, or they’re told, hey, and, you know, in a couple of cases, we’ve had people who deal in mental or health services and, you know, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the uprisings last year, they found that their employers, you know, put out statements in support of black lives, or in the wake of the hate crimes in Atlanta, the anti-Asian hate crimes, you know, their offices were trying to be supportive of their Asian clientele, and so they were like, oh, you know, now I have the space to do this for Palestinians.
20:51 - Some of them were Palestinians themselves, and then they find that, oh, wait, there’s this Palestine exception to free speech, right, now there’s complaints, and so they call us.
21:01 - So those are some of the changes that we’re seeing here and, you know, the move from like sort of like public censorship, which is still very much there.
21:09 - You know, I don’t want to say it’s not there, but we’re really seeing sort of like, regular people get involved in speaking out for Palestinian rights and getting censored and punished for that, so that’s one trend we’re seeing.
21:23 - - Thank you so much. So Radhika, we’re gonna stay with you, and we’ll have you lead off answering this next question, which is what are some of the ways we’ve seen success in defending freedom of speech on the issue of Palestine? - I will say, just getting that message out, that there is a free speech issue and talking about Palestine, right? And I just want to say, the report that Kendra mentioned in the beginning, we coauthored it with the Center for Constitutional Rights, so it wasn’t just Palestine legal, but that did come out in 2015, so six years ago, and that was like, no one had used that phrase.
21:58 - Like I think, you know, Palestinians knew what was up and some people really, you know, involved in the issue knew what’s up as far as the censorship and how hard it is to talk about Palestine in the United States, but I feel like that’s in the lexicon now more.
22:13 - Not, I mean, we need to, really need to get that message out more.
22:17 - There’s still a lot of problems, sort of a both sides sort of framing of it, which doesn’t recognize the power imbalance at all, but I think those are some successes as far as just lawyers’ successes, but I also want to just bring it back to the activists, ‘cause like, you know, we’re lawyers, we try to defend activists, but I just really think, you know, Palestinians have done amazing as far as just, like, continuing to resist, and I think the activists here in the United States are really just growing the movement and just getting the message out, and I think we should be, we have a long way to go, but I feel like the growth has just been exponential, and especially if you look at like the younger generation, like, millennials and younger, on college campuses, like, there’s just been a sea change.
23:11 - - Absolutely, I share your excitement, Radhika.
23:14 - We are shifting hearts and minds and thoughts daily.
23:17 - So Diala, you know, Radhika touched a little bit about legal and activist success we’ve seen, but, particularly on the legal strategies, you all have served as counsel for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and we were obviously being sued.
23:35 - You spoke about material support to terrorism.
23:38 - So, you know, what are some successful ways that we’ve been able to battle, you know, for this freedom of speech on Palestine, and in particular, you can touch a little bit of on the lawsuit, that would be great.
23:51 - - Yeah, absolutely. And we talked a little bit about that lawsuit, ‘cause it’s pretty emblematic of what one form of the many forms of attacks on Palestinian advocacy that we’ve seen, and just noting, ‘cause in the chat, there’s a lot of talk about, you know, the, sort of the fact that there’s plenty of Jewish Americans who are also being attacked.
24:17 - So when we talk about Palestinian advocacy, I think we’re talking about advocacy for Palestinian rights, and the speakers are oftentimes not just, you know, Palestinian, they’re all sorts of speakers, right? So that’s a really important point to note, but the US Campaign lawsuit is a really interesting one for several reasons.
24:39 - In addition to the fact that we have an amazing client, it was brought by the Jewish National Fund, which is, as well as some other individual plaintiffs who are all Israeli individuals.
24:55 - The Jewish National Fund is a sort of, in Israel, it’s a quasi state agency.
25:00 - In other words, it has legislatively acquired status where it sort of acts as partially in control of significant swaths of land, around 10% of the land in Israel, the part that was established in 1948, and so they have also international fundraising branches.
25:24 - I’m sure people are familiar with the little blue boxes across the US, very familiar in many Jewish communities.
25:31 - But the statute under which the, the lawsuit was brought is a US material support to terrorism statute, which is a criminal law, and then the civil provisions of JASTA, JASTA, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, I believe, which allows individuals to bring civil suits against, among other folks who are, who the plaintiffs accuse of providing material to terrorism.
26:04 - So, under this theory, which we’ve seen a lot being used against banks, Iranian banks, Lebanese banks, by victims of terrorism, that’s kind of been like the first gen of a lot of that litigation, and it’s still very much ongoing and it’s a pretty big multi-million, billion dollar industry, probably.
26:23 - The sort of next gen of these lawsuits are being brought against organizations like the US Campaign, and so the allegations are meritless, and in fact, the judge agreed with us.
26:37 - The Jewish National Fund claims harms to some of its trees that it planted along the Gaza border.
26:43 - The harm has come from the incendiary kites and balloons that Palestinian protesters and marchers in Gaza launched as part of the Great Return March, which was a series of marches planned by a sort of vast swath of organizations and individuals in Gaza and demanding the right to return of the refu- the right to return of Palestinian refugees, and that some of those incendiary kites and balloons and rockets launched from Gaza into Israel have burned some of the JNF trees and some of the plaintiff’s property, and so that is a harm that is alleged, and because the US Campaign, which is a DC-based advocacy organization that does all sorts of amazing work had fiscally sponsored the boycott committee, which is based in Palestine, that boycott, through a six degrees of separation theory, they are trying to sort of ping liability for the trees that were burnt, the JNF trees that were burnt onto the US Campaign.
27:52 - So, I tried my best to give the summary of what is a fairly elaborate and, frankly, absurd set of allegations, but the purpose of these lawsuits, and this is kind of to the broader point, is to silence and to chill and to deviate resources away from the important work that organizations like the US Campaign are doing to sort of defending and putting them in a posture where they have to sort of address these various terrorism allegations, and that is the crux of what we’re seeing in so many contexts, right, sort of constantly lobbing these allegations of terrorism against anything that Palestinians say or do, and distracting from the real issues on the ground that Palestinians are trying to talk about, right, this position of their lens of historic dispossession and their quest for justice.
28:44 - So after, you know, we filed a motion to dismiss, the judge agreed and granted the motion to dismiss, and of course, because this is about exhausting resources, the JNF filed a motion to reconsider that is pending, and so we continue to move forward.
29:03 - We’re pretty confident, but that doesn’t take away from the distraction and the resources, and that’s really kind of the point of these laws and sort of the material support to terrorism civil provisions, so the ability of any kind of individual to bring a claim and lodge a complaint in a federal court that sounds in terrorism, which is one of those, like, boogeyman words, it’s very scary, it takes the air out of the room when people hear it, is a big problem, because even though not, a lot of these cases aren’t necessarily making it to court, but CCR and Palestine Legal and many others know that organizations working on Palestinian rights, donors who are trying to support Palestinian rights, academics, journalists or, you know, folks who are basically being targeted by this network of Nadim called NGOs, right? Organizations that are, like NGOs that are sort of affiliated closely with the Israeli government have an explicit mandate and purpose of silencing support for Palestinian rights lodge threat letters constantly, right? There’s a very active, and this doesn’t make it on a court’s docket, so you’re not seeing it necessarily, but we’re hearing a lot about it because people come to us, frankly panicked about, you know, their potential liability, and they’re not used to hearing, you know, these words, material support to terrorism, and they certainly have nothing to do with any of that, but they are simply trying to advocate for Palestinian rights, and so it ends up being a lot of time and resources simply doing this defense work of advising people of what to do, trying to make sure that everything that people are continuing, could continue to be able to, whether it’s fundraise or advocate or travel and do the things that they want to be doing, to keep highlighting the sort of injustice on the ground in Palestine when faced with these kinds of allegations and these lawsuits, and a lot of these kinds of, these lawsuits are also on the minds of in-house counsel at every social media company that you all know about, and, you know, recently you all probably heard Zoom removed events by, that involved a number of Palestinian speakers, likely, and we don’t know this, but you know, this idea that you’re going to be maybe sued or maybe found liable under some various laws is sort of like in the back of everything, but it’s really surfaced and explicitly addressed.
31:45 - When it is, and when it has been, it’s always been shot down by courts, right, and I think I’d love it if Radhika could say more about the sort of equivalent pattern we’re seeing in the anti-BDS legislation, right? I mean, it’s not something, the chill is way more significant than the actual concrete impact of legislations and lawsuits.
32:06 - It’s the fact that people know that it’s out there, but they haven’t really fully had a chance to understand the sort of details of it, and that makes people want to not even approach or touch the whole issue.
32:19 - - Yeah, thank you, Diala. Obviously you all see, we have brilliant council and I’m thankful.
32:24 - Radhika, do you want to address that point right now, before we head over to Nadim? - Sure, on the legislation side of things, yeah, I mean, you know, since 2014, 220 bills have been introduced in the United States targeting speech supporting Palestinian rights, most of them targeting the boycott movement for Palestinian rights.
32:53 - Now, most of those failed. Actually, only 23 of those bills actually passed.
33:00 - No, I’m sorry, about 23% of those passed, but we, right now in the United States, we have 31 states with bills in effect, which is kind of nuts, right? On the other hand, you know, boycotts are protected, First Amendment protected speech in the United States.
33:18 - There’s a case from 1981, NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware where the Supreme Court made that crystal clear, right? So, because of that, you know, when we first saw these bills being introduced, you know, they tried to do things like anti-Palestine groups tried to do things like, you know, if you will allow an academic organization to pass a resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israel, we can defund your entire state school system of all funds.
33:50 - Like, there were these really crazy things, right? And, you know, thanks to organizing efforts, including with like teachers unions and different kinds of groups, including a lot of Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, those bills were increasingly watered down to where we right now have these bills, which are just like, I mean, here in the state of New York, for example, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order, which says, oh, you know, all companies who support BDS, you know, we’re gonna make a black list and then New York’s not gonna do business with them.
34:25 - And if you look at the black list, this was in 2016, it’s like 10 companies.
34:28 - They’re all European. No one’s really heard of them.
34:31 - It’s not really clear if they do any business with New York.
34:35 - It’s not even clear if they engage in BDS, you know, and everyone in New York who wants to support boycotts for Palestinian rights can continue and go about their business and do it, as they should, because it is their free speech right to do that.
34:48 - But I will say at the beginning, people were really confused and we got a lot of calls, and even today we still get calls, unusually, maybe it’s, you know, from people who are newer to the issue or community members, Palestinian community members that are not sure, and I think that’s really the purpose behind passing these laws or bringing these lawsuits, as Diala mentioned.
35:09 - There’s all kinds of complaints that are being brought in various contexts that have lost, and one of the architects of the complaint process, one that is bringing civil rights complaints to stop Palestinian rights, his name is Kenneth Marcus.
35:24 - He was formerly in the Trump Administration as the head of their Office for Civil Rights, and back before that, before he was in that position, he was, he wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post where he said, you know, it might seem demoralizing that we anti-Palestinian groups are losing all of these complaints, but rest assured, you know, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said, you know, there’s still, these complaints are still having their purpose because no one wants to be the target of a civil rights complaint, and because we were bringing these complaints, you know, people are afraid to join Students for Justice in Palestine and they’re afraid to speak out.
35:59 - So, I think really ultimately, at the end of the day, that is what these groups are trying to do: they’re trying to scare people from speaking up for Palestinian freedom and chill people, because it can be scary to be a target of these types of lawsuits or falsely accused of terrorism or antisemitism for taking a principal position for Palestinian rights.
36:19 - - Thank you, thank you, and so just for everyone, before we move to Nadim, these are organizations well worthy of your donation.
36:26 - Diala and CCR have obviously served as a counsel for us, and then of course, for Pal Legal, I’ve reached out to them several times personally when I was being defamed and targeted by different, you know, Zionist outlets, so.
36:41 - We’re gonna go ahead and shift to Nadim. Nadim, you posted a report for us here in the chat that I shared with everyone.
36:49 - I’m wondering if you want to talk a little bit about the report and also some of the successes that 7amleh’s seen in engaging this issue over the last few months.
36:57 - - Yeah, so basically in the last few months, we have been documenting all the, these kind of the take downs that I was talking about, and this report basically covers them and cover how the companies also act or obey.
37:14 - So basically, 7amleh is the trusted partner of the social media companies, as you know, so these social media companies, normally they need different stakeholders from the civic society and the different countries they operate, and they want people whom they can consult with, and basically, we try to document all these cases and to appeal and try to put them back, but also at the same time, I want to share with you another report, which we basically did during this time together with, actually, an Israeli company.
37:49 - We were also observing the incitement and what was happening on the other side, basically, because what’s happening is that there is this feeling that this is not being addressed at all.
38:05 - So it’s a situation where basically the cyber unit, like 95% of their work in the Israeli Ministry of Justice is to track and to monitor Palestinian content and to try to take it down as much as possible.
38:18 - On the other hand, we know that there are these kinds of very extreme right wing fascist groups who are organizing these attacks in mixed cities like Haifa, Ramle, Acre and the other places that Diala mentioned earlier.
38:37 - So, these attacks were organized and centralized through these chat applications, through these Facebook, and there was this huge amount of racism on this site that basically, this kind of is free, basically.
38:54 - I mean, the message that the Israeli government is sending is that if you are an Israeli Jewish, you are allowed to recite as much as you want, because nobody will really, like the law enforcement would not happen with you over the time that you’re reciting against Palestinians and Arabs.
39:12 - So out of the million, a million, 1,000,090 conversations that we monitor in these three weeks, there was around 183 conversations, around 80%, basically, of the conversations that mentioned Arabs and Palestinians in these three weeks were including hate speech, racism and incitement.
39:35 - So you can imagine like, the high level volume of this hate speech that nobody really deal with or address.
39:44 - On the other hand, I also want to speak about the issue of, like the successes or the shifts that we are seeing, especially as a person who was following social media, content moderation of these different platforms, I think that there is a change.
40:04 - I mean, things are not the same as they were in 2015 and 14, when basically we had like, totally, I mean, they totally ignored us in these platforms, and specifically in the last period, in the last evaluation, social media evaluation period.
40:23 - So, lots of Arab and international influencers on the social media who were stepping forward and saying, being vocal about Palestinians and justice.
40:34 - That should be happening on the social media.
40:37 - We saw lots of also different people organizing themselves and speaking out and trying to be there and to influence in different languages.
40:49 - We saw international solidarity more and more.
40:52 - Also from the global south, not only from Europe and the US that was happening, which is, was not the case.
41:02 - For example, if I compare like 2014, et cetera, these phenomenon hardly existed.
41:09 - There was much more by the mainstream media, coverage specifically regarding the content moderation policies, articles and reports that were criticizing Facebook and other companies that they were talking about these kinds of mob lynches in the streets of the mixed cities.
41:30 - I mean, this was covered by the New York Times and reports in Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets, which was hardly existing before.
41:40 - So, all of this, I think, created the pressure, certain pressure on the social media companies, and specifically I can speak about Facebook, that they were much more apologetic than before.
41:51 - They were trying to excuse things and to explain things.
41:54 - So we saw, for example, the phenomenon of shadow banning, this phenomenon where the reachability of the account and the pages were dropping suddenly when they start speaking about Palestine.
42:06 - That was not happening before, especially with the influencers and about hashtags that disappear and the Al-Aqsa hashtag, for example, on Instagram disappeared for three days.
42:17 - So later on, the head of Instagram, they published this PR communique saying that there was a glitch and there was a technical problem, and it’s a global one, and it’s not related to Palestine, et cetera, which obviously was not true, but just the issue of them speaking about what’s happened and try to explain and having these meetings with different stakeholders and then having meetings with Israeli officials, but then after that, having meetings with Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister.
42:49 - So all of these things that normally do not happen, they happen now, and we see a shift now.
42:56 - It’s obviously not the breakthrough that we want.
42:59 - I mean, we really want just transparent, what is it, of equal policy of content moderation and not just, you know, kind of excuses, and we are not there, but I, we see that there are changes that are happening.
43:14 - They are small, they are slow, but things are changing, at least comparing with a couple of years ago.
43:22 - - Thank you, Nadim. So appreciative of the work 7amleh is doing.
43:25 - I think just the ability to be able to talk about it with the data to back it up is incredibly helpful for us as advocates.
43:32 - So, we had a question come through the Q&A that actually situates perfectly with a question we wanted to ask.
43:40 - So, I’ll lift up the question from the audience member and then tie it in, and I’m gonna hand off to Diala.
43:45 - So the question was, can one use material supports terrorism against settler fundraising organizations like the JNF, you know, such as they were doing against USCPR? And so we also had a question we were gonna engage with around, you know, how do we develop an offensive strategy, or how do we go on the offense against all of these mechanisms? So I’m gonna hand off to Diala, and then we’ll get to the rest of our comments.
44:12 - Diala? - Yeah, great, it’s my favorite kind of question, both because it allows us to talk about some of the problems with the, using the terrorism framework, right, and not wanting to strengthen it, and like, I, you know, ultimately, material support to terrorism laws and various US terrorism laws are, if you look at the way that they’re being deployed, wildly being deployed against communities of color, enforced in ways that are discriminatory and chilling, right? So if you look at the material support to terrorism statute, which, as it currently stands after the United Supreme Court addressed a constitutional challenge in Holder v.
Humanitarian Law Project. Essentially, plaintiffs in that case were a number of mostly humanitarian and peace building organizations saying we would love to, we want to be engaging with and sort of providing legal training to organizations that are on the US terrorism list, like the Tamil Tigers, right, so can we provide them training on international law and how not to run afoul to international humanitarian law, for example, but we’re afraid to do so, because there’s this law on the books.
45:34 - And to us, it feels like we might be running afoul to this criminal law and the Supreme Court, unfortunately, in a very unfortunate decision, upheld the constitutionality of that statute, and essentially kept this really broad definition of material support to terrorism, which has largely chilled certain forms of charitable work, important, crucial, life-giving forms of humanitarian work in areas where the, where organizations that are designated by the US government as terrorist organizations operate.
46:10 - So Afghanistan, Somalia, certainly Gaza with Hamas, and most Palestinian political parties are designated under the US terrorism system.
46:20 - So, anything that props that up is generally something that I would seriously question.
46:29 - In fact, a lot of our work, and one of the things that I think we really need to be engaging with as, especially if there are folks here who are interested in sort of the First Amendment and civil liberties and sort of putting their legal minds to work around these issues is how do we start dismantling that regime because of how silencing and damaging it has been to some communities and not others.
46:54 - Now, that is not to say that we shouldn’t be thinking about creative ways to hold accountable a lot of these groups and these individuals and these organizations that are directly involved in violating Palestinian rights, and that’s really where I want us to be spending our time, and when we’re stuck doing the defense work, unfortunately, but I’d like to at least be doing 50% of my time of also kind of keeping the focus on where we want it to be and not just, not just defending against false accusations, but also turning the tables and putting the, shining the light back onto where it needs to be, which is on what Palestinians are saying and what Palestinians are demanding, and a big part of that has been what are you in the US doing supporting all of these organizations on the ground in Palestine that are, you know, in Israel and in Jerusalem, which is occupied, that are driving the settler movement that are actively involved in depossessing people from their homes? These are US individuals, US organizations, and so we’re very actively thinking about that, not using terrorism laws, because again, we don’t want to sort of prop those up and validate them, but we, but there are various other laws that are underutilized, right, and certainly the US has international law obligations, and I think now, even though some of this stuff may have fallen on deaf ears, is that the right idiom? Yes, my idioms are sometimes off.
48:34 - The, you know, some years ago now, now we have more of an audience, whether it’s in Congress, and I think also there’s just the developments on the ground also make it so that we have just very clear evidence of this kind of direct engagement.
48:54 - So yeah, that’s where, that’s my happier place, and I’m really glad for the question, but I do also, just in terms of engaging folks around thinking of not just what do we need to be doing to defend Palestinian rights, but also how do we dismantle a regime of basically the sort of post-9⁄11 war on terror world, right? How do we move on from that, because if you look at the regulations and the laws that have been passed, like the material support to terrorism law, they’ve been weaponized against advocacy for Palestinian rights and other forms of advocacy.
49:34 - Muslim charitable giving has been a huge area of concern for many civil liberties organizations for a long time, and it’s under these laws.
49:42 - Most folks who talk about it are like, in the humanitarian space and the charitable space and not so much in the cyber space and in the human rights space and in the, like, advocacy space, and I think when you sort of start changing that, because even though it sounds scary, terrorism laws are scary, like, we have to be like looking at the impacts on the work on the ground.
50:10 - - Thank you, Diala. So I want to say a shout out to the Institute for a Representative First Amendment, because we have a great audience with us with a lot of questions.
50:21 - Sadly, we won’t be able to address them all, but Radhika, one question lifted up that relates to this question is about the Florida, the Florida State lawsuit that Pal Legal has launched.
50:31 - Can you share with us a bit about that effort? - Yeah, absolutely.
50:36 - So, you know, one way we sort of recently went on the offensive along those lines is that we’re representing a Florida State University student named Ahmad Daraldik, and he’s Palestinian, first Palestinian American to be Florida State Student Senate, really incredible, brilliant young guy, and when he got elected, anti-Palestinian groups, including mostly off-campus groups, dug through his social media profile and found statements where he cursed Israel’s occupation when he was a child, and other statements that he made as a child, and he lived in Palestine, was tear gassed when he was a kid there, like, remembers having to protect a younger sister who had asthma when the Israeli army threw tear gas canisters in their house.
51:28 - So yeah, he cursed the occupation, and because of that, I mean, he was subjected to just a storm of like, incredibly racist, harassing social media comments mentioning his family and his aunts and, you know, the N word and just horrific things that no one should have to go through, much less a student who’s trying to support the community, and the administration, instead of helping him, actually condemned his speech, and they put out a statement, the President of the university put out a statement on FSU’s website first condemning him as anti-Israel and then mysteriously and sort of quietly changed anti-Israel to antisemitic, and so, you know, we, you know, we tried to help him for months.
52:22 - He eventually got removed and he got put back, and this was, you know, during the COVID pandemic, and eventually, you know, we filed a complaint recently, and this is, we just learned, it was actually the first of its kind, a Title VI complaint alleging anti-Palestinian hostile environment.
52:41 - And so Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for those of you don’t know, you know, came out of the Civil Rights movement, and the idea behind that, this was during a time when, you know, black students in the United States were facing nooses and really horrific racist acts so that they couldn’t get an education, right? And so under this law, a university can lose its federal funding if it allows a hostile environment to take place that’s so severe and pervasive, a student can’t get an education, and you know, that’s really what happened here with Ahmad, and so we filed the first complaint on his behalf.
53:20 - We’re waiting to see what happens with that.
53:23 - It takes a few, it takes a months long process, but you know what we’re hearing more of from students, we’re hearing, you know, this is a free speech issue we do believe that this isn’t just about sort of Palestinians, right? It’s really anyone who speaks out for Palestinian rights in the United States is treated differently and is censored and punished, and an enormous number of people who come to us are also actually Jewish and often Jewish Israelis, but I think what we’re really seeing recently is Palestinians who are speaking out on behalf of their families, who are talking about their lived experiences as Palestinians being targeted in particularly discriminatory and harassing ways, and so we’re trying to use this law and this complaint process to try to get them relief and to draw attention to the situation so that universities don’t think that they can just get away with throwing Palestinian students under the bus because of pressure from anti-Palestinian, pro-Israeli groups.
54:18 - - Thank you, Radhika. Yeah, and also as another Ahmad that went to Florida State University, I really, really appreciate you all supporting Ahmad there.
54:27 - So, we have just a couple of minutes left. I’m wondering if our panelists want to address anything they didn’t get a moment to address, and then maybe just point to things that people can do to support.
54:38 - So Nadim, I’m gonna kick it off to you first.
54:40 - What can folks do to support this advocacy? - Yeah, so I think, I mean, in this world, the online, it’s very important to take part and to share materials and to raise awareness.
54:57 - I think we saw this in the last period, how much this was influential and how much we raised the voice and we were more vocal than the usual and we created enough, enough pressure, let’s say, also on the companies to think twice that the usual policies of silencing us and colluding with the Israeli government wouldn’t work as smooth as it usually does, and that’s why, again, I mean, I think we all have a role in this and raising awareness and coordinating and organizing and putting more pressure on the companies, I think, to share the materials, and as things are really like, I mean, everybody can produce materials and follow the right pages or the people on the ground.
55:51 - I mean, we didn’t speak much about also the people who were on the ground and doing the lives.
55:57 - For example, if we speak about the Kurd family and others who created, really, waves of solidarity by just like, filming what’s happening, and this is what’s so, so powerful.
56:14 - So I think we all have a role in this and documenting and sharing just simply from the people who are on the ground and share it with your surrounding, with your circles, that would be really important.
56:30 - - Thank you, Nadim. Absolutely, continue to center those voices.
56:35 - Radhika? - Yeah, I just want to echo Nadim’s words: keep speaking out.
56:40 - Don’t feel intimidated. If you are censored, contact 7amleh.
56:45 - I just want to say 7amleh has been an incredible resource.
56:48 - People contact us about social media censorship, we’re like, call 7amleh, so we’re really thankful that they’re there, and contact us as well for other kinds of censorship.
56:58 - We’re there, we have your backs. Yeah, don’t be afraid.
57:01 - Keep speaking out. It’s so important.
57:04 - - Thank you, Radhika. And Diala? - Yeah, nothing to add.
57:10 - I mean, these are all great suggestions, like particularly not, if you’re in the US and if you’re at an academic institution, which I think a lot of the folks in this audience are, it’s really important to have these discussions and not be chilled and not be sort of not be taken by a lot of the sort of boogeyman language that is thrown around and out there, so really big thanks to Kendra and the whole team for hosting this event.
57:36 - It’s rare, like for what, we’re seeing a bit of a crossover, finally, where Palestine and the issues affecting Palestinian advocacy are kind of coming into and being put on agendas of folks who haven’t historically paid attention, and I think that’s an incredibly important development, and I hope that it’s not fleeting.
57:52 - So, symposiums, law review articles in the legal academic context is really important, as well as everywhere else, like in your workplaces, right? So, that’s the best way to sort of counteract some of the siloing of this issue from many of the other important human rights and civil liberties issues that we all talk about so regularly.
58:14 - - Thank you so much. Thank you, Nadim, Radhika, Diala.
58:18 - Wonderful colleagues and amazing perspective.
58:20 - I’ll just say everyone, you have a role here.
58:23 - So, we can’t tell you exactly, you know, what your role is, but you need to do some digging and thinking and strategizing and figuring out how you can contribute, ‘cause your voice and your action is necessary.
58:34 - With that being said, I’m gonna hand it back over to Kendra.
58:37 - Kendra, thank you so much to you and the Institute for a Representative First Amendment.
58:42 - - Well, thank you so much. I feel like I was clapping and, you know, emoji hearting and you know, all of those things.
58:51 - So, thank you so much to our incredible panelists, to our ASL interpreters, and finally to my colleagues Jasjot Kaur and Sybil Gelin, who did a lot of the behind the scenes work.
59:05 - I, they would, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to tell you that in addition to finding the handles for our amazing panelists and their organizations, you can follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter so you can find out about more of our events.
59:20 - But thank you so much, everyone. And yeah, solidarity with those folks in Palestine who are continuing to speak out.
59:30 - - Bye, everyone. - Bye bye. - Thank you all, bye.
59:34 - - Thank you, bye. .