A California judge ruled Friday against the release of names of presenters at a private conference organized by National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) held at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2018.
David Abrams, an attorney and the executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Centre, sued UCLA in August of 2019 for a list of the speakers’ names for what he claimed to be an “interest in researching the activities of anti-Israeli terrorists.” Abrams, who has close ties to the Israeli government, has previously instigated cases against Palestinian groups and pro-Palestine organizations, contributing to a history of doxing advocates for Palestinian rights.
In September 2020, eight of the speakers who presented at NSJP anonymously joined the litigation to urge UCLA to protect their privacy and freedom of speech. Attorneys from Palestine Legal, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar defended the speakers in the case Abrams vs The Regents of the University of California.
Recognizing the harassment pro-Palestine activists face, the Los Angeles County Superior Court found that releasing the presenters’ names would violate fundamental rights such as “freedom of association, anonymous speech, and privacy.”
The Court also recognized evidence regarding how pro-Palestinian activism has resulted in job losses, blacklists, and being denied entry to Palestine by Israeli authorities.
Zoha Khalili, staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said that the people who were being targeted in this lawsuit have expressed joy, relief, and gratitude.
“This case sends a message to activists that there isn't a ‘Palestine exception’ to access to justice in our courts,” Khalili wrote in an e-mail to Palestine Square. “In terms of legal precedent, the same arguments that we relied on to win this case would be binding in future cases.”
Khalili noted that Abrams has the option to appeal the case. Using the Zionist Advocacy Centre’s Facebook page, Abrams has previously suggested that he will “very likely” appeal.
Palestinians in North America have long been targeted for engaging in pro-Palestine organizing, whether through student or community-based efforts, or in the workplace. They frequently face censorship or legal repercussions. Anti-Palestinian legislation is on the rise, attempting to stifle Palestinian speech.
“Backlash against Palestine activists in the [United States] comes from multiple directions—from Israel advocacy groups, the Israeli government itself, US politicians, and even university administrators—and it is likely to continue regardless of this decision,” Khalili wrote.
Palestine Legal’s mandate revolves around protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the United States who speak out for Palestinian freedom. The independent organization has reported over 200 incidents of suppression on speech in 2020, with 80% of the incidents targeted at university students and faculty members. The vast majority of these accusations of antisemitism were false.
In 2020, at least 21 bills were introduced at the state and federal level aimed at muzzling advocacy for Palestinian rights, such as targeting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, and adopting the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which falsely ties any criticism of Israeli human rights violations to antisemitism.
Khalili added that the “desperation” of the Israeli government and its backers will continue to manifest as targeted attacks on individuals within the pro-Palestine movement.
“I think the growth and vibrancy in spite of this backlash is a signal of positive moves forward [when compared to] any individual court decision.”