Posted on May 16, 2015 in Arab American Institute


Chilling attacks on free speech

Organizing American communities around justice for Palestine has historically been met by equally organized attempts to intimidate, harass, and exclude individuals and groups associated with such activities from mainstream political participation. Rooted in what we call the “politics of exclusion,” this “political racism” originally targeted Arab American organizing efforts. Today, the campaign to silence debate about U.S. policy toward the Israeli government, and criticism of Israeli policies, affects a diverse and growing coalition of communities

College campuses are in many ways the front lines of the free speech challenge. With the rise of student groups that support Palestinian rights – including Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, and more - there is now a sophisticated campaign to define or conflate criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic hate speech. A dark side of this campaign can be seen in the work of the Canary Mission, a website that publishes profiles of students they claim “promote a hatred of the USA and Israel.” Yet the students who are profiled, including American Jewish students, are known to have advocated for social justice causes and for some, simply displayed ethnic pride, not anti-Semitic views. These students are often harassed due to their profiles on Canary Mission and future employment opportunities are threatened.  

There is also a campaign to erode the right to boycott – a cherished American tradition – by passing laws in state legislatures, by Executive Order, and in the U.S. Congress. More than two dozen “anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS)” bills and resolutions have been introduced at the state, local, and federal level. These laws come in a variety of forms, but they all have the intended effect of punishing businesses and organizations that associate with any part of the BDS movement. However, these “anti-BDS” laws are direct infringements on the constitutional right to boycott, and they limit debate on U.S. policies towards the Israeli government. We have reason to expect more and worse.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy has been carefully, if not ideally, crafted to maintain conditions for peace negotiations while at the same time maintaining “no daylight” in the U.S. relationship with the Israeli government. Under President Trump, this delicate balancing act will in all likelihood be radically disrupted – and the impact is difficult to predict. Despite the unpredictability, it is virtually a given – based on decades of U.S. policy and signals from President Trump - that any approach by Trump or Congress will continue to create a situation that Secretary John Kerry described as “separate and unequal.” This reality comes at the expense of Palestinian dignity, equality, and self-determination. Beyond a one-state versus two-state end game, there are innumerable issues – from highlighting human rights violations to supporting funding to the United Nations, to stopping the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem -  that must come to the forefront of our advocacy efforts.


As part of AAI's 2017 Advocacy Roadmap - we are organizing around THREE LOCAL ACTIONS TO PROTECT FREE SPEECH & ADVANCE JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE:



Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state legislature 

Organize: Meetings, letters, emails, calls, social media.


(1) Oppose legislative efforts that would legally redefine “anti-Semitism” to include criticism of Israel as hate speech. American citizens have the right to criticize the policies of foreign governments, and competitive academic settings require robust debate about policy. Defining criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is extremely problematic.

(2) Help assist schools, universities, educators, and students who are being harassed, intimidated, and having their constitutional rights infringed because of their activism on Palestine. Schools are having their funding threatened, student groups are being forcibly disbanded, students are being surveilled, and teachers are staking their jobs on their classroom teaching. This environment puts American academia and democracy in jeopardy. These people and organizations need our help.

(3) Do not protect Israel from criticism, and do not ignore Palestinian voices. Few policymakers are courageous enough to criticize even the most egregious of Israeli policies or willing to elevate the suffering or perspective of the Palestinian people. We must push policymakers to listen to, and publically thank those, who speak out about Palestinian stories.



Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state legislatures

Organize: Meetings, letters, emails, calls, social media. 


(1) Oppose any legislation that restricts protected forms of speech – including the right to boycott. Regardless of political views on Israel or Palestine, it is anti-democratic and unconstitutional to infringe on First Amendment protected activities including political speech like boycotts. Students, businesses, and organizations should not be targeted or punished for exercising their rights.

(2) Roll back “anti-BDS” laws where they exist. Several states have already passed anti-BDS laws. These laws must be challenged in court or by popular referendum, if applicable. 



Target: President Trump, the U.S. Department of State the U.S. House of Representatives, & the U.S. Senate

Organize: Meetings, letters, emails, calls, social media, protests, demonstrations, and public education campaigns that highlight the real people who are impacted by bad U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


(1) Speak out resolutely against illegal Israeli settlement activity and human rights violations. Israel’s actions under the Netanyahu government are jeopardizing the prospects for peace. Continuing settlement growth and creeping occupation is destroying the possibility for a just solution and it is causing great suffering for Palestinians and Israelis who have to live with the daily realities of the violence and uncertainty that conflict breeds.

(2) Speak out against U.S. diplomatic activities that do not reflect a balanced approach to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. cannot be Israel’s lawyer in peace negotiations, U.S. influence must be used to keep both parties at the table by not ceding to one party’s demands over another’s. Hints about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and/or vetoing resolutions in the United Nations that criticize Israel erode the credibility of the U.S. at the negotiations table and on the international scene.

(3) Listen to the voices and perspectives of Palestinians and Palestinian Americans. In addition to the real national security cost that continued conflict poses to the United States, there is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering caused on both sides of the conflict. It is important to listen to voices for peace on both side of the conflict, Palestinians on the ground and in the United States have narratives policymakers need to hear.