Posted by Guest on June 24, 2019 at 1:48 PM

On Friday, June 21, Manar Waheed, Senior Legislative and Advocacy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), joined AAI interns for our third brown bag lunch of the summer. Throughout the discussion, we learned about her overall career as well as her work on issues concerning Arab American, American Muslim, and South Asian American communities.

Waheed started the brown bag lunch by speaking about her career path and how she came to work at the ACLU. She spoke candidly about her time representing domestic violence survivors after law school, and the rewarding but draining nature of that work. After eight years in that field, she became policy director for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which is a national, nonprofit advocacy organization, where she worked on immigration, surveillance, and hate crimes. She then transitioned to the Obama White House, where she was Deputy Policy Director for Immigration until she joined the ACLU in 2017. Waheed explained the importance of working on issues that affect Arab American, American Muslim, and South Asian American communities, which she refers to as “gateway communities.” She explained that many harmful policies related to national security, such as different surveillance practices, first targeted these communities before being exported to others.

This observation dovetails with two policy issues that Waheed discussed during the brown bag lunch: (1) the federal response to acts that meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism, and (2) anti-boycott legislation aimed at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Regarding the first policy issue, Waheed spoke about the dangers of addressing white supremacist violence through the paradigm of counterterrorism, under which law enforcement have justified practices that both jeopardize constitutional rights and are discriminatory in effect. For example, some have recommended that Congress enact a new federal criminal statute of “domestic terrorism.” Waheed explained that the ACLU opposes a new statute and related efforts because they expand the government’s power to use tactics that infringe on First Amendment rights and other constitutional protections.

Waheed also discussed the serious First Amendment implications of state and federal efforts to restrict participation in BDS, which is a nonviolent campaign designed to place economic pressure on Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian human rights.

Waheed explained that although the ACLU does not take a position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict or BDS, their steadfast commitment to free speech leads them to oppose the push to silence speech that is critical of Israel or advocates Palestinian human rights. At the state level, many legislatures have passed laws that force government contractors to pledge that they will not boycott Israel. The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of these laws in the courts, and in four states they have been struck down. On the federal level, Waheed highlighted three bills that violate free speech, encourage such violations, or otherwise jeopardize free speech: the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the Combating BDS Act, and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. According to Waheed, the ACLU is committed to fighting against all of these measures and to protecting free speech, but she stressed that litigation alone will not solve these issues, and that we must strive to protect free speech and oppose these measures in Congress and in state legislatures.

To learn more about free speech and Palestine, read our issue brief.


This post was authored by Dina Kuttab, a Summer 2019 policy intern.