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Recently published handbook offers guidelines for Palestinian rights activists

January 23, 2014 at 12:56 am

The Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS) and The Center for Constitutional Rights have joined forces to provide a handbook for Palestinian rights activists entitled “Palestinian human rights advocacy in the US”. The handbook, published this month, provides activists with a guide to more efficient campaigning as well as creates awareness about the legal implications of activism and the institutions that exist to keep activists safe.

Activists are reminded that each state’s legislation may vary, which is why an adequate understanding of laws and regulations is so important. Especially because the legislation may be interpreted differently across multiple forms of activism, leading to possible legal charges against activists. Taking into account the various methods of free expression, the guidelines detail the difference between accepted means of protest and others that may give rise to criminal accountability. While the specific protest behaviour might not infringe regulations, its practice may infringe other regulations, so activists are reminded that charges under other law statuses may be brought against them, blurring the lines between forms of acceptable protest and any possible liabilities for such actions – one example being the infringement on other people’s right to free speech and, in the case of universities, academic freedom.

The material support laws are also discussed in detail, reminding activists that any form of help given to a “designated foreign terrorist organisation (FTO)” may subject activists to prosecution. The guidelines differentiate between collaboration with an FTO and solidarity activities, clarifying that: “The ‘material support laws’ do not restrict independent advocacy.” So as long as such advocacy is carried out independently, it does not carry the same degree of responsibility. However activists are urged to consult with legal experts in order to determine if their activities are in violation of any legislation, particularly as various Palestinian organisations have been described as “terrorist” by government departments in the US.

An equally important section deals with Palestinian rights activism on university campuses, because it may be interpreted as a form of discrimination against Jewish students under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which “prohibits discrimination by federally funded programs on the basis of race, color and national origin.” If a university fails to address complaints against protected groups, the university may be penalised by losing its federal funding. The law has been actively promoted by pro-Israel organisations, which counter criticism of Israel by accusing Palestinian rights activists of creating a hostile, anti-Semitic environment detrimental to Jewish students. The handbook stresses the importance of media advocacy to counter claims of anti-Semitism in relation to Palestinian rights activism.

The handbook recommends that activists maintain an engagement with university administrators in order to avoid possible conflict. Communication with administrators regarding activism on campus is encouraged, with activists also advised to take precautions through written statements regarding the agreements of planned protest events.

The handbook also covers the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activism, reminding activists that while federal anti-boycott laws exist, these do not apply to human rights boycotts, such as the boycott of Israel and companies which maintain the illegal occupation of Palestine. Readers are also encouraged to pursue further resources regarding the discussed topics through various listed websites, including Palestine Legal Support.

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