Palestinian Rights Activism Endangered
by Stephen Lendman (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/04/30/18712399.php)
In America, Israel, Europe and elsewhere, supporting Palestinian rights publicly is dangerous.
In September 2010, FBI agents raided homes of Chicago and Minneapolis human rights activists.
Two Chicagoans affected said 20 FBI agents ransacked their home. They and others had computers, cell phones, and other personal belongings taken.
They weren’t terrorists. They committed no crimes. Most supported the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. It publishes a newsletter called Fight Back.
An FBI spokesman lied, saying raids targeted people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist groups. In fact, those named are legitimate, lawful and/or resistance organizations. They included Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and FARC-EP.
In June 2010, the Supreme Court Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder ruling is relevant. It targeted First Amendment rights. The Justice Department likely used it as justification for the raids and others.
Individuals or groups opposing policies of America, NATO, Israeli, or other US allies can be targeted for expressing views publicly.
In its 6 – 3 decision, the Court criminalized “knowingly provid(ing) material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” The State Department can designate any group a “foreign terrorist organization,” whether or not it’s true.
Designations are largely political, not terrorist related. Claims about threatening US security are used to heighten fear and justify hostile actions. Wars sometimes follow.
Washington, NATO allies, Israel, and rogue Arab League states conspire to wage them. Anti-war groups, human rights activists, and Palestinian supporters are vulnerable. Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were targeted.
They call themselves “a student-run political and advocacy organization that was created for the purposes of stimulating a heightened awareness among the FAU community and South Florida, in general, for the plight of the Palestinian people living in Occupied Palestine.”
Similar groups exist on dozens of US campuses. Among others, they include UC Berkeley, Yale, Penn State, Purdue, NYU, Harvard Law, Georgetown, Colombia, Brown, Brandeis, and University of Texas (Austin).
They advocate Palestinian self-determination, ending Israel’s occupation, the right to resist to achieve it, respecting international law and human rights, the right of return, and other social and political justice issues.
FAU activists protested against Israel demolishing Palestinian homes. In response, they got death threats. Pro-Israeli groups threatened them.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Jewish Voices for Peace, CODEPINK, and 11 other human rights organizations issued a statement defending their free speech rights. In part, they said:
“We, the undersigned, condemn efforts, both on and off campus, to silence student speech in support of Palestinian rights, and affirm the First Amendment rights of students to engage in such speech.”
“It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the conduct of the State of Israel. It is not “hate speech” to challenge violations of international law and internationally recognized human rights standards.”
They cited the Supreme Court’s Terminiello v. Chicago decision. It ruled speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”
“Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.”
Speech is constitutionally protected. Without it, all other rights are endangered. In Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the Supreme Court ruled that protecting free expression “is nowhere more vital” than on campuses.
Academic freedom shares equal importance. Silencing anyone for unpopular or other political views can’t be tolerated in free societies. Millions support Palestinian rights worldwide.
FAU and other students are constitutionally protected to do it. So is everyone. Censorship is abhorrent everywhere.
Defending human rights is vital. So is supporting justice for those denied it.
Targeting Australian Palestinian Rights Activists
On May 1, Palestine solidarity goes on trial. Nineteen Melbourne, Australia activists were targeted for nonviolently protesting last July for Palestinian rights.
Outside a Max Brenner (MB) chocolateria store, police attacked them violently. The Israeli conglomerate Strauss Group owns MB. It supports militantly occupying Palestine.
Activists are charged with besetting (meaning to surround a building) and trespass. Some face additional charges, including “riotous manner,” resisting and/or hindering arrest.
Their protest was one of several the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid organized. It’s part of the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The case involves speech, public solidarity, and right to protest peacefully in a free society. Expressing Palestinian, anti-imperial, and social justice support publicly risks retaliation in many Western countries and elsewhere.
Police violence, arrests, and false accusations follow. Melbourne protesters were brutalized. One woman had her shoulder dislocated. Another said:
“I was dragged behind police lines. Once they grabbed me and started dragging me, I went limp and dropped to the ground.”
“As I was being carried through the corridors of the loading dock, I lost consciousness because one of the police had me in a choke hold. I am not sure how long I was out, probably a few minutes. I woke up on the loading dock floor and heard the police saying I was ‘out.’ ”
Pro-Israeli supporters held counter-demonstrations. The fascist/Islamophic Australian Protection Party (APP) and Australian Defense League (ADL) held their own in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
One APP leader held a sign, saying: “I’m more interested in the purer form of fascism.” It included other extremist comments as well.
Palestinian activists called it no accident that neo-Nazis and pro-Israeli zealots united against the Melbourne 19. They said success in Australian politics depends on unswerving loyalty to Israel and cracking down hard on opposition groups.
The case involves collusion among pro-Israeli groups, police, the shopping center management where MB’s store is located, and the Victorian government.
New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies head Vic Alhadeff discussed tactics used. He said they’re “not limited to engagement with civil society and politicians, patronage of boycotted outlets, cooperation with police, shop owners and centre managers, and exposure of the motives behind the BDS movement.”
Strategy he said should be “speak softly” but carry “a big stick.” Police provide big ones but don’t “speak softly.”
During a July 27, 2011 bail hearing, Victoria police admitted that confrontation was decided before protesters demonstrated. It followed meetings with Zionist organizations, the local government, shopping center management, and Max Brenner.
Palestinian solidarity is criminalized. So is BDS activism. Anyone supporting right over wrong is vulnerable. Doing it publicly may bring fines and jail. It also subjects activists to police brutality. Whether in Melbourne, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, or Jerusalem, criticizing Israel is dangerous.
Militarized police lash out violently. In Australia, America Europe, and elsewhere, special units have been trained. Designations include Special Operations Groups (SOGs). Critical Incident Response teams are part of the Victorian Police Force Response Unit Command.
Tactics used include close monitoring and infiltrating groups, as well as kettling. It involves confining demonstrations to small areas.
A Final Comment
Following last July’s confrontation, Stop the War Coalition Sydney (SWCS) headlined “Support the Melbourne Boycott-Israel 19 Defence Campaign!” saying:
Attacking Palestinian rights activists “highlights increasing attempts to criminalise BDS and pro-Palestine solidarity activism internationally.”
Hundreds in America and Europe face criminal charges for supporting what’s right. Their civil liberties are violated. Melbourne’s Herald Sun said a new 42-member “Public Order Response Team” was established for involvement in “breaking up public protests.”
Representing the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, civil liberties lawyer Rob Stary denounced the attacks and arrests. He said they show that “the new Victorian government is prepared to criminalise legitimate dissent.”
SWCS called on “all supporters of human rights, freedom of speech and civil liberties to stand in solidarity with” the Melbourne 19.
Over two dozens human rights groups and over 100 activists, scholars, journalists, other professionals, students, unionists, and at least one courageous politician signed the Melbourne 19 solidarity pledge and defense campaign support statement.
They urged those able to please donate to their defense fund as follows:
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
BSB: 063-262 Account: 1052 9148.
Please tag donations DF19
Defend Palestinian rights! Defend the right to protest! Defend the Melbourne 19 for courageously doing it!
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen [at] sbcglobal.net.