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Victory—Judge Rules in Support of Panel Discussion on Palestinian Human Rights at UMass

“To shut down the event would be to violate the First Amendment.”

WASHINGTON - A Massachusetts district court ruled in favor of allowing a panel discussion at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to go head earlier today. The May 4 panel discussion “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights” will be held as planned, despite the legal request for an injunction to halt the panel, premised on a false accusation of antisemitism by the panelists, event sponsors and attendees.  

Jewish Voice for Peace member Attorney Rachel Weber explained that, “The judge ruled that to shut down this event would be to violate the First Amendment. But we also challenged the false premise that criticism of Israel is somehow inherently antisemitic. We have every right to criticize Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. As members of JVP, and as Jews, we stand in solidarity with the event and with the panelists.”

This lawsuit is part of a national trend attempting to silence the free speech rights of students and faculty who advocate for justice and human rights in Israel and Palestine. Responding to the attempt to shut down the May 4 event, UMass Amherst Professor of Philosophy Joseph Levine stated, “The attempt to tar everyone associated with the movement for Palestinian rights with the brush of antisemitism is part of a systematic campaign to build a wall of denial behind which Israel can continue to call on the US to aid and abet its brutal oppression of millions of Palestinians living under occupation and in exile.”

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UMass student Anna Ben-Hur added that, “As a Jewish student member of Students for Justice in Palestine, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the claims that this event is antisemitic. The struggle for Palestinian and Jewish freedom is the same struggle – it's a movement against white nationalism.”

Joining Jewish Voice for Peace Western MA in asking the court to reject the injunction were event panelists Linda Sarsour, Marc Lamont Hill, Roger Waters, Dave Zirin, moderator Vijay Prashad, event organizer Sut Jhally and the Media Education Foundation, and co-sponsor Students for Justice in Palestine at UMass-Amherst. The University of Massachusetts Amherst was represented separately and also opposed the lawsuit and request for injunction.

The panel discussion “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights” will address recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar and other progressives who have spoken out against Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian land.  Admission is free to the event which will begin at 6:30PM on Saturday May 4 at the Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Free tickets will be available at the door the night of the event. For more information visit www.notbackingdownumass.org 

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Jewish Voice for Peace members are inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, equality, human rights, respect for international law, and a U.S. foreign policy based on these ideals.

JVP opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.

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