US debate heard in Jewish National Fund v US Palestinian NGO lawsuit

US debate heard in Jewish National Fund v US Palestinian NGO lawsuit
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
13 January, 2023
The Jewish National Fund has accused a US Palestinian NGO of 'links to terrorism', despite a 2019 suit being dismissed in 2021.
An Israeli group is accusing a US Palestinian NGO of having links to terrorism [Getty]

An oral debate regarding a lawsuit by the Jewish National Fund and 12 other plaintiffs against an America-Palestinian organisation was heard before a judge on Thursday in Washington DC.

The Jewish National Fund, an Israeli national land purchasing fund, has accused the Education for a Just Peace in the Middle East DBA, doing business as the United States Committee for Palestinian Rights, of supporting terrorism in the past, despite a suit being dismissed in 2021. 

The suit was initially filed in 2019, with the Jewish National Fund accusing the defendant of having links to Hamas, the armed Palestinian movement that has controlled the Gaza Strip one year after its general election win in 2006.

They point to the USCPR's alleged relationship with the Boycott National Committee and support for the Great Return March, a movement that in 2018 saw thousands of Palestinians in Gaza protest for their legal right to return to their ancestral homes taken by Israel during its creation in 1948. 

The lawsuit claims that these activities violate the Antiterrorism Act, which prohibits "material support" for terrorism. Hamas was designated as a "foreign terrorist organisation" by the US in 1997.

USCPR says the plaintiff has failed to establish a direct connection between the NGO and terrorism, which its lawyers describe as a mixture of "guilt by association" and "bigoted insinuation".

"This lawsuit is no more than a fishing expedition that casts protected advocacy as a violation of the law. Smearing human rights advocates as terrorists is a tired and cynical tactic," Diala Shamas, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who presented the oral argument on Thursday, said in a public statement.

In March 2021, a lower court dismissed the suit, describing the arguments as unpersuasive. On Thursday, the USCPR asked the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a federal district court's dismissal of the lawsuit.

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"It's just the continuation. The lawsuit was dismissed, and the oral arguments were made today," Iman Abid, director of advocacy for USCPR, told The New Arab on Thursday.

"The fortunate thing for us is that we'll continue the work we've been doing," she said. "These are baseless attacks and claims against us going back a couple of years. We would compare it to lawsuits being made against big oil protesters."

A YouTube live stream recorded the oral arguments for the case, with representatives of the two parties making their arguments to the judge at the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

When asked by a representative of USCPR if their theory was that BNC (Boycott or BDS National Committee) is an intermediary for Hamas, a representative for the JNF responded in the positive.

The two went back and forth for the next 20 minutes with the JNF representative insisting that it was a matter of discovery and that they should be able to determine what the BNC does. 

Following Thursday's oral arguments, there was no new outcome and the USCPR said they believe it could take another two months for any new developments in the case. 

The New Arab contacted JNF requesting comment on the proceedings, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.