US anti-terror laws geared to silence pro-Palestine activism: report

US anti-terror laws geared to silence pro-Palestine activism: report
An analysis by two US-based rights groups show that US federal anti-terrorism laws have been shaped for decades by a desire to restrict pro-Palestine activism.
2 min read
22 February, 2024
Many anti-terrorism laws adopted since the 1960s were designed to target Palestinian groups. (Getty Images)

US anti-terrorism laws were historically designed to crack down on Palestinian rights activism, a report by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights revealed on Wednesday.

The report builds on legal and historical analysis of various anti-terrorism laws adopted in the US over the years. It finds that dating back to the 1960s, the US federal government has allegedly used anti-terrorism legislation to target the Palestinian rights movement and allegedly to stigmatise Palestinians as terrorists.

"In passing anti-terrorism laws, legislators have made little secret that a primary aim has been to repress Palestinian freedom struggles," said Darryl Li, author of the report. "This briefing paper connects the dots, showing how the anti-Muslim policies of the post-9/11 era were built on a foundation of anti-Palestinian animus."

The report says that the first mention of "terrorist" in a federal statute from 1969 dealt specifically with restricting humanitarian aid to Palestinians. It also determines that "the first U.S. government terrorism blacklist was championed by Israel's supporters and has been used primarily against governments supporting Palestinian resistance".

Various anti-terrorism laws have been invoked over the past few months by pro-Israel organisations calling to investigate, ban or suspend groups seen as supporting Palestine, both in the US and abroad.

"The Anti-Defamation League has called on university presidents to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters for 'material support for terrorism,' and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis used the same rationale to order a ban of SJPs from the state’s public universities – a move that a federal court recognized would likely violate the First Amendment," Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a press release.

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Efforts to pressure the US government into defunding the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) have also invoked these same anti-terrorism laws. 

Aside from anti-terrorism laws, various states in the US have also passed a flurry of anti-Palestinian legislation in recent years.

In 2022, 11 laws targeting the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement were adopted at the state level. That same year, Palestine Legal responded to 214 incidents of suppression of Palestinian advocacy in the US, 70 percent of which took place at educational institutions.