Washington, D.C. – On Jan. 22, 2024, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review a lawsuit filed by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and several U.S. citizens who live in Israel against the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR). The case baselessly alleged that USCPR provided “material support” to Hamas, a listed terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and relied on a loose thread of connections to broad Palestinian activist networks to support their claim.
C&SN has monitored this case since it was originally filed in 2019. The Supreme Court’s rejection of the case represents an important victory for Palestinian civil society frequently targeted by “lawfare” attacks that seek to silence and shut down organizations that support Palestinian rights and implement humanitarian, peacebuilding, and other programs. Such attacks are based on political and ideological goals, not credible legal grounds
JNF is a quasi-governmental organization based in Jerusalem. JNF’s land programs have generated controversy for displacing Palestinians as well as for policies that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in land sales and leases. In the lawsuit, JNF argued that USCPR bore responsibility for damages caused by incendiary balloons launched into Israel from Gaza by unnamed persons during the Great March of Return, a series of demonstrations where Palestinians marched for the right to return to their historic homes taken by Israeli settlers.
USCPR collects donations from individuals who also donate to the Boycott National Committee (BNC). One of the BNC’s members is a separate coalition that includes Hamas. The BNC voiced support for Palestinian activists during the Great March of Return. The plaintiffs argued this far-fetched connection tied USCPR to Hamas, such that they were guilty of providing “material support” to an act of terrorism.
The plaintiffs made these claims under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which allows any U.S. national suffering injury due to an act of international terrorism to sue in federal court. Those considered to have knowingly provided “substantial assistance” to a terrorist organization can be found guilty of providing “material support” to terrorism.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s rejection, the lawsuit was dismissed by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2021, noting that the plaintiff’s arguments were “to say the least, not persuasive.” In 2023, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, stating that JNF’s attempt to establish liability “fails at every turn,” calling the allegations against USCPR “nothing more than guilt by association.”
“The JNF’s accusations were baseless, as recognized by the district court, the court of appeals, and now confirmed by the Supreme Court. Now, as the government of Israel is carrying out an unfolding genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, it is more important than ever that activists be free to speak out without fear. This is an important victory, but USCPR shouldn’t have been subjected to these smears in the first place,” said Diala Shamas, attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented USCPR throughout the case.
Vague language regarding the provision of “material support” is often exploited by politically motivated “lawfare” groups targeting Palestinian civil society, who are required to work in proximity to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Lawfare attacks launched against activists supporting Palestinian causes have increased since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War on Oct. 7, 2023.
“The Supreme Court’s rejection of this case, along with USCPR’s resiliency in the face of these legal attacks, sends a resounding message that the U.S. legal system will not be manipulated to stifle the voices of human rights advocates. As long as U.S. ‘material support’ laws remain vague and overbroad, civil society organizations will continue to be at risk of similar attacks from lawfare actors,” said Katherine Tomaszewski, legal analyst at C&SN.
C&SN applauds the work of USCPR and CCR for their tireless advocacy that ultimately led to this victory and hopes this case will prevent further lawfare attacks launched against Palestinian civil society groups and their supporters.