Washington, D.C. – Since the beginning of the current crisis in Palestine-Israel, the Charity & Security Network (C&SN) has observed with concern the weaponization of the U.S. material support statutes against U.S.-based Palestinian organizations and student groups. These types of allegations, though not new in recent U.S. history, present a dangerous precedent that implicates free speech rights and creates a chilling effect on charitable work in Gaza. They are often used as a political tool to force the accused organizations to expend resources, energy, and time on defending themselves against these, in addition to facing potential reputational and funding hits. The resources, time, and reputational hit – sometimes even more than the outcome – are the point.
Below are examples of recent cases from Oct. 2023 of material support violation allegations that C&SN is tracking closely.
Allegations Against American Muslims for Palestine Educational Foundations
On Oct. 31, 2023, the Attorney General (AG) of Virginia, Jason Miyares, issued a press release stating that the grassroots non-profit organization (NPO), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), will be investigated for potential violations of Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws. The AG alleges the NPO used funds for impermissible purposes, including “benefiting or providing support to terrorist organizations.”
According to their website, AMP is “a national education and grassroots-based organization, dedicated to educating the American public about Palestine and its rich cultural, historical and religious heritage.” The allegations against AMP stem from a decades-old material support case brought by an American family – whose son was killed by members of Hamas – against a separate NPO, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). The family now alleges that AMP is an “alter-ego” of the IAP, the latter of which was found guilty of providing material support to terrorism in 2004, when the court awarded $156 million in damages to the family.
Attorney Christina Jump, who represents AMP, publicly announced that the allegations laid out in the lawsuit are false, stating “There’s absolutely nothing that ties either the organizations or the individuals involved, concretely, to any support of terrorism, any kind of act of terrorism.” Furthermore, Jump noted that AMP was “formed by different individuals and for a very clear and stated purpose, which is to educate the American public on the rich culture and history of Palestine, within the United States.”
After hearing of this lawsuit, the AG of Virginia issued his press release announcing the investigation into AMP, which is headquartered in Falls Church.
AMP firmly denied these allegations, calling them “defamatory and dangerous.” In its statement issued after Miyares’ allegations, AMP wrote: “As an organization of American Muslims dedicated to speaking up for the human rights of the Palestinian people, we refuse to allow empty threats and baseless smears to stop us from advocating for a just and humane American foreign policy in Palestine and elsewhere. We are currently in consultation with our legal team to ensure our work continues and our constitutional rights are protected.”
Allegations Against Students for Justice in Palestine
On Oct. 24, 2023, the State University System of Florida issued a memorandum, in consultation with Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging that the National Students for Justice in Palestine (National SJP) may have provided “material support” to Hamas by disseminating a toolkit that called Hamas’ actions part of “the resistance.” The toolkit also states: “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.” The memorandum calls for the deactivation of SJP’s student chapters in the State University System of Florida, citing Florida law which prohibits a person from “knowingly provid[ing] material support . . . to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”
On Oct. 25, 2023, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law issued a letter to presidents of almost 200 universities, requesting that all SJP student chapters be investigated for potentially providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The letter alleged that SJP’s “campus chapters ha[d] explicitly endorsed the actions of Hamas,” and that some chapters were “celebrating terrorism.”
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published an open letter to over 650 universities, noting that these material support allegations lack “any evidence,” and imploring university leaders to “reject calls to investigate, disband, or penalize pro-Palestinian student groups for exercising their free speech rights.”
Old Tactics, New Situation
This is not the first time that charitable organizations have been targeted under the U.S. material support statutes, especially in regard to Palestine. The U.S. has seen several cases where parties with political agendas target NPOS using material support statutes through both criminal and civil legal mechanisms simply for exercising their constitutional right to free speech. These types of allegations, without proper evidence, constitute a dangerous precedent for not only the U.S. legal system and the state of free speech but also for charitable giving and operations in crisis contexts like Gaza.
In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (Holder v. HLP), the leading case on the U.S. material support statutes, the Supreme Court of the United States iterated that the material support statutes do not criminalize independent advocacy, but only “advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization.” As the ACLU notes in their letter to universities, the Holder Court rejected the notion “that a regulation of independent speech would pass constitutional muster, even if the [g]overnment were to show that such speech benefits terrorist organizations.” Therefore, these state authorities would be violating the First Amendment by applying the material support statute to university students’ expression of free speech.
Furthermore, the perpetuated narrative that charities like AMP act as “sham organizations” for terrorist groups, or that charities are “susceptible” to terrorist abuse continues to permeate discussions around Gaza. This narrative lacks concrete evidence demonstrating these threats are, in fact, true. The reality is that charitable organizations have stringent due diligence and risk mitigation measures in place to ensure that any aid is not diverted to designated FTOs. Nevertheless, these baseless allegations against organizations create a chilling effect on charitable giving and operations. They serve as a fearmongering tactic and a tired remnant of the Global War on Terror forcing energy and resources away from supporting the Palestinian people, and instead towards fighting this false narrative.
C&SN will continue monitoring these and future material support cases closely and will provide updates as they arise.