Court hearing on Israel-Palestine panel delayed 

  • Roger Waters and Linda Sarsour AP PHOTOS

  • A Palestinian boy stands next to the rubble of Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV station building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes on Monday, in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) Khalil Hamra

Staff Writer
Published: 4/29/2019 11:29:50 PM

BOSTON — The local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three University of Massachusetts students aimed at preventing an event titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights” from taking place on the Amherst campus.

Concord attorney Karen Hurvitz filed the lawsuit in Boston on Friday on behalf of the unnamed students, claiming that the panel — featuring former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters and Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour, among others — is anti-Semitic and poses a threat to Jewish students on campus. The lawsuit names as defendants members of the UMass board of trustees, UMass President Marty Meehan and UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

Jewish Voice for Peace Western Mass, which is one of the groups sponsoring the talk, is making the case that the group of defendants should be expanded.

“This lawsuit should not be permitted to continue without the crucial voices of those whose interests are most under attack: the distinguished panelists, event organizers and co-sponsors whose viewpoints are being subjected to false and dangerous accusations of anti-Semitism,” Rachel Weber, a lawyer and member of the organization, said in a statement.

Referencing the shooting on Saturday when a gunman killed one and injured three at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside of San Diego, Weber said that anti-Semitism is a real danger. But she said that attack, as well as a gunman’s killing of 11 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October, were committed by white nationalists. 

Weber said that by making “false conflations of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,” Hurvitz and others are distracting attention from the real threat.

On Monday, the case came before a Suffolk Superior Court judge, who postponed the hearing until Thursday to give each side time to read each other’s filings, Weber and Hurvitz said.

Weber, speaking by phone Monday, said UMass would provide a robust defense of free speech on campus but from a “content-neutral” perspective. She added that the organizers, panelists and sponsors want to push back on the “inflammatory and false statements” Hurvitz made in the lawsuit.

“Israel is committing human rights abuses in our names, and we have a moral obligation to name it what it is,” Weber said, “and that isn’t anti-Semitic.”

Hurvitz said she plans to oppose the motion to intervene.

“My opposition is based on the fact that no one’s rights to say anything will be violated if they get to say it at another location,” she wrote in an email to the Gazette, referencing language in Jewish Voice for Peace’s filing about freedom of speech. “My position is that the university is bound by Massachusetts and federal anti-discrimination laws that prevent them from sponsoring an anti-Semitic rally.”

Jewish Voice for Peace Western Mass held a press conference outside the Suffolk County Courthouse on Monday before going inside for the proceedings at 2 p.m.

Joseph Levine, a UMass Amherst philosophy professor and member of the group, said he believes the opponents of the event are wrong when they assert that it will make the campus unsafe for Jewish students.

“Their aim, pure and simple, is to silence critics of the state of Israel,” he said.

UMass filed its own response to the lawsuit on Monday, arguing, among other points, that the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction amounts to an unconstitutional request for prior restraint, and that the university is not discriminating against the plaintiffs by making a public space available to a third party for an event that the plaintiffs can voluntarily choose to attend or ignore.

The hearing is rescheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.

Staff writer Greta Jochem contributed to this report.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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