Judge denies injunction against UMass Israeli-Palestinian panel

  • Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, left, and Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour, the co-chair of the Women’s March. Both will be speakers at a May 4 event at the University of Massachusetts Amherst titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights.”

Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2019 5:10:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A panel on free speech and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will proceed as planned Saturday after a Suffolk Superior Court judge on Thursday denied an injunction seeking to bar the event from the UMass Amherst campus.

Three unnamed students had sued to prevent Saturday’s event from taking place, arguing that it was anti-Semitic and posed a threat to Jewish students on campus. UMass argued that an injunction would amount to a prior restraint on free speech.

One of the sponsors of the event — Jewish Voice for Peace Western Mass, which successfully intervened in the case — contended that the plaintiffs’ definition of anti-Semitism is not agreed upon, even within the Jewish community.

In his decision, Judge Robert Ullmann denied the students’ request for an emergency injunction on the grounds that it would have violated the First Amendment, according to Rachel Weber, a Northampton lawyer and member of Jewish Voice for Peace who made oral arguments on behalf of the organization on Thursday.

“We’re glad the judge made the ruling that he did,” Weber said. “We’re glad that the judge was so clear that the plaintiffs, A, hadn’t shown any evidence of any perceived harm that might happen, and B, that this would have been a violation of the First Amendment.”

The case was brought by Concord attorney Karen Hurvitz, who said she’s disappointed that the injunction was denied, maintaining that the university is not the right place for an event she characterized as “anti-Semitic” and “Israel-bashing.” She said that if students do hear anti-Semitic comments at the event, they can file complaints with the state.

The event, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” will be held at the Fine Arts Center and is being put on by the Media Education Foundation. The topic of the event, organizers say, is the backlash that advocates for Palestinian human rights face when speaking out.

The panel features former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights; Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour, the co-chair of the Women’s March; Marc Lamont Hill, a professor and political commentator who CNN fired last year for remarks he gave at the United Nations in support of Palestinian rights and a boycott of Israel; and Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation magazine who is himself Jewish and has been a vocal critic of the Israeli government.

The panel will be moderated by journalist and historian Vijay Prashad, and it will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Organizers say that hundreds of tickets will be available at the door.

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


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