Students drop suit against UMass over panel on Palestinian rights

  • People protesting a panel on the movement to boycott Israel circle around the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, Nov. 12. FILE PHOTO/SABATO VISCONTI

Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2019 11:32:59 PM

AMHERST — A lawsuit alleging that the University of Massachusetts discriminated against Jewish students by allowing a pro-Palestine panel to be held on campus in May has been dropped.

In April, three UMass students anonymously filed an emergency preliminary injunction seeking to prevent a panel discussion planned for May 4, titled “Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” alleging that the event was anti-Semitic.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge denied the injunction.

The students also sought a declaratory judgment, asking the court to determine that the university had violated non-discrimination policy against Jewish students.

A judge ruled in July that the case could not move forward if the students remained anonymous, but granted them until Sept. 20 to refile the case with their names included, attorney Rachel Weber told the Gazette earlier in the fall.

Weber represented various groups and individuals in support of the event, including organizer the Media Education Foundation and Jewish Voice for Peace.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Karen Hurvitz, said earlier in December that she would ask the court to dismiss the case, according to Kristian Bailey, a spokesperson for the Palestine Legal advocacy organization. The case was formally dismissed on Wednesday.

Weber, who is also a representative for Jewish Voice for Peace, praised the decision in a statement to Palestine Legal.

“Ironically, the lawsuit sought to censor an event on how activists supporting Palestinian rights are censored,” Weber said. “Thankfully, the judge recognized that many members of Jewish communities condemn the pernicious conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and that such misrepresentations of anti-Semitism do not belong in a court of law.”

Hurvitz declined to comment on Monday.

More than 1,500 people attended the May event, which featured former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters; Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour; professor and political commentator Marc Lamont; and The Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin, who is Jewish himself.

The Media Education Foundation, which is headed by UMass communications professor Sut Jhally, held a second panel, “Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS & American Democracy,” in November, featuring a panel comprising Harvard professor and author Cornel West; journalist and activist Shaun King; anti-racism advocate and author Tim Wise; Palestine Legal founder and director Dima Khalidi; and a Skype appearance by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, whom the Trump administration banned from entering the U.S.

Prior to the November panel, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy released a statement asserting that the university did not condone the event.

The statement sparked backlash from organizers, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, and over 130 signatures on a letter in support of the event.

UMass Hillel expressed support for Subbaswamy’s statement and held a “peace walk” at the same time as the event, which they said had the potential to stoke anti-Semitism on campus.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted the name of Kristian Bailey, a spokesperson for Palestine Legal. Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.

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