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U.S. Anti-Terrorism Laws Are “Anti-Palestinian at the Core,” Chill First Amendment

StoryFebruary 26, 2024
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As Israel continues to massacre Palestinians in Gaza with U.S. military and political support, Palestinians in the United States are increasingly being targeted by anti-terrorism laws in an attempt to silence their pro-Palestine activism. “Anti-Palestinian animus is one of the most enduring areas of bipartisan appeal in Washington,” says Darryl Li, an anthropologist and lawyer teaching at the University of Chicago. Li shares the history of U.S. anti-terrorism law, which dates back to the 1990s and the Anti-Defamation League-supported passage of a law banning “material support” to U.S.-designated “terror” groups. “The very foundations of terrorism law in the United States, at key moments of their development, were crafted with the agenda of opposing or crushing Palestinian liberation in mind,” he says. We also speak with Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal, an organization that provides legal assistance to people who have been targeted by and face prosecution under these laws, which not only have a “huge chilling effect on people, on First Amendment rights,” but that also provide “cover for this genocide.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We look now at how Palestinians are being increasingly targeted by U.S. anti-terrorism laws amidst ongoing efforts to conflate pro-Palestinian activism with so-called terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League, the ADL, has called on university presidents to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine, known as SJP, chapters for, quote, “material support for terrorism.” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has even compared SJP to the Hitler Youth.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. And the SJP and these kids who are pushing it are like the Hitler Youth. Sorry, I know people don’t like it when I say that, but it’s true. And what Shai said before is spot-on.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, several American universities have suspended or banned Students for Justice in Palestine. In an interview in January with CNN’s Dana Bash, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed, without evidence, some protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza are connected to Russia, and urged the FBI to investigate them.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: For them to call for a ceasefire is Mr. Putin’s message. Mr. Putin’s message. Make no mistake: This is directly connected to what he would like to see. Same thing with Ukraine. It’s about Putin’s message. I think some of these — some of these protesters are spontaneous and organic and sincere. Some, I think, are connected to Russia. And I say that having looked at this for a long time now, as you know.

DANA BASH: You think some of these protests are Russian plants?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I wouldn’t say they’re plants. I think some financing should be investigated. And I want to ask the FBI to investigate that.

AMY GOODMAN: She later would say, when people were protesting in San Francisco, “Go back to China.”

For more, we’re joined by two guests who have been following all of this closely. Darryl Li is an anthropologist and lawyer teaching at University of Chicago. He’s the author of the new briefing paper, “Anti-Palestinian at the Core: The Origins and Growing Dangers of U.S. Antiterrorism Law,” jointly published with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal. And we’re joined by Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Darryl Li, let’s start with you. Talk about what you found.

DARRYL LI: Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

Well, I think many viewers of Democracy Now! are probably familiar with the way that Palestinians have been slandered and stereotyped as terrorists for a long time. What this report does is it reaches back and connects the dots of a longer history, going back almost 50 years, showing how the very foundations of terrorism law in the United States, at key moments of their development, were crafted with the agenda of opposing or crushing Palestinian liberation in mind.

The first time the word “terrorism” even shows up in federal law is in a 1969 statute, and it’s, unfortunately, very relevant today. This statute restricts U.S. aid to UNRWA, the U.N. body that provides humanitarian aid to refugees, and it uses the word “terrorism” essentially as a synonym for Palestinian resistance. And one of the chief sponsors of this legislation, Congressman Leonard Farbstein from New York, made a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives where he peddled the stereotype of UNRWA schools and Palestinian refugee camps, essentially, as hotbeds of terrorism that are brainwashing the sort of next generation of terrorists. So, in light of today’s campaigns to defund UNRWA and to deprive Palestinians of humanitarian aid, we can see that this is part of a much, much longer campaign that extends in many different directions.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who is pushing these laws and what their agenda is, Darryl Li?

DARRYL LI: Yes. One of the other key aspects of the story is the role of organizations like the Anti-Defamation League in pushing for this legislation over time. And again, this is relevant for one of the clips that you just played, the clip of Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, accusing student activists, SJP of terrorism support — of being terrorism supporters. There’s a bit of a coming-full-circle moment here, because the ADL was actually one of the organizations that lobbied very heavily for the passage of this law that criminalizes so-called material support to terrorist organizations. The material support statute is actually the most commonly used charge in federal terrorism cases. And the reason why it’s prosecutors’ favorite tool is because it is incredibly broad. It criminalizes ordinary activity that would usually be covered and protected by the First Amendment. So it’s a very, very convenient weapon. And it was passed in the 1990s as the result of a long-running campaign by the ADL and other groups to essentially crack down on Palestinian community organizing and Palestinian solidarity organizing in the United States.

And what they did, actually, was they exploited the outrage following the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. Now, many people will recall, of course, that the people who carried out that bombing were U.S. citizens, essentially right-wing white nationalist militia members. But the law that was passed as a result of the Oklahoma City bombing included — it was mostly a sort of get-tough-on-crime, crack-down-on-immigration bill that included the material support law that was proposed by the ADL as part of a larger package of measures that were all about, essentially, targeting Palestinian liberation movements.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dima Khalidi, head of Palestine Legal, let’s be clear: It’s not only Students for Justice in Palestine that have been banned on some campuses, but also Jewish Voice for Peace.

DIMA KHALIDI: That’s right, Amy. We’ve seen over the last several months multiple efforts to shut down student activism. And that is a direct result of efforts by groups like the ADL, but also by statements by President Biden himself that have said that he will — he is mobilizing federal law enforcement to surveil campus activism. And these threats of surveillance, that Pelosi herself made, as well, are serious, and they reflect what we are saying in this report is a fundamentally anti-Palestinian agenda.

When the U.S. government, instead of stopping military aid to Israel to stop this genocide, is stopping funding for UNRWA, that is a lifeline for Gazans, this is the result of decades of anti-Palestinian rhetoric that has allowed these laws to develop, and that is, ultimately, in this moment when people are mobilizing to stop this genocide, a cover for the genocide. It is a justification for the dehumanization of Palestinians and their allies, to tar them with criminal or discriminatory intent. And that’s the intention of this report, is to really expose this anti-Palestinian agenda that is driving efforts to really expand these laws to target First Amendment activity that is trying to mobilize people for justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestine Legal has received multiple reports of the FBI harassing Palestine advocates for their social media posts. Can you describe some examples, Dima?

DIMA KHALIDI: Well, we and other legal organizations that are supporting people who are facing increasing repression are getting multiple reports of people being visited by the FBI, often because of social media posts that they make, because of their activism on the streets. And people have even been visited by ICE, immigration enforcement agencies. And this is a direct result, again, of this rhetoric, of this increase in surveillance resources to law enforcement agencies. And as we know from the post-9/11 era, the impact on our communities is enormous. It has a huge chilling effect on people, on First Amendment rights. But it also is a signal of an erosion of a whole host of constitutional rights when law enforcement is mobilized in this way, as we saw in the 1960s with COINTELPRO, as we saw in the post-9/11 era.

So, this is just the beginning, we think, of what is a massive mobilization of state resources against this movement. And this is why we’re publishing this report now, to really encourage lawmakers to protect First Amendment rights, to roll back these laws, which are only shielding Israel from accountability and scrutiny and undermining fundamental First Amendment rights for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the anti-Palestinian bills that are in front of Congress, one of them that would possibly radically expand deportations of Palestinians at this time, Dima?

DIMA KHALIDI: Yeah, we’re seeing legislatures around the country, not just Congress, but state legislatures, threatening, presenting bills that are trying to justify an erosion of constitutional rights and First Amendment rights by noting terrorism, supposed terrorism, threats, right? And certainly after October 7th, we saw an increase in these kinds of bills — one that wanted to deport all Palestinians. And we see this rhetoric from our elected officials, as well.

So, we are very clear that the reason that this is allowed to happen is because this anti-Palestinian sentiment has been cemented not only into U.S. law, but into the minds of people. And that’s why these kinds of bills are proposed with hardly anyone blinking an eye, while Palestinians are being obliterated in Gaza as we speak. So, this is a very concerning moment and one where we must all stand up and recognize that our laws have been built and are being used and exploited to further Israel’s own agenda and, you know, the United States’ complicity in what Israel is doing right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Darryl Li, can you talk about what most surprised you, in this last minute we have, in doing the research for this report?

DARRYL LI: Yes, well, I think one of the surprising episodes is the one that I referred to earlier about the way that the material support law was passed after the Oklahoma City bombing. Essentially, what happened was that the Clinton administration proposed a sort of general anti-terrorism law that included the things that the ADL wanted, that essentially targeted Palestinians, but also included things that you would like expect, like expanded law enforcement authority, regulation of firearms and explosives, and so on. And the House-led — sorry, the Republican-led House of Representatives essentially gutted that bill and replaced it with all the provisions that they wanted. And immediately, the Democrats and the ADL pushed back, lobbied very hard, and the parts of the original bill, only the ones that pertained to so-called international terrorism, that were essentially targeting Palestinians, were put back into the bill. So it’s a really sobering example of how anti-Palestinian animus is one of the most enduring areas of bipartisan appeal in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’re going to link to your report. Darryl Li, lawyer, associate professor of anthropology and social sciences at the University of Chicago, and Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal. The new briefing paper is “Anti-Palestinian at the Core: The Origins and Growing Dangers of U.S. Antiterrorism Law.”

That does it for our show. To see all our video and audio podcasts, you can go to democracynow.org. And congratulations to our whole team as we just surpassed 2 million YouTube viewers. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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