Radhika Sainath on Censorship Attempts at UMass Amherst

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On Monday, a court in Boston postponed a hearing on an emergency motion demanding that the University of Massachusetts Amherst cancel an upcoming event on the censorship of speech supporting Palestinian rights.

Filed on behalf of anonymous pro-Israel students, the lawsuit against UMass attempted to prevent the university from serving as a venue for a May 4 event called “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,”  featuring Marc Lamont Hill, Linda Sarsour, Roger Waters, and Dave Zirin. The event will be moderated by Vijay Prashad.

Jewish Voice for Peace-Western Mass, with attorney Rachel Weber, filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the speakers and organizers of the event on Monday, and held a press conference outside of the courthouse before the hearing.

The judge postponed Monday’s hearing in order to give each legal team time to read the other’s filings and will issue a decision no later than Thursday afternoon. According to the Boston Globe, the judge reportedly said “There is no precedent” for shutting down an event with no imminent threats.

Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath issued the following remarks, which were read by JVP member Rachel Weber at the press conference:

The eleventh-hour attempt to censor Saturday’s event reaches new heights of irony. Not only do anti-Palestinian groups want to censor discussion of Israel’s human rights abuses, they want to censor discussion of the censorship. The First Amendment does not allow for such viewpoint discrimination.

Palestine Legal has responded to nearly 1,300 incidents of censorship and other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2018. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Such censorship affects students, professors, playwrights, school teachers, artists, chefs, musicians, activists and authors. The most common and harmful tactic in these censorship campaigns -- like the one against the groups intervening today -- is to conflate criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with hatred of or discrimination against Jewish people. We must oppose this conflation, even as we fight antisemitism and all forms of racism.

UMass may not censor Saturdays’ discussion just because some people disagree with the message that Palestinians deserve freedom and equality. Universities should be encouraging the kind of courageous human rights advocacy that is under attack. We must be able to talk about Palestinian rights on college campuses without the kind of legal bullying that is happening here. There is simply no Palestine exception to free speech and human rights.

Watch a video of Rachel reading Radhika’s remarks below.

Stay tuned to Palestine Legal for an update on Thursday’s hearing.