Today, Palestine Legal sent a letter to South Carolina State Representative Alan Clemmons, a right-wing Zionist, warning him to unblock a Palestinian-American graduate student on Twitter. Clemmons blocked Dana Al-Hasan from his official Twitter account in February 2018 after she tweeted at him, criticizing US financial support for Israel.
A federal court recently ruled that government officials who communicate with constituents through Twitter may not block users due to their views. “Clemmons can’t censor students like Dana because they’re critical of Israel’s human rights abuses,” said Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “This practice is unconstitutional, individuals supporting Palestinian freedom have the same right as everyone else to hear what elected officials say – and criticize them when they disagree.”
Clemmons has long advocated anti-Palestinian policies, and he has admitted that he adopted his far-right pro-Israel positions to turn the international issue into a political weapon in South Carolina. He was the lead sponsor of South Carolina’s anti-boycott law, the first enacted in the nation in 2015.
He once boasted, “South Carolina is the most pro-Israel state in the US. We don’t have a huge Jewish population but we do have plenty of Israel loving Christians. If the South is the Bible Belt, South Carolina is the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Clemmons was also the lead sponsor of a bill aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy on college campuses in South Carolina. The bill codified a widely discredited re-definition of antisemitism that classifies virtually all criticism of Israel and Israeli government policy as inherently antisemitic, and requires colleges and universities in South Carolina to use the overbroad definition when investigating alleged acts of antisemitism on campuses.
Despite its failure to pass as a stand-alone bill because of concerns that it would infringe on First Amendment-protected speech, South Carolina passed the bill as part of its 2018 budget, making it the first state in the nation to enact such a policy. Kenneth Marcus, head of the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education, recently announced that the federal agency will apply a similar policy nationwide.
President Trump has also tried Clemmons’ tactic of blocking Twitter users with whom he disagrees, a practice which a federal judge ruled in May violates the First Amendment.
UPDATE: Clemmons unblocked Al-Hasan October 19 after Palestine Legal wrote to him explaining that he had violated her First Amendment rights.