October 7 Survivors Sue Campus Protesters, Say Students Are “Hamas’s Propaganda Division”

Survivors of the October 7 attacks filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court last week alleging links between Hamas and the pro-Palestinian student groups leading nationwide protests against Israel’s war on Gaza. The survivors claim the student groups are liable for monetary damages because of the purported terrorism links.

“When someone tells you they are aiding and abetting terrorists — believe them.” That’s the opening line the suit filed Wednesday against the Palestinian advocacy groups American Muslims for Palestine and National Students for Justice in Palestine, the umbrella group supporting student organizers for Palestine, which supports more than 350 Palestine solidarity groups, including more than 200 campus organizations across the country.

The lawsuit is part of a nationwide crackdown on pro-Palestine activism, especially on campus. It was filed a day after police in New York City deployed militarized forces to remove students from campus encampments protesting the war on Gaza and arrested hundreds.

Some or all of the nine plaintiffs in the suit are involved in a raft of other civil suits related to the October 7 attacks. Among the defendants they’ve pursued in court are major media organizations and United Nations agencies.

The survivors of the October 7 attack alleged that American Muslims for Palestine “serves as Hamas’s propaganda division in the United States.” 

“Through NSJP, AMP uses propaganda to intimidate, convince, and recruit uninformed, misguided, and impressionable college students to serve as foot soldiers for Hamas on campus and beyond,” the October 7 survivors wrote in their suit.

The lawsuits rely on anti-terrorism laws that made it possible to bring civil cases for acts of international terrorism, including provisions around bans on material support to terrorism that have long been controversially applied. At the time of their passage, members of Congress who pushed the anti-terror laws linked them directly to crackdowns on pro-Palestine activities, according to a recent white paper from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal.

“The goal is to isolate Palestinians.”

“For years, CCR and others have been warning of the abuse of broad ‘material support’ laws to shrink the space for Palestinian rights,” said Diala Shamas, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The group represented another Palestinian rights organization in what Shamas said was “years-long, meritless litigation” brought by the Jewish National Fund, a group that funds Israeli settlements.

“The law’s provision of civil damages means that private actors — including those with seemingly endless resources — can bog you down in costly and distracting litigation,” Shamas said. “This means that Palestinians and those who support their rights become ‘high risk’ — and those who they rely on — charities, funders, banks or social media companies — are chilled from further engagement. The goal is to isolate Palestinians.”

Four Survivor Lawsuits

The nine plaintiffs include six survivors of the October 7 Hamas attacks. Five people attended the Supernova music festival, and another was attacked at Zikim Beach, where 19 civilians were killed as Hamas militants tried to overrun nearby military outposts.

Two other plaintiffs who were not home on October 7 had homes in Kibbutz Holit, the site of additional Hamas attacks. Another plaintiff’s brother was killed at the festival. (Lawyers for the plaintiffs, AMP, and SJP did not respond to requests for comment.)

The AMP suit is the fourth federal suit filed this year by members of the group.

Last month, eight of the same plaintiffs sued the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, claiming that it gave material support to Hamas by allowing the militant group to fundraise on the platform. In November, the Treasury Department said Hamas and “a range of illicit actors” had used Binance to funnel money to their groups. Binance lawyers asked for an extension to reply to the complaint and have until August to do so. In April, the company’s former chief executive was sentenced to four months in prison after pleading guilty to money laundering violations.

Five of the plaintiffs in the American Muslims for Palestine suit also sued the news agency The Associated Press in February. The plaintiffs alleged that the AP used photographs from “known Hamas associates who were gleefully embedded with the Hamas terrorists during the October 7th attacks.” Lawyers for the AP moved to dismiss the complaint for failing to state a claim and asked to stay discovery pending adjudication of the motion to dismiss.

In March, the same group of nine plus another October 7 survivor sued the U.S. committee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNWRA, the largest humanitarian organization operating in Gaza. The suit against UNRWA claims that the group “financed and aided” Hamas, a frequent refrain from Israeli officials that has gone unsubstantiated, according to an independent review released in April. UNRWA lawyers were granted an extension and have until May 28 to respond to the complaint.

Following Israeli officials’ allegations, major donors initially cut funding to UNRWA, but later reversed the decisions — except for the United States, the group’s biggest donor, where Congress blocked funding as part of the budget package approved this spring.

The major corporate law firm Greenberg Traurig has taken on the latest case. The National Jewish Advocacy Center has taken on the three other cases. The group did not respond to a request for comment. 

TOPSHOT - Pro-Palestinian students stand their ground after police breached their encampment the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Los Angeles, California, early on May 2, 2024. Police deployed a heavy presence on US university campuses on May 1 after forcibly clearing away some weeks-long protests against Israel's war with Hamas. Dozens of police cars patrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in response to violent clashes overnight when counter-protesters attacked an encampment of pro-Palestinian students. (Photo by Etienne LAURENT / AFP) (Photo by ETIENNE LAURENT/AFP via Getty Images)
Pro-Palestine students stand their ground against police at UCLA in Los Angeles, early in the morning on May 2, 2024.
Photo: Etienne Laurent/AFP via Getty Images

Crackdown on Student Groups

Student advocates for Palestine have faced concerted and sometimes violent crackdowns by school administrators and police. Mainstream media outlets uncritically repeat unsubstantiated claims that they support Hamas.

Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, which are at the center of much campus organizing, have faced harsh censorship since October. The group was singled out in congressional hearings that have pressured university administrators to further crack down on Palestinian advocacy on campus.

Columbia University suspended its SJP chapter and its chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace in November. The New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal sued the university over the suspension in March in the New York Supreme Court. The case is pending.

American University placed its SJP chapter on probation in April after the group held a silent indoor demonstration; the school banned indoor protests in January. Rutgers University suspended the SJP chapter on its New Brunswick campus in December and claimed that the group had protested in “nonpublic forums” and caused disruption on campus; the suspension was lifted in January. (I am a co-teacher of a class at Rutgers.)

George Washington University suspended its SJP chapter in November after the group projected statements onto a library building calling for the university to divest from Israel. The projected images said GWU had blood on its hands and used the phrase “Glory to our martyrs,” a cultural reference to any Palestinian killed by Israel that was interpreted by outsiders as an endorsement of Hamas.

Brandeis was the first private university to ban its SJP chapter in November, claiming that the group “openly supports Hamas.”

State-level Republican officials have also taken steps to legalize the suppression of SJP. In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order targeting campus activism, calling on all the state’s higher education institutions to “review and update free speech policies” to address antisemitism. The order defined the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as antisemitic and linked the use of the widely adopted phrase to Hamas.

And in October, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered colleges to shut down all SJP chapters. The University of Florida SJP chapter sued DeSantis in November and said the governor’s order was a violation of free speech. A federal court denied the chapter’s request for a preliminary injunction in January and found that Florida officials did not intend to deactivate all SJP chapters after comments by the Florida University System chancellor walking back DeSantis’s order.

In October, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares opened an investigation into AMP and said his office had reason to believe that the organization was soliciting contributions without proper registration. Miyares, a Republican, had also called on state law enforcement agencies to donate tactical gear to Israeli citizens.

Last week, Congress adopted a resolution that would further chill speech from organizations like SJP. The resolution employs a controversial definition of antisemitism that includes any attempts to draw comparisons between the actions of the Israeli government and Nazis. The House voted 320 to 91 to adopt the working definition of antisemitism published in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The lead author of the definition has said it “was never intended to be a campus hate speech code.”

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