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Pro-Palestinian groups are Hamas propagandists, BigLaw firm's suit alleges; is First Amendment an issue?

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A May 1 lawsuit alleges that two pro-Palestinian groups are Hamas propagandists that are involved in campus protests in an effort to justify violence against Israel and Zionists. (Photo by Coolcaesar, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Updated: A May 1 lawsuit alleges that two pro-Palestinian groups are Hamas propagandists that are involved in campus protests in an effort to justify violence against Israel and Zionists.

Greenberg Traurig is among the law firms that filed the suit seeking damages for nine victims of the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack, according to a May 1 press release from Greenberg Traurig., Bloomberg Law and the Washington Post (here and here) covered the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The two groups targeted in the suit are American Muslims for Palestine and a group that it founded, National Students for Justice in Palestine.

The suit says American Muslims for Palestine, through the student group, “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 United States has designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization.

“There is a legal chasm between independent advocacy and knowingly serving as the propaganda and recruiting wing of a foreign terrorist organization in the United States,” the suit says. “AMP and NSJP are the latter. They are not innocent advocacy groups but rather the propaganda arm of a terrorist organization operating in plain sight.”

Also filing the suit with Greenberg Traurig are the National Jewish Advocacy Center, the Schoen Law Firm and the Holtzman Vogel law firm.

An opinion column in the Washington Post considers First Amendment concerns raised by the suit. According to the column, private actors have constitutional protection “to act as cheerleaders for Hamas” if they do not incite violence.

But those private actors cannot provide “material support” to a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn the law in a 2010 decision. According to the Washington Post, the Supreme Court found that conduct and speech may be illegal if it is “coordinated with or under the direction of a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

For the new suit to succeed, the plaintiffs will have to prove that the two pro-Palestinian groups are “acting at the behest of or in coordination with Hamas,” rather than acting as “an echo chamber regurgitating Hamas’ public declarations,” the Washington Post says.

The chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, Hatem Bazian, told the Washington Post that the suit is an assault on students’ right to free speech and protest.

“The lawsuit is an Islamophobic text reeking in anti-Palestinian racism and resorts to defamation to deflect from the live-streamed genocide in Gaza,” Bazian said.

Also criticizing the suit is Christina A. Jump, the civil litigation head for the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, the legal division of the Muslim Legal Fund of America. Jump’s group represents American Muslims for Palestine.

“I extend my sympathies to these families for their losses. And they absolutely have a right to redress against the perpetrators,” Jump says of the plaintiffs in an email to the ABA Journal. “They do not, however, have any legal right to redress against law-abiding domestic nonprofits like AMP.”

Jump says the plaintiffs cited a pending civil suit filed seven years ago in Chicago federal court, “even though the plaintiffs in the Chicago lawsuit have yet to legally prove a single one of their allegations against AMP. Instead, they fling inflammatory rhetoric, and others cite to it, with no correlation to any actual proven facts. No court has issued any finding that AMP supports anything improper, and we remain confident that based on all actual facts no court will do so.”

Jump says American Muslims for Palestine’s mission is to educate the American public about the history and culture of Palestine, and the group “breaks no laws and falls within its legally protected rights to free speech and association.”

“Rhetoric will not change that, even when dropped into the frame of a federal court complaint,” Jump says.

Updated May 7 at 2:15. p.m. to add Christina A. Jump’s statement.

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