3rd Thursday Alert: Urge the U.S. Senate to reject initiatives to curb free speech and advocacy for Palestinians rights

3rd Thursday Alert: Urge the U.S. Senate to reject initiatives to curb free speech and advocacy for Palestinians rights

Over the past few weeks, students and faculty across the country have come out in large numbers to oppose U.S. military aid to Israel, approved by Congress in a supplemental bill that passed in late April.  The bill, which authorized new military aid to Israel ($14.1B), Ukraine ($60.8B), and Taiwan ($2B), is the latest U.S. allocation to support Israel’s continuing onslaught of Palestinians in Gaza, including sales and financial assistance.  It also included provisions for humanitarian aid, but excluded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) from U.S. support until March 2025.

UNRWA remains the leading humanitarian organization serving Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  It serves 5.9 million registered Palestinian refugees displaced in the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” in which 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly uprooted from their homes and communities in 1947-1949.  May 15 is Nakba Day, on which Palestinians commemorate their historic losses.  More than two-thirds of the Palestinians in Gaza today are refugees from three-quarters of a century ago and their descendants.

To date in Gaza, nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been killed; 78,000 have been injured; at least 10,000 are considered missing under rubble; and most of Gaza’s Palestinians have been displaced and are facing starvation.  These casualty numbers will certainly increase significantly as Israel has launched its campaign against Palestinians living and sheltering in the Rafah area.  Students and faculty in the U.S. have called for an end to such U.S. support, divestment by their colleges and universities from corporations that profit from Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and international law, and greater transparency about their schools’ funding sources and uses.

Reaction in Congress to the university protests has been swift.  The House of Representatives has passed two bills in the past month attempting to stifle First Amendment rights of free speech and to constrain support for Palestinian rights.  On May 1, the House passed the “Antisemitism Awareness Act” (HR 6090) calling upon the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism and its supporting examples, effectively categorizing criticism of Israeli policies as antisemitism.  On April 15, the House passed HR 6408, “to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to terminate the tax-exempt status of terrorist supporting organizations.”  The terms of the bill have been applied subjectively and indiscriminately to attempt to remove the tax-exempt status of organizations that have advocated for Palestinian rights.  Both bills have been forwarded to the U.S. Senate as S 4127 and S 4136, respectively.

Write to your Senators urging them to oppose S 4127 and S 4136.

The U.S. should not take lessons from Israel, which already has targeted Palestinian organizations that have advocated for Palestinian rights, including shutting down six Palestinian human rights organizations in 2021.  Such denial of voice is part of the “ongoing Nakba” that Palestinians have experienced for decades.  Stifling free speech and advocacy for human and civil rights are not principles of a liberal democracy. 

Israel’s war on Gaza must cease immediately, hostages and prisoners must be released, necessary and sufficient humanitarian aid must be provided immediately, and core issues must be resolved based on international law to ensure a just and durable peace in the Middle East. As Palestinians mark Nakba Day this May 15, Americans must retain their rights to speak out, dissent, and advocate with non-violence for justice and peace.