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ACLU ‘Put Their Thumb on the Scale’ for Pro-Hamas Students, Says Ex-Florida Chapter President

An ACLU letter to college and university presidents urging them not to investigate pro-Palestinian student groups’ potential connections to Hamas is one-sided and another example of how the civil-rights organization has morphed into a left-wing advocacy group, said a former president of the ACLU of Florida who is suing the organization.

The ACLU open letter, delivered to more than 650 college and university leaders in early November, also misrepresented the position of two prominent antisemitism watchdog organizations who called for investigations into Students for Justice in Palestine chapters to look for potential violations of laws against providing material support for terrorism, said Michael Barfield, a former ACLU of Florida president.

“In my view, they put their thumb on the scale of the Palestinian side of free speech,” Barfield said of the ACLU’s open letter.

Barfield is one of seven ousted ACLU of Florida board members who are suing the national ACLU, alleging that they were illegally removed from their positions because of their efforts to maintain their organization’s traditional position as a non-partisan advocate for free speech. National Review wrote about their legal fight over the summer.

The ACLU’s open letter was sent in response to a letter that the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law sent in late October to about 200 college and university presidents. Their letter addressed the spike in campus antisemitism after the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on October 7.

In their letter, the two antisemitism watchdogs make an “urgent request” for university leaders to investigate their campus SJP chapters for potential violations of federal and state laws that prohibit providing material support to terrorists or terrorist organizations.

In their letter, they note that in preparation for its “Day of Resistance” events last month, the national SJP organization provided its chapters with a “toolkit” providing instructions on how to demonstrate and how to frame their messages. It also included graphics that included an image of a Hamas terrorist on a paraglider, like the ones used to gun down Israeli civilians.

The toolkit praised the Hamas terrorist attack against innocent civilians as a “surprise operation against the Zionist enemy” and a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance.” It insisted that “Palestine will be liberated from the river to the sea,” a Hamas slogan calling for wiping Israel off the map. It said that “Palestinian students in exile” don’t just stand in solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel on October 7 — an attack they call the Al-Aqsa Flood — but are instead “PART of this movement.” And the toolkit seemingly justified the killing of innocent Israelis, who it said are “settlers” and not “civilians,” and are therefore “military assets used to ensure continued control over stolen Palestinian land.”

National Review reported last month that SJP was founded in 2001 at the University of California, Berkeley, by a professor, Hatem Bazian, with a long history of making anti-Israel statements and who has called for an “intifada” in the U.S. Bazian was once a fundraiser for a pro-Palestinian group that had its assets frozen by the federal government because it was suspected of funding Hamas.

The ADL and Brandeis letter urged school leaders to ensure that SJP chapters weren’t “violating their Jewish students’ legal rights to be free of harassment and discrimination on campus.”

“Currently, Jews across campus are under attack, and for no other reason than the fact that they are Jews,” the letter said. “We need University leaders to come together, and state loudly and clearly, ‘Not on our campus.’ We are asking University Presidents to lead — we must protect Jewish life on campus and ensure that there is no material support being provided to terrorist organizations.”

The ADL and Brandeis Center letter was apparently a step too far for the ACLU, which followed up with its own letter on November 1. The ACLU claimed that the ADL and Brandeis Center letter alleged “without citing to any evidence, that pro-Palestine student groups are, through their words, providing material support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.” The ADL and Brandeis letter doesn’t assert that the SJP chapters are, in fact, providing material support to Hamas, but instead called for school leaders to investigate if they are.

The ACLU leaders urged higher-ed leaders to “reject calls to investigate, disband, or penalize student groups on the basis of their exercise of free speech rights.”

Regarding the radical statements in the SJP toolkit, the ACLU letter states: “To be clear, the ACLU in no way approves of or endorses such statements. Endorsing brutal mass murder of civilians is contrary to the principles of human rights that animate our domestic agenda. And yet under basic free speech principles, such statements are constitutionally protected.”

The ACLU leaders said they are not aware of evidence suggesting that national SJP letters published their toolkit “in coordination with, or at the direction of, Hamas.” And they don’t, of course, want school leaders to look for evidence of coordination or direction, noting that: “If coordination and direction are absent, the National SJP’s independent advocacy is fully protect by the First Amendment,” the ACLU letter states.

The ACLU says its concerns aren’t hypothetical, pointing to the move by Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s administration to deactivate SJP chapters at public universities in the state.

Barfield said he takes issue with the ACLU for mischaracterizing the ADL and Brandeis Center letter. They didn’t call for banning SJP chapters or quelling their legally protected speech, he said. “They said that these issues [potential violations of laws against providing support to terrorists] should be investigated,” he said.

The ACLU’s letter is one-sided in support of the pro-Palestinian cause, Barfield said. He questioned whether the ACLU’s position on the issue went through the proper channels for vetting. He suspects it is primarily the work of Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s national director.

“It’s Anthony Romero determining what the policy of the ACLU will be as it relates to this issue,” Barfield said.

Speaking to the Florida Bulldog, a journalism website, Jeanne Baker, another ACLU of Florida board member who was ousted from her position by national leadership, agreed that the ACLU’s letter was “very one-sided.” Attempts by National Review to reach Baker were unsuccessful.

“There are Jewish advocacy groups that should have also been mentioned, underscoring the right of both groups to engage in even hot-headed rhetoric,” she said.

Baker also opposed the state of Florida’s action against the SJP chapters in the state without first investigating whether they coordinated with Hamas. “This violates due process and, on its face, the First Amendment,” she told the Florida Bulldog.

Barfield was critical of the radical language in the SJP toolkit praising terrorist killings and justifying the butchering of innocent civilians.

“That is absolutely wrong, and that is advocating for violence,” he said. “Our policy makes it clear that we do not support speech that in any way advocates or even . . . suggests violence.”

He said that if his board was still at the helm of the ACLU of Florida, they would have put out a very different statement. “We would not put our finger on the scale to favor one side or the other,” he said. “The beauty of free speech is that we don’t take a position advocating that one person’s speech should be favored over another.”

The ACLU did not respond to an email from National Review. Gaby Guadalupe, an ACLU of Florida spokeswoman, did not answer specific questions, but provided a statement instead.

“Freedom of speech protects all points of view — today, that means pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli voices,” the statement said. “We should not be intimidated into surrendering First Amendment rights out of fear that the debate on college campuses has become loud and offensive — that is when the challenge to defend freedom of speech is the most difficult and most needed. In our constitutional universe, political advocacy, no matter how strident and offensive, is protected. It cannot be banned by concocted claims that political advocacy constitutes support for terrorism.”

“Speech can be prohibited and should be punished when it amounts to incitement and a threat of violence. Additionally, we have a constitutional right to free speech, belief, and association. The government may not retaliate, surveil, ban, or otherwise punish people or groups peacefully participating in pro-Palestine or pro-Israel protests.”

Barfield and Baker previously told National Review that they started noticing radical changes within the ACLU after Donald Trump’s surprise election in 2016. After that, the organization, flooded with activist money, drifted from its mission of being a non-partisan supporter of free speech and civil liberties for all into being a partisan, left-wing advocacy group and a leader of the resistance to Trump.

The ousted ACLU of Florida board members filed their lawsuit in August, arguing that the ACLU of Florida is a separate corporate entity from the national ACLU, with its own bylaws and policies, and that the national organization had no right to remove them from their seats.

Their next court hearing is scheduled for December, Barfield said.

Source : National Review