Are pro-Gaza college protests free speech? Survivors of Hamas attack say no in lawsuit

05/02/24 Reposted from

Pro-Palestinian protests at U.S. universities are prompting constitutional questions – particularly questions of free speech – and law enforcement responses.

A new federal lawsuit says the demonstrators don’t have the right to free speech when “terrorism” and violence against Jews are taking place at college campuses.

Nine American-Israeli survivors of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel are suing two pro-Gaza groups: the American Muslims for Palestine and the National Students for Justice in Palestine.

The lawsuit filed May 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia argues both groups are doing Hamas’ bidding by having “their army of college students” take to “American streets and college campuses.”

“AMP and NSJP have intentionally instigated a mass culture of fear, threats, violence, and overt hatred to intimidate politicians and institutions for Hamas’s substantial benefit,” the complaint states in part.

AMP’s attorney Christina Jump, of the Muslim Legal Fund of America, told McClatchy News on May 2 that once the group is served with the lawsuit, it “will gladly demonstrate in any jurisdiction that it operates fully within the laws of the United States.”

More than 2,000 people have been arrested at colleges nationwide over the past few weeks during the protests, including 200 people at the University of California, Los Angeles, within the past day, The Associated Press reported May 2.

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) attorney Alex Morey, the non-profit’s vice president of campus advocacy, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on April 30 that free speech experts “never want to see campus peaceful protests devolve into violence.”

She also said “we want administrators, people in charge, even the governor in every situation to be looking at the facts and protecting peaceful protests whenever possible.”

The lawsuit against AMP and NSJP is represented by Greenberg Traurig law firm, the National Jewish Advocacy Center, the Schoen Law Firm and the Holtzman Vogel law firm.

The complaint contends the suit “does not seek to suppress speech, but to hold (the organizations) liable for acting as Hamas’ ministry of propaganda” in the U.S.

“It is deeply ironic that the same people carrying signs saying ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Jews’ claim they are protected by free speech. They are not,” Greenberg Traurig vice chair Richard A. Edlin said in a news release issued by the firm.

“Free speech has never included the active support of terrorism, and it has never protected the destruction of private property or the brutalization of innocent men, women, and children of many faiths, not just Jews,” he said.

In her emailed statement, Jump extended her sympathies to the plaintiffs and said they “absolutely have a right to redress against the perpetrators.

“They do not, however, have any legal right to redress against law-abiding domestic nonprofits like AMP, that even their complaint fails to tie to terrorism.”

She said it will be shown in court that AMP “breaks no laws and falls within its legally protected rights to free speech and association.”

The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, which supports Muslim advocacy groups across the country, denounced the lawsuit and called it a “political stunt” in a provided statement to McClatchy News on May 2.

“In recent months, college students have been doxxed, attacked and arrested. Teachers, doctors and other workers have faced discrimination and termination. Protesters have been defamed and brutalized. Dozens of Muslim and Palestinian Americans have been violently attacked for wearing visible signs of their religion or culture,” the statement said in part.

“If Greenberg Traurig and its clients disagree with Americans advocating against the genocide in Gaza, they should debate those Americans in the court of ideas instead of misusing a court of law to smear and silence them,” the statement continued.


On Thursday, President Joe Biden publicly addressed the demonstrations at college campuses, saying they’re testing “two fundamental American principles.”

“The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld,” Biden said May 2.

“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent … But — but neither are we a lawless country.”

He continued by saying peaceful protests are protected in the U.S., but protests that turn violent aren’t.

On May 1, 15 people were hurt during a pro-Palestinian protest that “turned violent” at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to campus officials, Axios reported.

Biden also said there is “no place in America for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students” and that there’s “no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s antisemitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.”


From April 18 to date, arrests of protesters on U.S. university campuses have occurred in 24 states spanning from the East Coast to the West, according to a New York Times map.

The universities include Columbia, Yale, New York University, Princeton, North Carolina State, the University of Florida, Ohio State, University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University and more.

At Stony Brook University in New York shortly after midnight May 2, a university spokesperson told Axios that 29 individuals “including students, faculty members and others from outside our campus community” were arrested.

The arrests were “for violating various legal statutes and university policies,” the spokesperson said, according to Axios.

As the protests persist, so does Israel’s war on Gaza, which has lasted nearly seven months, The Associated Press reported.

With their lawsuit, the plaintiffs suing AMP and NSJP seek an unspecified amount in compensatory damages and demand a jury trial.