Dear friends,

We are delighted to share this first newsletter of the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) with you.

Through this newsletter, we would like to inform you about the outcomes of the first five months of our work. We appreciate your feedback and invite you to spread the word by sharing this email in your network.

We would also like to take the chance to thank all activists, NGOs, academic institutions, scholars, jurists and other supporters who helped us shape our strategic plan, provided basic seed funds, and/or became our partners.

What is the ELSC?

The ELSC was established in January 2019 to provide legal assistance and support to organizations, groups and individuals who are facing repression in Europe because they speak out or take peaceful action for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. Our Center is a joint initiative of the Palestinian civil society network PNGO, European scholars and jurists, and the Dutch NGO The Rights Forum, which also hosts our offices in Amsterdam. The establishment of the ELSC was a necessary step because no other organization is providing urgently needed legal support to the Palestinian solidarity movement in Europe.
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Our goals for 2019-2020

In 2019-2020, our work will be focused on three main areas:

1. MONITORING and awareness-raising about repression of advocacy for Palestinian rights. These attacks include false accusations of antisemitism and terrorism, restrictive legislation or policies, threats with lawsuits, (attempts at) denial of use of public/private facilities, physical interference/attacks by authorities or private persons, digital attacks, (attempts at) closure of bank accounts or obstruction of access to fundraising tools, and (attempts at) cutting off funding from public or private donors. We will:
  • Create an electronic database of such attacks Europe-wide, which is essential for effective legal support;
  • Prepare and publish a series of country reports about these attacks, in cooperation with local partners, beginning with The Netherlands, and followed by reports focused on other European countries, foremost France, Germany and the UK.
2. DEFENDING activists and institutions against false and defamatory accusations of antisemitism, associated criminalization and restrictive measures, including legal challenges of the validity of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and its use for restriction of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly across Europe. In order to provide legal defense, we will develop and implement strategic legal interventions in cooperation with local lawyers.

Our current focus is Germany, where the repression of advocacy for Palestinian rights reached new unprecedented heights. The Bundestag has recently approved a non-binding resolution that equates the BDS movement with antisemitism. The deterioration of the political environment highlights the need for legal intervention to safeguard the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of advocates for Palestinian rights in Germany. However, our aim is to extend this work to other European countries in which interventions of this kind are needed and local jurists are willing to cooperate. We aim to:
  • Provide legal training for activists as well as legal assistance and expertise to lawyers defending advocates for Palestinian rights;
  • Build and launch the ELSC website as a tool for information and assistance.
3. EMPOWERING civil society efforts for accountability of the EU and business companies to their legal obligations in connection with Israel and the Palestinian people. We will:
  • Explore possible legal strategies to end EU trade with Israel’s illegal settlements which can be further developed and implemented at a later stage;
  • Fill gaps in the development of legal strategies for challenging corporate business involved in war crimes and human rights abuses;
  • Publish a monthly newsletter to update and inspire activists and supporters across Europe.

Do you want to cooperate with the ELSC ?

If your organization is seeking assistance or cooperation in a matter related to the ELSC’s work, don't hesitate to contact us.

Our first victory in court!

At the end of March, three months after the establishment of ELSC, we celebrated our first success in litigation. This was achieved in Oldenburg, Germany: the court rejected the false allegation of antisemitism against BDS Oldenburg and instructed the City Council to allow Israeli Apartheid Week activities to go ahead as planned.
Here are the facts in brief:
On 11 February 2019, a resident of Oldenburg active in the local BDS group submitted to the City Council an official request for city-owned conference space for public debates during the Palestine solidarity movement’s 2019 Israeli Apartheid Week in the month of March. The City, which had already been convicted in 2018 for canceling a contract with the same applicant in 2016, refused once again to grant the requested space. With only few days left until the planned events, our German partner law firm, Attorney Ahmed Abed, challenged the City by bringing an “application for interim measure” before the Administrative Court of Oldenburg.

On 21 March, however, the Court issued a controversial judgement, arguing that the applicant did not sufficiently demonstrate that the BDS Campaign is not antisemitic and, thus, ruling in favor of the City.

Attorney Abed immediately requested ELSC assistance with an urgent appeal before the Higher Administrative Court of Lower Saxony. We decided to “internationalize” the case, demonstrating that the BDS movement pursues a genuine and legitimate human rights agenda in full compliance with international law and that the right to boycott is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.  We also submitted an authoritative statement by Prof. John Dugard, affirming both the apartheid-nature of Israel’s regime over the occupied Palestinian population and the full legitimacy of the Palestinian civil society-led BDS movement as a nonviolent means to end this oppressive regime.
On 28 March, the Higher Administrative Court issued a final judgment in our favor. In particular, the Court explained that: 1) Since the charge of antisemitism represents a very serious allegation, the burden of proof lies with the party making the accusation; and, 2) the Court’s examination had not produced any evidence that the applicant or the BDS Campaign had violated the principles of the liberal-democratic order.
Consequently, the Court instructed the City of Oldenburg to provide the requested rooms and BDS Oldenburg was able to have Israeli Apartheid Week events in public space. The City was also forced to cover the plaintiff’s legal cost for both proceedings.
Israeli Apartheid Week in Oldenburg: public lecture about Israel's system of apartheid by Prof Norman Paech
Let’s mark this victory as a first milestone in a collective effort to defend and strengthen solidarity with the Palestinian people in Europe.

Please note that this newsletter is issued in English only, simply because we currently lack resources for translation and publication in other European languages.

Contact us, if you are willing to translate our newsletter or are aware of individuals or foundations that may support the cause of ELSC
We are looking forward to your feedback and cooperation,

Giovanni Fassina
ELSC coordinator
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