ELSC Newsletter: September

Published on Fri Oct 08 2021

Dear friend,

This month we share with you updates on our work protecting students and Palestinian advocates in the UK, a new report on European financial support for companies involved in the Israeli settlement enterprise, exciting news on the BT3P case challenging the German Bundestag, an important step challenging EU trade with occupied territories and a victory for academic freedom for an international legal scholar.

Challenging Repression in the UK

In our last newsletter, we updated you on the increasing requests for legal support coming from UK-based Palestinian rights advocates. We are proud now to announce that we have successfully won 22 cases that concerned students and academics at a UK university who were subject to internal disciplinary proceedings and smear campaigns for speaking up for Palestine. Most of the complaints were based on unfounded allegations of antisemitism through the use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and all of the complaints were dismissed. British media gal-dem covered one of the cases we supported in this article.

In addition to our support on UK campuses, last month, ELSC Director Giovanni Fassina participated in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s webinar “Resisting the IHRA Definition” and spoke about our work in the UK and challenging the IHRA Definition from a legal point of view. Watch the webinar again here.

If you know anyone who has faced repression for Palestinian rights advocacy whether at university, work, or during a protest in a public space or online, make sure to fill out our incident report form. This information enables us to track how Palestinian advocacy is attacked and silenced, helping us to better defend activists in times of need and push back against shrinking civic space.

New Report on European Financial Support to Companies in Illegal Israeli Settlements

The ELSC joined the “Don’t Buy into Occupation” (DBIO) coalition which is a joint project between 25 Palestinian, regional and European organisations that aim to investigate and highlight the financial relationships between business enterprises involved in the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and European Financial Institutions (FIs).

The coalition just released a report exposing that 672 European financial institutions have financial relationships with 50 businesses that are actively involved with illegal Israeli settlements. These financial institutions provided US$ 114 billion in the form of loans and underwritings and held investments to the amount of US$ 141 billion in shares and bonds of these companies.
The initiative will advocate and campaign for these businesses and institutions to take up their responsibilities in disengaging from illegal settlements. See the campaign website here.

BT3P vs. the Anti-BDS Motion of the German Bundestag: A First Court Hearing

Since 2020, the ELSC has been supporting Palestinian-Jewish-German initiative Bundestag 3 for Palestine (BT3P) with lawyer Ahmed Abed to challenge the German Bundestag’s anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution that condemns the movement as antisemitic.

On October 7, for the first time, the Berlin Administrative Court will hold a hearing on the case. The BT3P team is calling all interested parties to rally in front of the building of the Berlin Administrative Court (Kirchstrasse 7 in Berlin) at 11am on the day of the hearing.

You can also join the press conference that will follow the hearing online.

Initiative to Stop EU Trade with Occupied Territories Registered

On 8 September, the European Commission registered a European Citizen Initiative (ECI) which calls to stop EU trade with illegal settlements in occupied territories such as Palestine and Western Sahara. The Commission was previously found to have acted unlawfully when it refused to register the initiative in 2019.

By registering the ECI, the Commission recognised that ending trade with illegal settlements is not a sanction but a trade measure, and that it is therefore able to legislate on this issue. The seven citizens, including ELSC Director, Giovanni Fassina, and ELSC Steering Committee member, Tom Moerenhout, will now be able to launch the ECI that will take the form of a petition to push the Commission to stop trade with settlements. 1 million signatures will be needed to achieve that goal. We look forward to keeping you updated on this campaign.

A Victory for Academic Freedom for an International Legal Scholar

The University of Toronto (UoT) finally re-offered a position to Dr. Valentina Azarova, international legal academic and practitioner who is also part of the ELSC Advisory Board, to lead the school’s International Human Rights Programme. In September 2020, Dr. Azarova was abruptly removed from the hiring process following ‘concerns’ on her academic work on human rights in Israel and Palestine.
UoT has faced widespread criticism for it actions to withdraw the offer and was subsequently censured by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) for the decision. Earlier this month, more details on the scandal emerged when emails were released on Twitter giving a rare insight into the backdoor censorship of Palestinian rights advocates which showed Gerald Steinberg, Director of Israeli lobby group NGO Monitor, threatening UoT if they continued the hiring process

Although the offer was re-instated, Dr. Azarova has since declined the appointment. Commenting on her decision, Dr. Azarova said “in light of events over the past year, I realized that my leadership of the program would remain subject to attack by those who habitually conflate legal analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian context with hostile partisanship. I also understood that the university would not be in a position to remove these hazards”.

Dr. Azarova further added she is “sincerely grateful” for the support of the academics, students and communities who expressed their concern and is inspired by their commitment.
Read the press release on this victory here

Resources and News from Around Europe and Palestine

The Charity and Security Network released a new report sounding the alarm on politically motivated efforts to suppress civil society groups working in Palestine and Israel and those working to defend Palestinian human rights. Read the report here.

Find many useful resources to resist the IHRA definition on the new ‘No to the IHRA definition’ website made by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the British Committee for Universities of Palestine and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

In The Netherlands, the Dutch Ombudsman for public broadcasters affirmed that allegations of antisemitism made by media outlet PowNed against civil servant Tofik Dibi were unfounded.
The case related to a news item published in May 2021 by PowNed in which a reporter labelled two tweets by Dibi as antisemitic. The Ombudsman found that such a statement must be based on facts, common language and correct definitions and accordingly, PowNed did not substantiate their statement with solid facts. Read more here.

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