Release: US Boat to Gaza lawsuit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS CONFERENCE ON APRIL 18, 2013, at 1:00 PM at United States District Court Martin Luther King Building & U.S. Courthouse
50 Walnut Street, Newark, NJ 07101
US BOAT TO GAZA—NJ
Decision from federal court imminent in civil rights lawsuit against Rutgers University and Rutgers’ administrators
The Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey will soon decide a civil rights lawsuit filed against Rutgers University by a Rutgers’ professor and a political activist. The lawsuit contends Rutgers violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments rights to free speech by denying money raised for the US Boat to Gaza aimed at challenging the illegal and inhumane military blockade of Gaza with its devastating impact of the population. Rutgers’ attorneys initially filed papers for the court to dismiss the lawsuit. On April 8, 2013, they filed additional papers requesting for the judge to dismiss the suit, stating that the plaintiffs lack standing (i.e. the ability to file the lawsuit).
Said plaintiffs, Ms. Manijeh Saba and Prof. Larry Romsted, in response to defendants’ request to dismiss the lawsuit: “We brought the idea for the fund raiser to the Rutgers student group, BAKA, for the particular purpose of raising money to support the US Boat to Gaza that was held on November 4, 2010 and provided the information required by the defendants to prove that funds were handled by the non-profit organization Institute for Media Analysis (IMA). The defendants claim we suffered no injury because we could have requested a refund, but neither of us ever received any communication as to how to obtain a refund. Furthermore, defendants have completely ignored the claims raised in our legal papers that they froze the funds based on politically motivated misinformation from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and ignored information from qualified organizations attesting to the legality of the US Boat to Gaza. Defendants argue that they have acted in a ‘content neutral manner,’ but contradict themselves by equating the US Boat to Gaza with terrorism without any evidence! Such overtly political statements are the opposite of acting in a “content neutral manner” and have no place at a public institution of higher learning like Rutgers University.”
Said Plaintiffs’ attorney, John Leschak, of the law firm of Leschak & Associates: “This case highlights the erosion of our civil liberties during the US’s War on Terror. Defendants have relied primarily on the PATRIOT Act to justify their denial of funds. This reliance on the PATRIOT Act sets a negative precedent for academic freedom and freedom of speech. Plaintiffs suffered a direct injury as the result of defendants’ decision to freeze the funds. Treating political speech differently from other types of speech based on its content is an unconstitutional deprivation of the First Amendment. The evidence submitted to the court shows that the ADL played a role in the decision to freeze the funds. We hope that the judge will take judicial notice of how the ADL has acted to stop other events supporting Palestine at several other colleges and universities across the country, including a recent Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) event at Brooklyn College. Furthermore defendants state that they have used an “international law firm” to reach their decision, but they have failed to identify the law firm. The judge should allow the case to proceed so that we can obtain discovery and learn the true extent to which defendants’ decision was politically-motivated and based on content.”
Background of the Case: Lawsuit filed last year in response to
Freezing of funds raised to support the US Boat to Gaza
Last September, Rutgers’ professor Larry Romsted and Rutgers’ alum and activist Manijeh Saba filed a lawsuit against Rutgers University and its administrators over the freezing of funds raised for the US Boat to Gaza, a campaign challenging Israel’s illegal naval blockade of Gaza since 2007. The lawsuit claimed that defendants had violated the free speech rights of all of those who attended the event at Rutgers and donated to the cause because Rutgers decided to freeze the funds based on misinformation from the ADL.
On December 7, 2012, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the there was no speech restriction at all because donors could have asked Rutgers to refund their money. Defendants also argued that they did not violate the First Amendment, but instead took content neutral steps to avoid exposing the University to potential criminal and civil liability for allegedly providing “material support to terrorist organizations.” Essentially, defendants argued that supporting the US Boat to Gaza was the same thing as supporting Hamas, even though the US Boat had absolutely no connection to Hamas or the government of Gaza whatsoever.
On February 15, 2013, plaintiffs filed their response to defendants’ motion to dismiss. In their response, plaintiffs argued that the refund option was inadequate because Rutgers provided donors with less than three days to request a refund after announcing that the money would go to another organization that most donors had never even heard of. More importantly, plaintiffs also argued that the decision to freeze the funds was based on the political message of the event, one in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Finally, equating the US Boat to Gaza with Hamas is ridiculous, especially since the US Boat never had any connection to Hamas, documented by certified statement of the Colonel Ann Wright who was member of the steering committee of the US Boat to Gaza.
On April 8, 2013, defendants filed their reply to plaintiffs’ response, reiterating their original arguments, but also raising a new argument that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue because the case involves only the rights of students themselves, not the donors. However, this ignores the fact that the plaintiffs not only brought the idea for the Nov. 4, 2010 event to BAKA, and provided critical support to make the event possible, but also donated money. The motion return date or deadline was April 15, 2013.
The case will be decided by Judge Michael Shipp. Judge Shipp was appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2012. Judge Shipp is also an alumnus of Rutgers University.
For more information, or for any questions, please contact the following:
Larry Romsted, Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Rutgers University, 228 Montgomery Street, Highland Park, New Jersey, 08903, 732-247-0316, 732-325-4047
Manijeh Saba, Rutgers Alumni, Part-time Lecturer 1987-1994. 146 Emerson Road, Somerset, NJ 08873, 732-435-0434, 732-668-3360
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