Islamic groups sue Gov. Abbott, others for antisemitism crackdown

One of the groups suing the governor was sued earlier this month by Jewish groups who allege it is a “collaborator and propagandist for Hamas,” a U.S. federal government-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Greg Abbott, Austin, Texas, March 15, 2023

Several Islamic groups have sued Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas public university officials for cracking down on students calling for the death of Jews and antisemetic protests on campuses.

One of the groups suing the governor was sued earlier this month by Jewish groups who allege it is a “collaborator and propagandist for Hamas,” a U.S. federal government-designated foreign terrorist organization.

The Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Houston and the University of Dallas and the Democratic Socialists of America filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Abbott, the University of Houston, the UH system Board of Regents and its members, the president and chancellor of the UH System, the University of Texas System Board of Regents and its members, and the president of the University of Texas at San Antonio are listed as defendants.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit “asserts that Governor Abbott’s executive order, along with the campus-level efforts to comply with it, are obvious attempts to illegally suppress a viewpoint critical of one particular foreign country.”

It argues Abbott’s executive order issued earlier this year to combat antisemitism “aimed to extinguish from public campuses a viewpoint critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinians. In so doing, Governor Abbott acted illegally, contrary to the First Amendment, and the students and groups suing here seek the Court’s intervention to remedy this grave violation.”

They also oppose Abbott calling for college campus rioters to be arrested, which they were on the University of Texas-Austin campus after allegedly violating criminal trespass laws. As they called for the death of Jews, Abbott said, “These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

CAIR argues Abbott’s order “purports to combat antisemitism but targets students advocating for Palestinians in Gaza as they face a genocide at the hands of Israel. The executive order directs public universities to punish students for using the liberation slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free’ and for being critical of the state of Israel.”

Its lawsuit asks the court to rule that Abbott’s order violates the First Amendment, and the chant, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is protected speech. It also seeks to block public universities from incorporating the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism into their campus speech codes.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is a call for the annihilation of Israel, referring to the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, which border Israel to the east and west. It coincides with Hamas’ 1988 Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement preamble, which states, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it,’” The Center Square reported.

The Jewish groups that sued American Muslims for Palestine and NSJP earlier this month argue they are knowingly providing “continuous, systematic, and substantial assistance to Hamas and its affiliates’ acts of international terrorism,” The Center Square reported.

Hamas, the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. “It is the largest and most capable militant group in the Palestinian territories and one of the territories’ two major political parties,” according to the National Counterterrorism Center.

The Jewish groups’ lawsuit alleges AMP and NSJP are “collaborators and propagandists for Hamas” because on Oct. 8 they responded to a Hamas founder’s call to hold “resistance” events on college campuses after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. The NSJP published a “tool kit” for Palestinian students in the U.S. to use against Israeli “occupiers” and “Zionist media campaigns,” The Center Square reported.

Their lawsuit, Abbott, Texas lawmakers and Texas public university leaders complying with his order, maintain that calls for death to Jews and hate speech is not protected speech.

Abbott’s executive order requires all Texas higher education institutions to comply with a list of requirements to ensure Jewish students are safe on campus, The Center Square reported. These include reviewing free speech policies, establishing appropriate punishments for antisemitic rhetoric on campuses, ensuring policies addressing the sharp rise of antisemitic acts are enforced, and including the definition of antisemitism in free speech policies.

The Texas Senate’s Higher Education Committee already held its first hearing on antisemitism occurring on Texas college campuses and began its oversight of compliance with Abbott’s order and state law. Texas law defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews that may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. The term includes rhetorical and physical acts of antisemitism directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals or their property or toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

State law prohibits state agencies from investing in companies that “boycott” Israel and Texas has purchased $20 million in Israeli bonds.