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Judge allows Palestine panel at UMass to take place Saturday

WSHM 5/2/2019
a sign on the side of a road: (Western Mass News photo) © Provided by Meredith Corporation

(Western Mass News photo)

BOSTON (WGGB/WSHM) -- There are new developments in the court battle to try to stop a panel discussion on Palestine from happening this weekend on the UMass Amherst campus.

Thursday afternoon, a judge in Boston ruled against three Jewish students who claimed the panel and its speakers are anti-Semitic.

The goal for the three anonymous Jewish students at the heart of the lawsuit was to get the panel on Palestine moved off the UMass campus.

Today, the judge decided that forcing the panel to move elsewhere would be suppressing the First Amendment.

"The bottom line is that the motion to enjoin this panel discussion is denied," said Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Robert Ullmann.

Ullmann will allow the panel on Palestine human rights to happen this Saturday.

“So absent some contrary ruling by a higher court, the panel may proceed," Ullmann added.

The opposition to the panel came from three anonymous Jewish students. Karen Hurvitz, the lawyer representing them, said that the panel speakers - all critical of the Israeli government - carry a tone of antisemitism.

"Calling it a panel when there is not one pro-Israel voice or different voice is a misnomer. It's a rally," Hurvitz explained.

The lawyers representing the panelists said being critical of the Israeli government doesn't mean the panel is aggressively anti-Jewish.

"Asking, your honor, again to put a stamp of approval on this particular political opinion...zionism is a political movement, your honor, and to translate that...that translates into discrimination against all Jews is a conflation that we would ask the court to reject," said Attorney Rachel Weber, representing Jewish Voice for Peace.

Though Hurvitz claimed the panelists could inspire anti-Semitic acts among the students who attend the event, “the Anti-Defamation League published statistics about the meteoric rise in anti-Semitic events on campuses following these events...I think we have to open up our eyes to what's actually going on here."

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The judge said the uncertainty of that claim is outweighed by precedent that would be set by banning the event

"I can’t enjoin a forum just because someone, they say something at that forum that fits someone's definition of antisemitism or racism or homophobia or anything else," Ullmann said.

The students claim that the rise of anti-Semitic acts on-campus and in the country - like the San Diego synagogue shooting - have threatened their safety.

UMass officials told Western Mass News they plan to move forward with the event as planned at this time and for now, it’s set to be held in the Fine Arts Center on the Amherst campus Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

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