(April 26, 2019 / JNS) Students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst filed an emergency motion on Thursday asking a Massachusetts court to block an upcoming event featuring several anti-Israel speakers that is being sponsored by university departments.
The May 4 event, titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech & the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” is being organized by the NGO Media Education Foundation (MEF), whose director, Sut Jhally, is also a UMass professor and chair of the communication department.
Speakers will include supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement, including musician Roger Waters, Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, and professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill.
The event is being sponsored by three UMass departments: the Department of Communication; the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Resistance Studies Initiative UMass.
“These departments are basically sponsoring a hate-fest,” said attorney Karen Hurvitz, who is representing the students. “They need to move this rally off campus and not sponsor it in any way.”
In the emergency motion filed, Hurvitz wrote that students “suffer irreparable harm” if the event takes place on campus, noting that fliers for the event have been posted around campus making Jewish students “fearful and intimidated.”
“If the Preliminary Injunction is not granted, and the anti-Semitic rally detailed in the Complaint is allowed to take place, Plaintiff students will suffer immediate and irreparable harm,” wrote Hurvitz.
Hurvitz noted that UMass Amherst has numerous policies concerning non-discrimination, intolerance and inclusion, and that the event, sponsored by several university departments, would violate these policies.
This move comes amid growing outrage at UMass for hosting the event. Earlier in the week, 80 organizations called on the school to rescind all named university sponsorship of an event next month that the groups allege will “incite animosity towards supporters of Israel, including Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus.”
In response, a university spokesman said that the event is being presented by a private foundation that has rented space on campus. No university or taxpayer funds will be used.
“UMass Amherst is committed to fostering a community of dignity and respect and rejects all forms of bigotry,” the spokesman said in a statement. “The campus is also firmly committed to the principles of free speech and academic freedom.”
The spokesperson also said that the departments sponsoring the event does not mean they are endorsing its views.
“The opinions expressed by participants at the May 4 event and other such events do not represent the views of the University,” the spokesman added. “And, as has been stated repeatedly, the University remains firmly opposed to academic boycotts of any kind, including BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement).”
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