Recent BDS Developments: Anti-BDS Legislation and the MLA

with Maria LaHood, Deputy Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

and Dr. Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies and the Director of Asian and Middle East Studies, College of William and Mary

Picture of HMA - Alone

*A light lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. Panel begins promptly at 1:00 p.m.

The Boycott Sanctions and Divestment movement is facing increasing challenges in the United States with the introduction of anti-BDS measures across the spectrum. According to the Palestine Legal website, since January 2017, 16 states have enacted anti-BDS laws, which work to ban student activism, limit free speech, and criminalize Palestinian advocacy. Recently, however, on February 8th, there was a surprising victory for the BDS movement when the HB2261 bill – which would have modified the Virginia Human Rights Act to determine Palestinian advocacy unlawful discrimination because of being codified as anti-Semitic – died after much pressure from Palestinian advocacy groups on Virginia lawmakers; as a result of this pressure, the bill won’t be considered again during the 2017 legal year. Meanwhile, at the recent annual conference of the Modern Language Association in January, the Delegate Assembly shot down a resolution calling for BDS of Israeli universities that deny academic freedom to Palestinians on the basis that it would “block dialogue and scholarly exchange”.  Our guests Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Dr. Stephen Sheehi of the College of William and Mary (and a Delegate in the MLA Assembly) will speak on these respective developments.

Maria LaHood is a Deputy Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights with expertise in constitutional rights and international human rights. She works to defend the constitutional rights of Palestinian human rights advocates in the United States in cases such as Davis v. Cox, defending Olympia Food Co-op board members for boycotting Israeli goods; Salaita v. Kennedy,representing Steven Salaita, who was terminated from a tenured position for tweets critical of Israel; and CCR v. DOD, seeking U.S. government records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding Israel’s 2010 attack on the flotilla to Gaza. She works closely with Palestine Legal to support students and others whose speech is being suppressed for their Palestine advocacy around the country. She also works on the Right to Heal initiative with Iraqi civil society and Iraq Veterans seeking accountability for the lasting health effects of the Iraq war. Her past work at CCR includes cases against United States officials, Arar v. Ashcroft, Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, and Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta; against foreign government officials, Matar v. Dichter and Belhas v. Ya’alon; and against corporations, Wiwa v. Royal Dutch/Shell and Corrie v. Caterpillar. Prior to coming to the Center for Constitutional Rights she advocated on behalf of affordable housing and civil rights in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she graduated from the University of Michigan Law School. She was named a 2010 Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year Finalist. Her writings have appeared in the Huffington Post, Truthout, and Badil, and she has appeared on outlets including Democracy Now!, NPR, and Al Jazeera.

Dr. Stephen Sheehi is the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies and the Director of Asian and Middle East Studies at the College of William and Mary. He is an internationally recognized author, scholar and activist. Most of his writings focus on the visual, literary, intellectual, and material culture of the 19th and early 20th century Arab world, with books including Foundations of Modern Arab Identity (University Press of Florida, 2004), and most recently, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait  Photography 1850-1910 (Princeton University Press, 2016). Sheehi has  also published a number of articles and book chapters on this subject in journals such as Third Text, Jerusalem Quarterly, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, The British Journal of Middle East Studies, Discourse, Critique, The Journal of Arabic Literature, and The Journal of Comparative South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Studies. On the activist side, his book Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (Clarity Press, 2011), explores the “rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments in the West following the end of the Cold War through GW Bush’s War on Terror to the Age of Obama”. Among other projects, he is co-authoring a book with Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar on the photography albums of Wasif Jawhariyah, and is also studying how psychoanalysis is used by Palestinian psychologists living an working under occupation. 

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