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In March 2020, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), a US-based non-profit organization which organizes boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns and other support for Palestine solidarity endeavors, countered a lawsuit filed against them by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael (JNF-KKL, often shortened to JNF) in November 2019. The lawsuit, JNF-KKL et al. v. Education for a Just Peace in the Middle East (hereafter JNF v. USCPR) is part of a larger escalation in anti-Palestinian “lawfare,” effort by many Zionist organizations and successive Israeli governments to delegitimize and suppress Palestine solidarity organizing globally. JNF v. USCPR specifically alleges that the USCPR’s work with the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) amounts to “materially supporting terrorist groups,” including Hamas. Additionally, the JNF-KKL claims USCPR’s public advocacy of the Great March of Return in Gaza supports terrorist activities, alleging that incendiary devices from Gaza since 2018 have caused fires which harmed people and the natural environment in Israel. According to the motion to dismiss, JNF v. USCPR is spuriously filled with “suggestions of guilt by association" and that its real aim is to foster a “chilling effect” on campaigns for Palestinian human rights.
In contrast to many of the extreme right-wing groups pushing lawfare against Palestine, the JNF-KKL has a generally liberal reputation globally as Israel’s “largest environmental organization.” Significantly, their liberal reputation belies both their ongoing role in the dispossession of Palestinian land, and how JNF v. USCPR extends the lawfare strategy of criminalizing Palestinian rights advocates as supporters of terrorists to the realm of the environment. The JNF-KKL’s attempted legal argument, what I term as asserting the environment itself as a “victim of terrorism,” evinces both a larger metaphysical claim of the environment as priceless while also paradoxically demanding financial redress for monetary property damage. JNF v. USCPR’s logic replicates that of Western environmental conservation initiatives, which reinforce a narrow definition of “environment” as separate from human society. Such a nature/society divide, legally, materially, and discursively, contributes to the criminalization of environmental justice struggles around the globe, especially anti-colonial struggles over resources and sovereignty.