Class Claims Rutgers Truckled to ADL

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Rutgers University froze donations for the U.S. Boat to Gaza when it learned the money “would support criticism of the Israeli government,” a Rutgers professor claims in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Larry Romsted, a professor at Rutgers, and Manijeh Saba, a human rights activist, say the $3,400 they helped raise has been frozen for almost 2 years, after Rutgers and its Board of Trustees bowed to “pressure from outside groups,” in particular the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel, which describes itself as a Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
     The Rutgers student organization BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice raised more than $3,400 at a Nov. 4, 2010 event, Romsted says.
     He says the fund raiser for the U.S. Boat to Gaza was attended by “250 paying students and members of the public.” The money was to go to Stand for Justice Inc., which was organizing the boat to Gaza.
     Immediately after the event, the complaint states, the class “learned that Anti-Defamation League (‘ADL’) and Hillel opposed the fundraiser because it criticized Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Some concerns were also voiced about the nonprofit status of the organizations sending the boat to Gaza. Plaintiffs provided documentation from the Center for Constitutional Rights attesting to the legality of the flotilla, a statement from STJ [Stand for Justice] asserting that the US to Gaza boat is legal under US laws and on the 501c3 status of the Institute for Media Analysis Inc. that was handling the finances of the US boat.”
     Despite this documentation, Romsted says, Rutgers froze the donations.
     Then, Romsted says, the Anti-Defamation League touted on its website that “‘[a]fter ADL’s intervention, the school informed organizers that the proceeds could no longer go to the group they had designated and that no funds will be released until the university determines a legal recipient;’ and ‘[t]hanks to ADL’s action, the anti-Israel group was forced to change its plans and find a different donor.'” (Brackets as in complaint.)
     When Rutgers told BAKA it would not send the money to Stand for Justice, the student organization asked that the money be sent to the WESPAC Foundation.
     “However, Rutgers never actually gave the November 4, 2010 proceeds or any other money to WESPAC,” the complaint states. “Instead, after the BAKA statement, Rutgers froze the check to WESPAC. On June 22, 2011, an attorney from Rutgers legal department also called WESPAC to inquire how the money would be used. Nada Khader, WESPAC’s director and a speaker at the November 4, 2010 event, told the attorney that the money would be used to support the spirit and intent of the November 4, 2010 event – in other words, that it would support criticism of the Israeli government and Israeli government policy, in particular the naval blockade of Gaza.”
     Rutgers still hasn’t released the money, the class claims.
     “Although defendants contend they are withholding the funds for content- and viewpoint-neutral reasons, upon information and belief defendants’ decisions to initially freeze the funds and refuse to release them to STJ or the substitute organization subsequently chosen by BAKA, the WESPAC Foundation, is based on the content of plaintiff’s speech – specifically, support for Palestine and opposition to the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza,” the complaint states.
     The class wants the court to order Rutgers to release the money to WESPAC, and wants the college enjoined from retaliating against plaintiffs for exercising their constitutional rights.
     They are represented by John Leschak, with Leschak & Barbosa, of Elizabeth, N.J.

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