Victims of Hamas Bring Suit Related to Campus Protests

Victims of the October 7, 2023, attacks by Hamas have sued two U.S. organizations for violating of Anti-Terrorism Act and the Alien Tort Statute. The nine plaintiffs – U.S. and Israeli citizens – allege that defendants serve as a “propaganda machine,” one that intimidates and recruits “impressionable college students to serve as foot soldiers for Hamas.” Although the merits of the suit, Parizer v. AJP Educational Foundation, are somewhat difficult to evaluate at this early juncture (the complaint was filed earlier this month in federal court in Virginia) it is clear is that the plaintiffs seek at least in part to influence public perception of student protests on U.S. campuses.

The Parties

The plaintiffs include attendees at the Nova Festival who survived Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attacks, family members of people murdered during those attacks, and people who have been displaced by the attacks. The complaint alleges injuries resulting from the attacks themselves, as well as continuing injuries that include the inability of some plaintiffs to return to their homes because of “Hamas’s ongoing targeting of Israeli civilians” and (as alleged by all plaintiffs) ongoing “mental anguish and pain and suffering” that is “made worse by Defendants’ provision of material support to his attackers.”

Much of the complaint sets out the relationship between Hamas and the two defendants, AJP Educational Foundation, Inc. (also known as American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)) and National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP). AMP is non-profit corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia, while NSJP is an unincorporated association created by

AMP to “provide it on-campus management and control of hundreds of university chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.” NSJP operates, the complaint provides, “as AMP’s college campus brand.” AMP is allegedly the latest effort by Hamas to fundraise and otherwise advance the organizations’ objectives in the United States.

Hamas was, the complaint alleges, formed in 1987 as the Gaza branch of the International Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas senior leadership subsequently founded the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine, the American Muslim Society, and other related organizations in the United States. Hamas was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2001. Several individuals involved in creating and directing the U.S. groups affiliated with Hamas were similarly designated as terrorists and/or convicted of providing material support for Hamas. Some of the U.S. organizations were also found civilly liable for their support of Hamas. Those groups then disbanded and regrouped under new official names with somewhat new methods of operation, but generally involving the same people working to achieve the same objectives.  AMP is, for example the “reincarnation” of these earlier disbanded organizations, one whose funding comes from abroad. As the complaint also notes, litigation in the Seventh Circuit (Boim v. Am. Muslims for Palestine) has survived summary judgment on the claim that AMP is the alter ego of earlier Hamas-related organizations against which judgments have been entered.

The Claims

Although the complaint sets out the terrible events of October 7, it focuses most on Hamas’s dissemination of “propaganda” and “disinformation” as an integral part of its strategy to justify acts of terrorism designed to derail the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Propaganda and disinformation are also at the heart of the allegations against NSJP and AMP. “Within hours of the attack,” the Complaint alleges, “the language of the Hamas-authored disinformation campaign appeared in NSJP propaganda across social media and on college campuses.” As AMP intended, “NSJP acted as Hamas’s loyal foot soldiers for Hamas’s propaganda battle on university campuses across the United States.” Indeed “[t]he next day, NSJP released its Day of Resistance Toolkit (“NSJP Toolkit”) across more than 300 American college campuses and on the internet.”

The NSJP Toolkit refers to Hamas as “the resistance,” urges armed struggle and violence, calls for domestic terrorism on college campuses, supports violent acts against Jewish students, and makes reference to paragliders, a method of warfare first used on October 7 (a detail that highlights the speed with which NSJP acted after the attacks). Because it is listed as a foreign terrorist organization, “Hamas is prohibited from hiring an American public relations firm. Defendants fill this critical gap by providing invaluable communication services that Hamas cannot receive or pay for elsewhere in the United States.” Again, all according to the Complaint, which provides many details about the events at Columbia and other universities, including defendants’ “efforts to terrorize Jews.”

The Anti-Terrorism Act allows nationals of the United States who are injured “by reason of an act of international terrorism,” to sue in federal court for treble damages. Those liable include “any person who aids and abets, by knowingly providing substantial assistance, or who conspires with the person who committed such an act of international terrorism.” Upon first reading of the complaint, it seems like a significant issue in the litigation – assuming the truth of the factual assertions – will be the relationship between the conduct of the defendants and the harm to the plaintiffs. The Complaint includes, for example, little specific conduct by the defendants prior to the October 7 acts, which no doubt explains the plaintiffs’ assertions of ongoing harm in the months following the attacks. Nevertheless, based on the defendants’ alleged ties to earlier organizations that were held liable for aiding and abetting Hamas, as well as the defendants’ alleged dissemination of propaganda and their alleged efforts to support Hamas in part through their work on college campuses, the complaint avers that the “Defendants’ substantial assistance of Hamas over a period of decades never ceased and has been so systematic that Defendants aid and abet every wrongful act committed by Hamas and its affiliates.” If proven, this claim could result in liability for AMP and NSJP.

The claims by the Israeli plaintiffs are brought pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The ATS permits suits by aliens for tort in violation of international law. The complaint devotes only a few cursory paragraphs to this cause of action (which has been sharply curtailed by the Supreme Court) and it does little to identify the international law violations in which the defendants have allegedly engaged. Terrorism is not well-defined in international law and there are few, if any, successful ATS suits brought on this basis. There are also significant hurdles to imposing aiding and abetting liability under the statute.


 Even if the plaintiffs do not succeed with their claims – or if (as is very likely) they are unable to collect on a judgment after prevailing on the merits – the complaint itself paints a detailed picture of the connections between organizations with ties to Hamas and student protests on U.S. campus.  Plaintiffs allege that popular support is a key component of Hamas’ strategy, and the complaint seems designed at least in part to counter that strategy and to influence public opinion about student protests against Israeli actions in Gaza.