(November 7, 2023) The world has been witnessing some very disturbing news from Israel and Palestine, as the war escalated between the two nations in the last month. However, while most world leaders are watching the conflict from the sidelines, an Indian American advocate is gearing up to defend the rights of Palestine citizens, and those who are being attacked for speaking up about these issues. Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal, has seen a significant increase in requests for legal help since the conflict began after the Hamas attack on October 7.
“I received over 400 calls from lawyers, doctors, journalists, professors, teachers, students, and other workers in nonprofits, government, and the corporate world. These individuals have been fired, doxxed, cancelled, censored, and physically threatened for speaking out for Palestinian freedom or criticising Israel, or not sufficiently marching in lockstep behind Israel’s actions,” the advocate mentioned, adding, “We track legislation, anti-boycott legislation for example, and we provide people who need legal support with lawyers in all 50 states.”
An important part of the Palestine Legal, Radhika has spent the last eight years of her life doing groundbreaking legal work on free speech, censorship, and the right to boycott. “We’re legal defense for the movement for Palestinian rights in the United States,” the advocate explained in an earlier interview, adding, “If an activist or pretty much anyone is censored or punished or has a legal question or is threatened because of their support for Palestinian rights, Palestine Legal is there. We have your back. That is what we do.”
Carrying the torch
A remarkable student from a young age, Radhika completed her education at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and the University of California, San Diego. Before her legal studies, the advocate was actively involved in organising workers across the United States and Canada through her work with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees.
Radhika has been a legal advocate representing clients in both individual and class action civil and constitutional rights cases, addressing issues such as discrimination, human rights violations, and prison conditions. The advocate’s work was carried out at one of California’s most esteemed civil rights firms, where she successfully handled a variety of state and federal class actions, as well as other federal civil rights cases. “I have organised union textile workers in East Coast factories and the Los Angeles garment district, monitored human-rights abuses of indigenous villagers during the 2000 Mexico elections, and spent a year volunteering for the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank,” the advocate shared.
Fighting for justice
After a long and illustrious career, the advocate joined the Palestine Legal. While it was always clear that she would have to deal with several difficult cases at the organisation, Radhika was quite surprised when she realised that most of their clients were students. “About 80 percent of the people who come to us are students or scholars. What we do is document incidents of suppression. It was bizarre. ‘Why are only students contacting us,’ we wondered,” the advocate said, adding, “Eventually I think what we realised was that the opposition gets that that’s where change happens. Whether it was the Vietnam anti-war movement, the anti-South African apartheid movement, you name it, college students were there pushing their governments for change, for justice. So that’s where most of our work has been focussed. Since 2014 we’ve documented, that we’ve responded to over 2,000 incidents of suppression. That’s just really the tip of the iceberg.”
Radhika frequently provides commentary on various media platforms, such as MSNBC, Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera English, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Jezebel, Politico, the Village Voice, and others. She has also contributed her written work to publications like The Nation, Jacobin, and Literary Hub.
As the war wages on between Israel and Palestine, Radhika shared that the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law have sent letters to nearly 200 college presidents “urging them to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for potential violations of federal and state laws against providing material support to terrorism.” Calling it a ‘mass violation of students’ rights’, the advocate pointed out, “The Palestinian activists pose zero threat and have done nothing but engage in speech 100 percent protected by the First Amendment. If federal and state governments follow through on the ADL’s demands, Palestinian activists will be subjected to an increase in surveillance, infiltration, and investigation.”
“I think there’s been a sea change in just my lifetime as far as support for Palestinian rights,” Radhika expressed, “We have several regular people, who are being punished for speaking out for Palestinian rights. We saw farmers, makeup artists, journalists, writers, therapists, doctors, and teachers getting fired for speaking out for Palestinian rights. They were being pulled into meetings with their bosses. They were told to delete tweets. So, all I want to tell fellow advocates is if you have Palestinian clients coming in, they might need extra support this time.”
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