Louis D. Brandeis Center Blog

National Lawyers Guild Sued for Discrimination

On July 13, New York attorney David Abrams filed a complaint against the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), on behalf of an Israeli organization, Bibliotechnical Athenaeum. In the complaint, Abrams alleges that NLG practiced unlawful discrimination, violating the New York City and State Human Rights Laws. Essentially, this is an anti-BDS lawsuit challenging NLG for excluding Israeli companies from its program solely on the basis of their national origin. The activity described in the complaint is consistent with NLG’s involvement in a recent aggressive protest on the UC Irvine campus, and suggests that NLG, which promotes itself as a human rights organization that provides neutral and independent “legal observers” is perhaps not so neutral when it comes to discrimination against Israelis and pro-Israel Americans.

Rejected Ad. Source:

An image of the rejected ad from the filed complaint, Bibliotechnical v. NLG, 07/13/16

According to the complaint, NLG refused to permit Bibliotechnical to participate in its Annual Banquet by refusing to sell Bibliotechnical advertising space in its associated dinner journal.

NLG, which describes itself as a “network of public interest and human rights activists working within the legal system,” regularly holds events open to the public. In August 2016, it is scheduled to hold a “Law for the People” conference in Manhattan. In connection with this conference, NLG offered to the public the opportunity to purchase advertising in a dinner journal that is distributed at the Annual Banquet of the Law for the People Convention. In a post on its website, NLG wrote that placing an ad in the journal is a “great way to congratulate our outstanding honorees, publicize your firm or organization, or just share a message of your own!”

The complaint alleges that on June 26, Bibliotechnical sent in a very basic ad congratulating the honorees of the conference—typical of those that are accepted and included in the dinner journal by the Guild. Along with its brief “Congratulations to the Honorees” message, the ad contained only the organization’s name and its Gush Etzion, Israel address. The complaint further alleges that on June 27, Bibliotechnical sent in the $200 publication fee for publication of the ad, and later that same day, NLG rejected the ad, advising Bibliotechnical that it would not accept monies from an Israeli organization. NLG refunded the $200 fee the next day. According to the complaint, this refusal was based solely on Bibliotechnical’s Israeli citizenship and origin, thus constituting a violation of the New York City and State Human Rights Laws.

The complaint emphasizes that it does not challenge NLG’s right to criticize Israel; to hold anti-Israel or anti-Semitic views; or to advocate for policies based on such views. Rather, it challenges NLG’s unlawful public accommodation discrimination on the grounds of citizenship and national origin, regardless of the political position underlying such discrimination.

NLG also took an anti-Israel stance regarding an aggressive protest on the University of California – Irvine (“UCI”) campus on May 18. A student group, Students Supporting Israel, was hosting a screening of the film, “Beneath the Helmet,” about life in the Israeli Defense Forces. About 10 students attended the film screening. Soon after it began, over 50 protestors associated with Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) came and began to loudly chant anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages. The protesters disrupted the film screening, and officers from the UCI Police Department came to protect and escort Jewish students away from the scene. During the protest, one of the Jewish students, Eliana Kopley, whom LDB represents with respect to this matter, was physically intimidated— she briefly stepped outside to make a phone call before the protestors arrived. When she tried to return to the room, the protesters physically blocked the entrance, and as she walked away from the scene, she was followed by a group of female students and felt so threatened that she hid in a classroom and called the police.

Two members of the NLG chapter at UCI law school – both first year law students – attended as “legal observers.” The primary role of legal observers is supposed to be to watch and record the activities of law enforcement when interacting with demonstrators and to ensure that the demonstrator’s rights to express political opinions and occupy public spaces are not being infringed upon, as well as to provide objective documentation to lawyers representing arrestees to be used in civil and criminal procedures. According to a letter sent on June 7 to UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman by members of the Los Angeles, Orange County, and UCI Law student chapters of NLG, the NLG legal observers claimed they witnessed no anti-Semitic language used by protesters, no chants of “death to all white people” or anything similarly malicious, and no students approaching event participants as they left. The legal observers maintained that all protesters remained peaceful, describing the event as a “vigorous but normal campus event.” NLG’s legal observers’ account starkly contrasts those of the UCI students attending the film screening and of eyewitnesses, calling into question how truly “objective” they were in their role during the protest. 

Earlier this week, Abrams also filed a lawsuit against the New York Metro chapter of the American Studies Association (“ASA”), alleging “unlawful discrimination under the New York City and State Human Rights Laws,” in relation to the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. This follows the Brandeis Center’s landmark lawsuit filed in April against the ASA for its unlawful boycott of Israel, which has already been credited in part with defeat of a resolution calling for the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions and is expected to have a profound impact in future BDS decisions.

The recent NLG and ASA lawsuits perfectly demonstrate how anti-Israel activities can have legal ramifications.

New Jersey’s Anti-BDS Legislation

Photo: State.NJ.US

Photo: State.NJ.US

Last month, the New Jersey General Assembly in an overwhelming 69-3 vote passed legislation prohibiting the investment of state pension and annuity funds in to companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses. A similar bill had passed through the state Senate in a unanimous 39-0 vote in May.

According to the legislation, the state’s $71 billion pension fund provides coverage for about 800,000 current and retired public employees. Under the bill, the state would have 120 days after its passage to identify companies that violate the new prohibition. It would then have an additional 24 months to withdraw investment or divest. However, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the state Treasury Department is not aware of any companies that the pension fund is invested in that would violate the legislation.

The bill also stated that Israel and New Jersey annually trade more than $1.3 billion in goods.

The legislation noted that, “It is important to the economic well-being of New Jersey that persons or entities conducting commercial trade and doing business in the State do not engage in boycotts of a legitimate and viable partner with whom New Jersey can enjoy open trade contracting,” and went on to say, “Therefore, it is in the best interest of this State that a statutory prohibition be enacted to prohibit the investment of public employee retirement funds in companies boycotting Israel.”

One of the bipartisan bill’s primary sponsors, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D., Bergen), also noted that the legislation aimed to maintain and strengthen New Jersey’s existing relationship with Israel.

Another one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Assemblyman Chris Brown, (R-Atlantic) commented, “We have no greater ally in the Middle East than Israel, and it’s in America’s economic and security interest to make sure Israel remains strong and stable.”

Brown, who participated in a Federation Mission to Israel for legislators earlier this year, went on to state, “From what I‘ve learned, the BDS movement is rooted in hate, and not truly motivated to help the peace effort,” noting that, “An economically strong Israel is the only way to ensure stability and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Senator James Beach (D-Camden), who also visited Israel earlier this year with 14 fellow lawmakers on a study mission that was sponsored by the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, sponsored the bill in the Senate. He commented, “New Jersey has a long history of friendship with Israel, and any efforts to boycott Israeli goods, products and businesses are not only contrary to our values but are discriminatory and ill-intentioned.” He went on to say “We remain committed to standing against these practices, and banning investments in companies that engage in these activities is the right course of action.”

Governor Chris Christie is expected to sign the bill into law.

With the additions of New Jersey and Rhode Island this summer, at least other 12 states have passed anti-BDS legislation. It was reported that, in total, about 21 other states have taken up anti-BDS legislation.

Rhode Island Governor Signs Anti-BDS Legislation

This month, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed into law HB-7736, “Anti-Discrimination in State Contracts,” an anti-BDS

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) Courtesy of http://www.governor.ri.gov/

law that law prohibits the State of Rhode Island from patronizing any business that refuses to business with another firm based upon national origin, effectively preventing Rhode Island’s tax payer money from supporting companies that boycott Israel.

The bill, originally introduced by State Representative Mia Ackerman (D), passed Rhode Island’s legislature with massive majorities, 63-4 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

Israel and Rhode Island have a strong trade relationship, valued at 10 million dollars, which will be further protected by HB-7736.

This new law is an important step in combatting BDS, and we commend Governor Raimondo for her principled stand against the anti-Semitic forces of BDS.

Mark Bloome: Community Leader and Coalition-Builder

Mark Bloome, the Seattle-based, national and local Jewish community leader and strategist, has become an expert at coalition-building and finding innovative ways to fight the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel and its anti-Semitism on a national basis.

Community Leader Mark Bloome (Photo courtesy of Mark Bloome)

Community Leader Mark Bloome (Photo courtesy of Mark Bloome)

Mark has tirelessly advocated for the Jewish community for over 35 years. For the past six years, he has focused his efforts on combatting the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Why this focus?

Mark recognized that as BDS began to spread and gain force, it was going to be a highly dangerous and damaging movement. As a poet with an excellent grasp of prose, and trained in business and in depth human motivational systems, Mark realized that the anti-Israel BDS advocates were on top of their game, using all types of words that were emotional – words used to move people. They were using extraordinarily deceptive language that framed their issue in terms of human rights, but that was laced with both overt and covert anti-Semitism. It became clear to Mark that it was not only the State of Israel, but also the Jewish people, who were being delegitimized by BDS advocates, and that violence and racial-type intimidations of Jewish students were already spreading to elite campuses in the U.S. Since Mark’s first realization six years ago of the dangers of BDS, the situation has gotten worse.

“In order to prevail over BDS and the rising forces of anti-Semitism,” says Mark, “we need to have a united Jewish community. To do so requires coalition-building, which requires a subordination of organizational and personal egos to achieve victory over those who hate Jews. In coalition-building, you need resources, both human and financial capital, especially to combat the resource-rich BDS.” He added, “the rifts in the Jewish community over Israel would otherwise tear us apart. We must work together.”

In building a coalition, Mark says you have to listen carefully to the intended goals of each individual group, as well as the reasons behind those goals. Then, you must find common ground, and conduct diplomatic constructive work to bring different parties into alignment, which might result in an evolved and better goal, or as Mark says, “the metamorphosis of the collective mind.” But to do that, different groups must start off with the desire to work together.

Mark is working to curb the problem before it gets worse. One of the countermeasures that Mark believes has potential to reduce the current vivid anti-Semitism on many of our U.S. campuses, is to define anti-Semitism. We must define anti-Semitism at both the university and government levels, so that university administrators and government officials can properly identify and treat anti-Semitism just as seriously as any other form of hate or bias. Mark has determined that being part of, and building, coalitions of Jewish organizations with similar goals and the capacity and willingness to work with others, is the best way to achieve success.

“Just as other minorities on campus are able to state what is racist from their point of view, Jews need the same equivalency,” says Mark. In defining anti-Semitism, Mark believes that the Jewish community needs to define anti-Semitism from its own collective point of view. This common perspective then needs to be shared with all institutions that deal with protecting people from discrimination, Marks says, and Jewish students on American college campuses must be afforded the same protections as African Americans, Muslims, the LGBT community, etc., which is not currently the case.

A few years ago, Mark became familiar with the work of the Brandeis Center, which was already engaged in efforts to adopt a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, and met Brandeis Center President Kenneth L. Marcus. Mark recognized that Ken possessed the unique professional and personal capacities necessary for achieving what Mark wished to accomplish. Both men understood the problem, shared similar goals, and worked well together.

“Mark has been very involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to build coalitions and influence public policy,” says Marcus, a colleague and friend of Mark. “He has a unique way of ensuring cooperation among different organizations with similar goals. He is selfless about giving credit, and passionate about making change.”

Another Anti-BDS Lawsuit Filed

It’s been a rough year for the American Studies Association (“ASA”), legally speaking.

Earlier this week, a lawsuit was filed in New York State Court against the New York Metro chapter of the ASA, alleging “unlawful discrimination under the New York City and State Human Rights Laws,” in relation to the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

(Source: en.wikipedia.org)

(Source: en.wikipedia.org)

In 2013, the ASA issued a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The complaint was filed by New York attorney David Abrams, on behalf of plaintiff, Athenaeum Blue & White (“Athaneum”), a not-for-profit Israeli education organization with a principle place of business in New York. The complaint alleges that the plaintiff is barred from joining the ASA as an institutional member based on its Israeli national origin. Athaneum, according to the complaint, “is an organization which would [be] eligible for membership in the [ASA] but for their anti-Israel boycott.” The ASA is hence violating the New York City and State Human Rights Laws, as it is discriminating against the Plaintiff on the grounds of national origin.

This is the second lawsuit filed against the ASA in a matter of months.

In April, the Brandeis Center, along with prominent litigators at Marcus & Auerbach and Barnes & Thornburg, filed suit against the ASA for its unlawful boycott of Israel, on behalf of four distinguished American Studies professors.

The Brandeis Center’s clients, well-known academics in the field of American Studies, filed suit “to restore the ASA to its stated mission.” The professors wrote about how, over the past few years, the ASA “has been diverted from its scholarly mission —promoting the study of American culture—to a political one, by leaders seeking to turn the ASA into an organization that advocates for social change far beyond American borders, and with an unwavering focus on delegitimizing Israel.”

As LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus explained in Newsweek, “At the time the boycott was initiated, ASA’s constitution clearly stated that ‘[t]he object of the association [is] the promotion of the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication…about American culture in all its diversity and complexity.’ According to the American Studies professors, for 60 years, ASA has been an association focused on American Studies. It is not a social justice organization, nor is it a foreign policy organization. Indeed, according to the professors, boycotting a foreign nation has absolutely nothing to do with ASA’s mission and is therefore illegal.”

Although the Brandeis Center’s lawsuit is still in the early phases, it has already been credited in part with the dramatic defeat of a resolution calling for the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions, suggesting that the case will have a profound impact in future BDS decisions.

As demonstrated by these two recent lawsuits against the ASA, significant potential legal options aside from legislation that can be utilized to combat BDS, and unlawfully boycotting Israel can lead to repercussions.

LDB Continues to Support Milan Chatterjee

Milan Chatterjee. Photo courtesy of Milan Chatterjee.

Milan Chatterjee. Photo courtesy of Milan Chatterjee.

Today, LDB issued a statement (below) expressing our continued support for Milan Chatterjee, the former President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) who has been subjected to months of harassment by supporters of the BDS movement for his neutral stance regarding BDS. This is an important time to reiterate our support for Mr. Chatterjee, as the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) recently issued a report which alleged that his refusal to fund either side of the BDS debate was a violation of university policy. Additionally, this news from UCLA serves as a reminder of the concerning spread of anti-Semitism on University of California campuses such as UCLA and UC Irvine, and underscores the importance of putting the policy of the UC Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance into practice.

LBD Deeply Concerned by UCLA Response to Milan Chatterjee

July 18, 2016, Washington, D.C.: The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) is disturbed by a recent report from the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) alleging that Milan Chatterjee, former President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), violated university policy by stipulating that the GSA would maintain neutrality regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in allocating funds for a campus event. LDB is a national civil rights legal advocacy organization, known for its work in fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in higher education.

BDS proponents harassed GSA President Chatterjee for months after the event last November because he would not fund either side of the debate over BDS, and led an impeachment campaign against him. In April, LDB’s UCLA law student chapter wrote a letter to the GSA forum in his support, explaining that the threat of “ousting a student government official from office for his good faith pursuit of his responsibilities discourages student participation and sends a chilling message to the student body.”

“The UCLA report sending a chilling message to not only to Jewish pro-Israel students but also to non-Jewish student government officials who recognize the divisiveness and hatefulness of the BDS movement,” said LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus. “It is troubling that the campaign by BDS supporters against Milan Chatterjee affected the administration’s judgment, both in the report’s findings and in allowing it to be leaked to the media in apparent violation of the Federal Education Records Privacy Act (FERPA).” Continue reading

Major Party Platforms Combat BDS

Source: postnewsgroup.com

In a pair of positive steps, both the Democratic and Republican parties have inserted language in their party platforms that push against the forces of BDS.

The Democratic party, who last week completed their draft platform, explicitly state their opposition to BDS, “A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

The Republican party, which is still in the process of finalizing their platform’s language, goes even further in attacking BDS, “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

Both parties have platform planks that address BDS in a smart and reasonable manner, further signifying the bipartisan nature of the fight against BDS.

UNESCO Delays Temple Mount Vote

On July 12th, UNESCO (The UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) delayed a vote on a draft resolution that would damage ties Israel and the Jewish people as a whole have with the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Temple Mount Source: www.bibleplaces.com

The Jordanian and Palestinian representatives in UNESCO proposed the draft resolution in an attempt to return the sites jurisdiction to Jordanian Waqf religious authority, which was the case directly after the 1967 Six Day War. The Waqf religious authority controls and regulates many Islamic sites, but the proposed resolution would take away any Israeli authority in the maintenance and regulation of two Jewish holy sites.

Although a similar resolution had been endorsed by the UNESCO executive board, the vote on this draft resolution was delayed due to a lack of support from other countries.

A day before the draft resolution was postponed Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, penned a powerful letter to the UNESCO committee that urged them to vote down the proposal. Stating forcefully,

“Again, UNESCO is considering the adoption of a completely one-sided draft resolution on the Old City of Jerusalem that deliberately ignores the historical connection between the Jewish people and their ancient capital, The resolution also fails to acknowledge Christianity’s ties to Jerusalem. It refers to the area of the Temple Mount only as a ‘Muslim holy site of worship’”

Clearly, this argument and many like it have given UNESCO committee members some pause, but the fight against this draft resolution and attempts to shrink Israel’s role in Jerusalem continue. As Mr. Gold put it,

“Today, it is Israel that defends religious freedom for all of the great faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—against the tide of intolerance sweeping the Middle East region.”

Indiana University Holds Important Conference on “Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, and the Dynamics of Delegitimization”

The following piece was written in collaboration with Emma Dillon and Juan Pablo Rivera Garza:

Indiana University Bloomington Photo via http://www.iu.edu/

Indiana University Bloomington
Photo via http://www.iu.edu/

In April, the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism (ISCA) organized an important International Scholars Conference at Indiana University, on the topic of “Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, and the Dynamics of Delegitimization.” The conference sought to explore what informs contemporary anti-Zionism as well as to clarify the ties such thinking may have with anti-Semitism and broader ideological, political, and cultural currents of thought. The conference brought together some 70 scholars from 15 countries over the course of several days for intense deliberation and discussion about some of the most pressing issues today. LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus chaired a session of the conference, and LDB is proud to have close ties with many of the distinguished speakers and participants at this great event. Videos from the conference have recently become available for viewing online. Continue reading

Rhode Island Passes Anti-BDS Legislation

Rep. Mia Ackerman      Source: www.rilin.state.ri.us

Last week, Rhode Island lawmakers passed legislation aimed at curbing BDS movements within the state. Bill H 7736, also known as Anti-Discrimination in State Contracts Act, came about after its sponsor, Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-45, Cumberland, Lincoln) started to become aware of growing support for the BDS movement.

Rep. Ackerman believes this bill will proactively counter BDS, saying, “we want to get out in front of [BDS], as opposed to react to. Support for BDS is becoming a national trend, with a lot of that support stemming from universities. As a small state, we need to take a stand,” according to Algemeiner.com.

H 7736 specifically prohibits public entities of the state of Rhode Island from engaging in business with any company that does not expressly state they will not boycott any country’s goods and services.

A public entity shall not enter into a contract with a business to acquire or dispose of supplies, services, information technology, or construction unless the contract includes a representation that the business is not currently engaged in, and an agreement that the business will not during the duration of the contract engage in the boycott of any person, firm or entity based in or doing business with a jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade, and/or the boycott of any public agencies, entities or instrumentalities of the jurisdiction with whom the state can enjoy open trade

Essentially, this terminates business relations between the State of Rhode Island and companies who have BDS policies. Trade between Rhode Island and Israel is significant, amounting to upwards of 10 million dollars to the State, indicating a strong economic relationship.

The Rhode Island State House Source: www.state-capitals.org

With this legislation, this dually advantageous economic relationship is further protected.

While the bill passed Rhode Island’s House of Representatives by a 63-4 vote and the Senate unanimously, it experienced significant opposition from Brown University students. As Rep. Ackerman told Algemeiner.com,

“We met a lot of resistance from students at Brown University, who said the bill was a violation of their First Amendment rights. They did not understand that it had nothing to do with free speech and private conduct, but rather focused on regulating commercial activity”

Brown has faced a rash of BDS activity, particularly from the Jewish Voices of Peace, an anti-Zionist student group, which Rep. Ackerman named as one of the main opponents of the bill. According to the AMCHA Initiative, 18 professors employed by the University are pro-BDS.

Additionally, the campus has also suffered a series of anti-Semitic incidents, including the drawing of swatsikas on Greek Life buildings.

This bill continues on a string of positive moves made by other states in countering the BDS movement, including Governor Cuomo’s anti-BDS executive order in New York state. Gov. Cuomo’s executive order unilaterally ordered the government of NY to end business with pro-BDS companies, much like Rhode Island’s legislature. H7736’s passage is a welcome sign of the rising tide against BDS in state governments, and points to further success for the anti-BDS movement.