This March 19-20, the Louis D. Brandeis Center hosted its fourth annual National Law Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference brought together law student leaders from 13 of LDB’s law student chapters across the country, and educated these students on topics including civil rights law; international law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict; legal responses to terror and how to pursue them; religious liberty; and how to use legal tools to combat anti-Semitism and the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Additionally, the students were presented with networking opportunities amongst their peers, attorneys, and legal scholars.
“The conference was informative, as well as encouraging.” said Daniel Berlinger (University of St. Thomas JD Candidate, 2017). “It helped provide the means to inspire law students to continue the fight against anti-Semitism on campus and beyond.”
Students were given the opportunity to engage with each other in a dialogue about the issues facing them as aspiring lawyers and proponents of civil rights for the Jewish people and all people through a series of lectures, panels, and roundtable discussions. With several prominent figures in academia, government, and professional law as guest speakers and fellow attendees, law students were also given an opportunity to enhance their knowledge and participate in discussions with multiple legal experts.
Participants included law students from LDB chapters at UC Berkeley, Penn, Emory, University of Virginia, and the University of Chicago in addition to students from various other campuses. The LDB law student chapter initiative, launched in 2014, includes 18 chapters nationwide. LDB chapters fill an important gap in American legal education, offering educational programming that connects students’ legal education to pressing Jewish civil rights issues.
Many of the students in attendance were members of their chapters’ respective leadership boards. The conference’s speakers covered a variety of legal and political topics relating to the Brandeis Center’s mission: empowering student leadership, federal protection of the civil rights of Jewish students, and fighting anti-Semitism so that the culture on American college campuses can change into one where anti-Semitism is taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination.
The conference kicked off with LDB Director of Legal Initiatives Aviva Vogelstein welcoming the students to the Fourth Annual National Law Student Leadership Conference. Vogelstein went on to discuss the importance of the role the students were playing at their respective universities, and commended them for the initiative they’ve shown in helping combat anti-Semitism.
LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus then gave opening remarks, focusing on the legal progress that had been made against anti-Semitism, and the many steps yet to be taken. Marcus chronicled the successful adoption of ethno-religious standards within the framework of Title VI and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Marcus then discussed OCR’s history of dealing with campus anti-Semitism cases, attributing the weakness in approach to the absence of a formal OCR definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a bipartisan bill which unanimously passed the U.S. Senate in December, was highlighted as an example of the positive progress being made in the United States in regards to legal means of combating anti-Semitism. Marcus ended his remarks with a spirit of optimism, pointing out the various state legislatures that are currently drafting bills to combat anti-Semitism within their respective states.
After LDB President Kenneth Marcus finished speaking, the floor was turned over to Professor Abraham Bell, of San Diego State University and Bar Ilan University. Bell’s talk, entitled “International Law & The Arab-Israeli Conflict,” focused on Israel and international human rights law. Bell’s talk was a witty, informative, discussion that provided legal and rhetorical strategies, while simultaneously disavowing libels frequently levied against the one Jewish state. Bell’s talk ranged from discussions of the legal status of settlements, to the question of what exactly international law is.
After Professor Bell’s discussion, a keynote address was given over dinner by Richard D. Heideman, of Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik. Heideman’s address, entitled “Holding Sponsors of
Terrorism Legally Accountable,” was a powerful declaration of the power of an individual lawyer to change the world. Heideman discussed overcoming insurmountable odds to bring cases against world leaders, foreign powers, and figures considered generally untouchable in the legal community. Heideman represented clients against Muammar Gaddafi, as well as the nations of Libya and Syria. Heideman sought justice for the victims of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization attacks on the Vienna and Rome airports, along with the American victims of the EgyptAir flight 648 hijacking. Heideman chronicled the difficult road his law firm faced in obtaining justice and compensation for victims of crimes that were perpetrated decades earlier, crimes for which no one believed justice could be obtained. Heideman spoke about the importance of anti-terrorism law, of having a White House committed to the fight against terror, and his theory of confluence: when the victims, lawyers, congressmen, hearings, an amenable White House, and the State Department all come together, anything can be accomplished. Richard Heideman ended his discussion with a piece of advice for all of the aspiring lawyers in the room “Stand up, speak out, and seek justice.”
The second day of the conference began with LDB Director of Legal Initiatives Aviva Vogelstein turning the floor over to various students who had worked on combating anti-Semitism on their own campuses.
After the students concluded their stories, Vogelstein took the floor to discuss “Law and Campus Anti-Semitism.” Vogelstein’s talk discussed the state of anti-Semitism on campus, and delivered eye-opening statistics, such as a highlighting of the fact that over 50% of all Jewish students self-reported facing a situation they would consider anti-Semitic in 2015. Vogelstein discussed cases the Brandeis Center has dealt with, ranging from verbal abuse to physical battery. This discussion also included a breakout session that trained the law students how to represent undergraduates who face anti-Semitic incidents.
Jennifer Gross then spoke about “BDS & The Law.” The talk focused on challenges to BDS resolutions: under state law, corporate charters, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Export Administration Act, and the Ribicoff Amendment, and other legislation. Gross discussed how certain BDS resolutions, such as the American Studies Association’s unlawful boycott of Israel, and student BDS resolutions on several campuses, are ultra vires (meaning “outside the scope/purpose of”). Gross’s talk highlighted means by which all the students in the room could directly combat anti-Semitic resolution on their campuses firsthand.
Following Gross’s talk on campus anti-Semitism, Alyza Lewin covered several issues relating to constitutional law in her talk,
“Is Religious Liberty in Danger in America?” Lewin, of Lewin & Lewin, has argued before the Supreme Court, and is a staunch supporter of an individual’s rights to free expression of their religious beliefs. Lewin spoke at length about the changing face of the public and legislative approach to religion and its place in American law. Lewin examined the changes beliefs of the U.S. Supreme Court, of the rise and fall of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and various examples of how religious freedom is being inhibited legally throughout the American legal landscape.
After Lewin’s discussion on religious liberty came to a close, a panel was held featuring Eric Fusfield, Director of Legislative Affairs for B’nai B’rith International, as well as Richard Heideman, and Alyza Lewin. The panel was moderated by Kenneth Marcus. The panel, entitled “Legal Career Directions and the Pursuit of Justice,” offered life and career advice to the aspiring lawyers in attendance. The various members of the panel discussed how they got started in the fields they work in, as well as how to successfully balance legal pursuits with personal time. The panel participants also touched upon the importance of believing in your work, and how to rationalize pursuing moral goals instead of mercenary ones. The panel members were very receptive to student questions, and informed all of the students as to how to best proceed in their future endeavors.
The conference wrapped up with Kenneth Marcus giving closing remarks. The remarks highlighted the importance of the work the law students in attendance were doing. Marcus discussed further means of advancing in their goals, as well informing the law students about future opportunities to continue working with the Brandeis Center.
After the closing of the conference, law student David Rosenberg of Emory, said that “The conference was educational due to the fact it enumerated both the steps and actions we should take in pursuing the fight against anti-Semitism. This conference felt very practical in nature, all of the speeches and activities were great because they gave us tangible means to continue pursuing our goals as lawyers entering our respective fields.”
Jared Beim, of the University of Chicago Law School, stated that the “LDB conference was a valuable way to learn about anti-Semitism and how we can all make a difference at this crucial time.”
Jennifer Kleinman, of Cardozo Law School, said “I felt not only inspired and confident in my experiences with those fellow law students I met at the conference, but feel truly secure in our future due to the great allies we have working on our behalf.”
Sharon Rogart, of the University of Virginia Law School, enthusiastically spoke of the conference, saying that “The LDB conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals and learn more about how to speak up and take leadership in situations of anti-Semitism.”