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.
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.
If you are concerned about anti-Semitism on your campus, or if you seek advice about best practices, contact us.
Dawinder S. Sidhu Dawinder "Dave" S. Sidhu is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico and has held positions at Oxford University Faculty of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard University's Pluralism Project, the University of Baltimore School of Law, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.