These Law Firms Don't Know What They're Doing—Hopefully | Opinion

The ongoing attempts by campus student organizations to marginalize Jews have garnered significant attention recently, most notably an August 2022 incident at the University of California Berkeley Law School in which nine law school student groups, led by the efforts of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) adopted a bylaw agreeing not to invite "speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views ... in support of Zionism."

The bylaw was immediately condemned by Jewish law students, who explained the marginalizing impact of the bylaw on Jewish students whose "identities are intertwined with the existence of Israel as an ancestral Jewish homeland" and expressed concern about the bylaw's potential "antisemitic impact . . . on the Berkeley Law community." Similarly, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky issued a statement of condemnation, correctly noting the antisemitic nature of the bylaw and its chilling impact on campus speech.

What was not expected—but StandWithUs recently discovered and exposed—is that some of the most prominent U.S. law firms have been, likely unknowingly, providing some of these same student groups with financial support. For instance, four of the student groups that adopted the antisemitic bylaw at Berkeley—the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), Law Students of African Descent (LSAD), the Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association (MENALSA), and the Womxn of Color Collective (WOCC)—publicly list some of the nation's most distinguished law firms as their financial sponsors. Thelist includes: Latham & Watkins; Covington & Burling; Debevoise & Plimpton; Morrison Foerster; Skadden, Arps; Munger Tolles; Wachtell Lipton; and Weil, Gotshal, among others.

UC Berkeley
Close-up of metalwork on Sather Gate, the iconic entrance to the campus of UC Berkeley in downtown Berkeley, California. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Some of the firms sponsoring these groups were founded as havens for Jewish lawyers who could not gain entry as Jewish applicants at more "white shoe" firms. One wonders whether Jewish partners at these law firms know that they are now sponsoring decidedly anti-Jewish agendas at law schools. While these law firms have likely (indeed, hopefully) been sponsoring these groups in good faith, one assumes that they were ignorant of their recently declared antisemitic agenda. One also wonders whether the firms will now take the appropriate steps of clearly condemning the anti-Jewish bigotry and dissociating themselves from these student groups and their bigotry.

While protection of freedom of speech among student groups is vital, law firms can (and should) support the exercise of that right while being careful to support student activities and groups that promote diversity and tolerance. Anti-Zionist student groups blatantly expose their bigotry and their hypocrisy when they deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel, while advocating for Palestinians with claims predicated on similar terms. We—and these law firms—have an obligation to expose this bigotry and hate, to call upon others of good faith to do the same, and to cease providing support of any kind to groups that foster and encourage a campus environment of anti-Jewish bigotry.

It is time to end the confusion between the terms "Zionist" and "Jewish." Simply put, Jews, Israel, and Zionism are inseparable. Israel is the birthplace of Jewish ethnic, ancestral, linguistic, cultural, and religious identity—and Jews have maintained a continual presence there for over 3,000 years. Zionism represents the Jewish people's unbreakable bond and age-old desire to be free in their ancestral homeland. On a political level, Zionism is a liberation movement supporting Jewish self-determination in the land of Israel. Jews endured over 1,900 years of antisemitic oppression and violence across Europe and the Middle East and shockingly, still live in a world plagued by antisemitism. In this context, Israel's existence and well-being is vital to the Jewish people's safety, survival, and human rights. For all these reasons, Zionism is at the very core of the many aspects that make up Jewish identity. Statements to the contrary, including by law school student groups, are nothing but poor attempts to disguise antisemitism.

Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs, an international, non-partisan education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.