Lawfare’s Brooke Goldstein: ‘A great Jewish civil rights movement is needed’

Goldstein argues that Jewry needs to adopt a new strategy to fight anti-Semitism.  

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Brooke Goldstein has long been involved in defending Jewish legal rights. In 2010 she founded the Lawfare Project, whose mission is to provide “pro bono legal services to protect the civil and human rights of the Jewish people worldwide.”

Goldstein’s experience has led her to conclude that a “paradigm shift” is necessary in the way Jews advocate for their civil rights – that what is needed is no less than a Jewish civil rights movement.

That there has never been a Jewish civil rights movement will come as a surprise to some, given that Jews have stood in the forefront of the civil rights movement for other minorities, particularly blacks.

But as Goldstein notes in an August 2020 Newsweek op-ed: “We cannot seem to gin up even a small fraction of this enthusiasm and support when members of our own community come under attack.”

Goldstein recently spoke with World Israel News.

Q: What made you start the Lawfare Project?

“I was working for Daniel Pipes and the Middle East Forum.

“That’s when I first came into contact with the phenomenon of lawfare, which at that time we defined as the use of the law as a weapon of war to silence those speaking out against radical Islam or speaking on issues of national security.

“I saw that there were millions of dollars going toward these sorts of frivolous, malicious lawsuits and on the other hand I also looked at other litigation, like that brought by the ACLU and NAACP, and saw how civil rights law firms could be used for good.

“The Jewish community was the victim of lawfare suits that were designed to hamper our community. At the same time, we had not organized a legal defense for ourselves, nor had we organized a legal offense to ensure that there is equal protection of the law for our community.”

Q: What would you say is the most important case Lawfare is involved in just now?

“The case that we brought on behalf of Psagot winery, first before the French Conseil d’État [Council of State] and later before the European Court of Justice, argued against the discriminatory labeling of Jewish products in Judea and Samaria. And even though we lost the case, what is significant is that in the end we won. We won in the court of public opinion.

“Among other things, it really pushed the U.S. government to declare – when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Psagot winery – that U.S. policy is to officially label Jewish products made in Israel – ‘Made in Israel’ – to label them  correctly.

“Similarly, we lost a recent case in which the European Court of Justice ruled it was perfectly legal according to EU law to ban kosher slaughter, to ban religious slaughter.

“Those cases, although we lost, I think are super important because they’ve sparked a public dialogue about what religious freedoms are and where the EU is headed if not to a place of incredible darkness.

“Now of course there are cases that we’ve won and cases which we’ve settled. For example, we settled with San Francisco State University. For the first time, a U.S.-government entity, the California State University system, declared in a binding settlement agreement that it recognized Zionism as an integral part of  Jewish identity. Therefore, discrimination against Jewish students because they’re Zionists is a civil rights issue and is akin to discrimination against a Jewish person because of his cultural, ethnic and religious identity.

“Another case we just settled was against the National Lawyers Guild, which supported BDS.  We got it to reverse its boycott policy and declare it does not support commercial discrimination based on protected categories such as national origin. That was a huge win and also sent a signal to anyone else, especially in New York State, that if you attempt to engage in an unlawful discriminatory boycott, you will be held accountable.”

Q: You say before the Lawfare Project, “there was not a single entity dedicated to impact litigation on behalf of Jews.” How do you account for this when Jews have been so active in the U.S. in promoting impact litigation on behalf of African-Americans?

“Exactly. Jews have always been at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. But not only has there not been a Jewish civil rights litigation fund – there has never been a Jewish civil rights movement in the West. Ever.

“What we have done is throw a lot of money at what some call pro-Israel advocacy. And, obviously, helping to improve the image of the Jewish State is essential, but that’s not civil rights advocacy, and we’re losing when it comes to 21st century civil rights advocacy because we’re not speaking the language of civil rights.

“When somebody attacks a Jewish student on campus, the response shouldn’t be ‘Well, let’s debate occupation. Let’s debate a foreign conflict thousands of miles away.’ They’re using that  to target the student because he happens to be Jewish… The response is to talk about the Jewish community as a minority community deserving of equal protection.

“If you have a problem with the Chinese government’s handling of Covid, is it acceptable to turn around on a Chinese-American student and start spitting on him and calling him a dirty Chinaman and excluding him from school activities? No, that’s racist. But if you have a problem with the Netanyahu government or the way Israel is handling the so-called occupation, then you turn around on a Jewish student and spit on him and call him a Zionist pig and exclude him from events, which is what’s been happening to my clients. Somehow that’s acceptable because you’re debating Middle Eastern politics.

“And what do we do? We give our students pamphlets on how to defend Israel as a non-apartheid state. We don’t give them pamphlets about ‘Know your rights,’ ‘What is a civil rights violation,’ ‘What to do if you’ve been discriminated against because of your cultural or ethnic identity’. So that’s what the Lawfare Project does.

“When you go before a judge in a court of law, it’s not an affirmative defense to discrimination to say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a problem with a foreign government.’ But that’s what San Francisco State University attempted to do when we sued. They didn’t dispute the fact that Jewish students were excluded from the ‘Know Your Rights’ fair. They didn’t dispute the fact that the only Jewish student group on campus, Hillel, which is apolitical, was shut down – a first amendment violation.

“’Yeah, yeah, all that happened. We did shut them down. We did exclude them. But not because they’re Jewish, because they’re Zionists. And Zionism is a political point of view, so it’s OK to discriminate.’

“That’s the narrative that we need to tear down. You don’t do that by feeding into it, by debating a conflict and defending  yourself against false accusations thrown at a foreign government.”

Q: You noted in your Newsweek op-ed in August that the focus and money put into “pro-Israel advocacy” on campus was a “a strategic mistake.” Could you elaborate on what you meant?  

“No, I don’t think it’s a strategic mistake to fund pro-Israel advocacy. I think it’s a strategic mistake to think that you’re going to defeat Jew hatred by debating foreign conflicts. You’re going to defeat Jew hatred by asserting the civil rights of the Jewish community as a minority community with equal protection under the law.”

Q: You argue that “a great civil rights movement” is needed.  What would that look like?

“That would look like End Jew Hatred, which is the new grassroots civil rights movement that was launched only a couple months ago and now has over 15 official partner organizations, tons of social media activists, grassroots organizers, influencers, student activists, who are all coming together under the same banner. It is non-partisan and is not political.

“Accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a tool to divide the Jewish community on partisan lines. When you do things like accuse Trump of being a Nazi or make analogies between ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and concentration camps, you deny the uniqueness of Jewish history. And for too long Jewish activists have been sucked into these so-called progressive left-wing movements that are mired in Jew hatred. They think that that’s what liberal and progressive means.

“So what End Jew Hatred has done is provide a platform whereby Jewish activists can mobilize around issues that everybody can agree on no matter what party you voted for. Everyone agrees that an 18-year-old should be able to attend university without being spat on and, frankly, beaten up.

“Some progressive organizations are trying to tell the community it doesn’t matter, ignore the Jew hatred. Go march in these movements because we don’t want to cede the space. That doesn’t breed respect, that breeds contempt. Jews need to march for Jews and demand that others march for us as we have marched for them. That’s what End Jew Hatred does.

Q: It sounds like you want to separate attacks on Israel from attacks on Jews. Do you think that’s possible?

“I don’t want to separate it. They are intrinsically connected because those who are physically attacking Jews are using Israel, or a so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as an excuse. What I’m saying is that the answer is not then to go debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the answer is to point out that projection of a foreign conflict on someone because of the color of their skin or their religion or their ethnic and cultural identity is the epitome of racism.”