When Kuwait Airlines refused to sell tickets to Israelis, The Lawfare Project sued, forcing it to cancel all its inter-European flights and its popular JFK-London route.
When Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow Israeli players to participate in a chess tournament two years ago, The Lawfare Project again sprung into action, and the International Chess Federation ultimately moved the tournament to Russia.
Numerous Jewish organizations protest insults against Jews or Israel, but The Lawfare Project was founded 10 years ago to fight back in a very specific way: through the courts. And so far, it has achieved some remarkable victories.
To learn more, The Jewish Press recently spoke to its founder, Brooke Goldstein.
The Jewish Press: What’s your background?
Goldstein: I was born and raised in Canada. I went to McGill University and then to Cardozo Law School.
I come from a very proud Zionist Jewish family. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and I was raised with a love for my identity. I hope to give the same love for Jewish history and the Jewish people to my children.
Why did you start The Lawfare Project?
When I was in law school, I worked as in-house counsel for Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum, and I was also running The Legal Project, which was a litigation defense fund for people in the counter-terrorism and moderate Muslim communities who were being sued for speaking about radical Islam.
I started studying where the money for these lawsuits came from and learned that there were hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars being funneled through organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Legal Fund.
I also studied how organizations like the ACLU and NAACP operate, and it occurred to me that the way that you really make change in this country is through seminal civil rights lawsuits.
I realized, though, that there has never been a Jewish litigation defense fund or a Jewish civil rights movement in this country. So in 2010 I founded The Lawfare Project, and since then we have filed over 80 groundbreaking civil rights cases in almost 20 jurisdictions around the world.
What would you say have been your biggest victories?
The most recent significant victory was a settlement we entered into with the National Lawyers Guild. We sued the National Lawyers Guild – which is one of the oldest lawyers guilds in the United States – for discrimination against our client, an Israeli company.
The guild had passed a resolution not to do business with Israelis, but enforcing such a resolution violates New York State’s anti-discrimination law. Just like you can’t have a restaurant with a sign “No Chinese allowed” or a bar with a sign “No blacks allowed,” you can’t have a business and say, “No Israelis allowed.”
Our client had attempted to buy ad space in the National Lawyers Guild annual journal, and the guild sent an e-mail back saying: Sorry, we don’t do business with Israelis. So we sued them. The National Lawyers Guild realized it didn’t have a case, so it settled with us and changed its anti-discrimination policy.
It’s quite significant because it shows that if you engage in BDS, you will be held accountable, you will be sued, and eventually – if you’re stupid enough to go to court – you will be held liable. In this case, they did the smart thing and settled and reversed their policy. They’re doing business now with the Israeli company.
Is it true that you once successfully sued Google?
We have a lawyer who operates out of Europe, and he filed a legal action against Google. We ended up reaching an understanding with Google’s lawyers to block defamatory content against the Jewish people, including material that promotes Nazi ideology and denies the Holocaust.
Our lawyer in Europe is now working very closely with Google’s in-house counsel to make sure Google is following its own policy and abiding by European law, which is actually much more strict on Internet providers and search engines [than America] when it comes to content that defames people because of their race or ethnicity.
You also apparently once successfully blocked Hamas or Hezbollah from broadcasting in America.
Yes, that was actually one of our first legal actions. An intern who was working with us pointed out that Hamas TV and Hezbollah TV were being broadcast illegally in the United States through two U.S.-based companies. So we were able to put together a legal memo and share it with law enforcement, and they took down the two channels.
One of your more impressive victories is one you scored against Kuwait Airways. Can you talk a bit about that?
It’s actually an ongoing action. We forced Kuwait Airways to cancel its route from JFK to London because it’s illegal in this country to discriminate against someone based on his or her national origin, which is exactly what Kuwait Airways is doing. [It bars Israeli from its flights.]
We’ve also filed several actions against Kuwait Airways in different European jurisdictions. Some have been more successful than others, but we were successful in the sense that we got Kuwait Airways to cancel all its inter-European flight paths.
The last challenge is to work with European countries to ensure that their anti-discrimination laws are enforced even for Kuwait Airways flights that fly to Kuwait because we believe it’s completely unacceptable in the 21st century in the West to allow companies to do business in our countries and make money while engaging in barbaric discrimination.
Your organization has also been involved in fighting European laws that require products made in the West Bank to be labeled as such. Can you talk about that?
We were retained by Psagot, which is an Israeli winery in Judea and Samaria, and we challenged a French regulation that required Jewish products made in Judea and Samaria to be labeled a certain way – which is discriminatory.
We ended up going all the way to the European Court of Justice, but in a really stunning ruling last November, it basically said that consumer protection requires labeling products to indicate anything a consumer may desire to know vis-à-vis ethics, and this includes whether or not a product is made by a Jew or a Muslim in the so-called disputed territories.
It was an outrageous and shocking decision that will have enormous implications and ripple effects. It has really opened the floodgates for consumers to sue companies for all sorts of things. For example, if you’re buying a product form the United States and you want to know whether the owner of the manufacturing company voted for Trump, you should be able to demand, as an ethical consumer, that that information appear on the label.
I think courts are quickly going to realize how untenable enforcement of this European Court of Justice ruling really is.
What’s the most recent case you’ve taken on?
Well, we recently filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to find out what was really was behind the blatant discriminatory treatment of the Jewish community when it came enforcing coronavirus regulations.
I think it’s pretty obvious that [Mayor Bill] de Blasio singled out the Jewish community. He blamed the Jewish community for the spread of the coronavirus and threatened members of the Jewish community with arrest….
You can’t treat two categories of people differently based on their religion or viewpoint. The government can’t say it’s okay to gather to protest for Black Lives Matters, but it’s not okay to gather to pray. If you have a regulation, it has to be applied equally across the board to all people regardless of their religion or skin color.
How many lawyers does The Lawfare Project have?
Right now, we have four full-time in-house staff including myself. We have one lawyer who works for us based out of Europe, based in Spain. And then we have a network of over 400 lawyers and over 35 major law firms that have dedicated themselves to working pro bono, or reduced rate, on cases we bring to them.
Why would they work pro bono or at a reduced rate?
I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life recruiting firms and lawyers – really, the best of the best. We have the top law firms and minds in the world working on our cases.
I think our cases appeal to them because we’re really at the forefront of the Jewish civil rights movement. We’re using the legal system in a way that enforces the basic civil rights of the Jewish community – which should have been done 50 years ago.
I think they’re also very moved by the quality of the cases and the plight of the plaintiffs that we bring to them. One of our clients, for example, was punched in the face at Temple University and subjected to anti-Semitic epithets. There’s no place for this in the United States or in the 21st century.
You once said “the change you can make with one lawsuit or even one legal letter is enormous.” So you don’t even have to go to court? A letter does the trick?
Yes. And I’d like to think that most of the time the people we write letters to have just forgotten what their obligations are under the law. We’re just reminding them, and they do the right thing.
How often does a letter work?
Very often. I’d say nine out of 10 times. A lawsuit is always the last resort. You don’t want to waste your time and money in a court.
And we’re not in this game for monetary damages. We’re in this game to change the national dialogue, to remind people and educate people that Jews deserve equal protection; that the civil rights laws that apply to other communities – to the black community, to the Muslim community, and to women – also apply to Jews.
Some people believe our country is too litigious. By taking all these actions, are you contributing to this litigious atmosphere? Or is it your contention that if every other group is doing it, we have to do it as well and that the benefits outweigh the costs?
The beautiful thing about living in a liberal democratic society is that the way you enforce change is not through violence. It’s through lobbying, legislation, and the court system. It’s a beautiful thing that if you have been wronged, you are able to negotiate a settlement with someone or go to a court of law and have a judge rule on the dispute.
We’re not rioting. That’s not how we enforce change in this country. We enforce change civilly by using the court system. And Jews have every right to enforce their civil rights. The rights enjoyed by women, by blacks, and others in this country are all products of seminal civil rights cases that were brought to the courts, and they changed the fabric of our society.
When people accuse us of being a litigious society, the last thing I think they’re talking about is civil rights litigation. We’re not talking about ambulance chasers. We’re talking about plaintiffs bringing extraordinarily important cases before the courts of law of this country to enforce principles that every other minority community will benefit from.
As a minority community, we deserve equal protection. And that’s the way forward – to launch a civil rights campaign in this country to demand that we be treated with respect like every other minority community.