January 12, 2018
Lawsuit is first to cite New York State Human Rights Law in a case of BDS-motivated commercial discrimination based on national origin; National Lawyers Guild’s (NLG) first motion to dismiss rejected by Court
NEW YORK, NY—A lawsuit against the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), alleging that the organization discriminated against an Israeli organization purely on the basis of nationality, is currently making its way through the New York Supreme Court. The groundbreaking suit is the first to argue that New York State’s Human Rights Law, specifically its anti-boycott provision, prohibits BDS-motivated commercial discrimination. The Lawfare Project, a legal think tank and defender of civil rights, is representing the plaintiff, and is collaborating in this matter with attorney David Abrams of the Zionist Advocacy Center. The case was also covered by the Jewish Journal.
The complaint asserts that, in June 2016, the plaintiff—an organization incorporated in Israel and authorized to do business in New York—attempted to place an ad in the dinner journal for the NLG’s Annual Banquet, part of its annual “Law for the People” convention. The NLG refused to accept the ad and refunded the $200 payment, stating: “Unfortunately, we have a resolution barring us from accepting funds from Israeli organizations.”
The Israeli organization countered by filing suit against the NLG, arguing that the refusal amounted to discrimination in public accommodation. The NLG’s subsequent motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied, but the plaintiff nonetheless filed an amended complaint, adding claims based on New York City and State prohibitions against discriminatory boycotts.
“It is appalling that an organization like the National Lawyers Guild, which claims to support individuals who are being deprived of their civil rights or liberties, would deny anyone the ability to place a congratulatory ad purely on the grounds of nationality, or any other innate characteristic,” said The Lawfare Project’s Chief Operating Officer and counsel for the plaintiff, Benjamin Ryberg. “This hypocritical act of discrimination is a clear violation of New York City and State human rights laws. This case sends a powerful message that bigotry has no place in the great State of New York.”
Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, added, “If the NLG had similarly said, ‘Unfortunately, it is our policy not to do business with Chinese organizations,’ or ‘We have a resolution against accepting funds from African organizations,’ we would rightly be outraged. Where is the same outrage when it comes to unlawful commercial discrimination against Israelis and Jews?”
The National Lawyers Guild, which calls itself the progressive alternative to the American Bar Association (ABA), has thousands of members in chapters across the country. The Guild is the oldest and largest progressive bar association, with a network of public interest and human rights lawyers, jurists, and activists around the country. It also has a well-documented history of singling out Israel in national resolutions and supporting anti-Israel activities. In May of 2017, two members of the NLG chapter at University of California Irvine attended an anti-Israel protest as purportedly neutral “legal observers” but apparently failed to report the anti-Semitic shouts of demonstrators, as recounted by witnesses to the incident.