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February 19, 2016 6:00 am

Harvard Law School Disputes ‘Justice for Palestine’ Account of Controversy Over Donor Funding

avatar by Andrew Pessin

Harvard University. Photo: Kazuaki Hiraga.

Harvard University. Photo: Kazuaki Hiraga.

A Harvard Law School Dean yesterday denied an anti-Israel student group’s account of a recent funding controversy at the school, The Algemeiner has learned.

Justice For Palestine (JFP) claimed in a letter published Tuesday that a major donor’s recent decision to repurpose previously pledged funds was due to an explicitly stated desire that the funds not be used to back JFP activities. Not so, Assistant Dean Robb London told The Algemeiner on Thursday, directly rejecting this and other of the group’s claims.

The controversy began last Oct. 20, when JFP sponsored a program called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack.” To provide refreshments for the attendees, the group drew on funds donated by international corporate law firm Milbank, earmarked to support student activities at Harvard Law School. Per Milbank’s conditions, JFP acknowledged the firm’s support in promotional material for the event.

The day after the event, according to Tuesday’s letter in the Harvard Law Record, “The Dean of Students office — citing a flood of angry phone calls and emails received from Milbank executives and other off-campus parties over the previous 24 hours — asked an organizer of the event to disassociate from Milbank in all past and future Justice for Palestine programming.”

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The letter continued, “Administrators would later reveal that Milbank had gone so far as to demand that JFP’s Milbank funding be rescinded completely. According to Dean [Martha] Minow, this was not a demand her administration could honor, so Milbank decided to pull out all of its annual… funding as a result of her administration’s ‘principled stance’ in support of our right to speak openly and honestly about Palestine.”

Milbank itself rejected this version of the events in correspondence published just two days after the original program. Milbank clarified that JFP had “included a reference on [its] Facebook page that created a false impression that Milbank endorsed the views expressed by group. At the request of Harvard Law School, the sponsoring student organization has removed that statement from its website.”

Assistant Dean Robb London directly disputed the students’ claims about Milbank’s behavior. On Thursday, he told The Algemeiner:

Milbank was never involved in the Law School’s decisions about which events to fund or not to fund.  Milbank never asked the Law School to consider rescinding Milbank funds that had been distributed to JFP or any other student organization. Nor did Milbank ever request the Law School to use its funding for some events or organizations but not others. Most specifically, Milbank never asked the Law School to deny future funding to JFP.

The law school also released a statement Thursday clarifying that Milbank has not cancelled its $1 million gift to the school, but will simply redirect it to other purposes. The firm, it explained, decided there are other ways it could support the law school that “avoid creating any misimpressions that the firm endorses the viewpoints expressed by any particular student organization.”

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