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October 20, 2022 4:31 pm

Top New York Law Firm Confirms Sponsorship of Conference Featuring BDS Panel Despite Unease Over ‘Extremism’

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative: Pro-Palestinian activists protest against the unloading of an Israeli ship at the Port of Oakland, June 4, 2021. Photo: Facebook/Arab Resource & Organizing Center.

One of the world’s top ten law firms has confirmed that it is sponsoring a conference this weekend promoting the so-called “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign targeting Israel, despite expressing unease over whether the panel discussion of the subject will be sufficiently balanced.

A representative of White & Case LLP — a New York City-based international legal firm which grossed $2.89 billion in 2021, making it one of the top ten law practices in the world in terms of revenue — told The Algemeiner on Thursday that the company had sponsored the American Branch of the International Law Association’s (ABILA) International Law Weekend “for several years.” The BDS panel will be held on Saturday at this year’s conference, which is being hosted at the Fordham University Law School.

Titled “Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law,” the panel will hear from speakers including Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) NGO. Shakir was deported from Israel in Nov. 2019  after the government refused to renew his visa. He has expressed sympathy with the BDS campaign on several occasions, including one unsuccessful attempt in 2017 to persuade FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, to expel Israel from membership.

An initial description of Saturday’s panel, since deleted from the ABILA conference website, accused Israel of employing apartheid policies. It also compared Israeli practices in the West Bank with China’s repression of its Uyghur Muslim population, up to two million of whom have been incarcerated in detention camps amid charges of genocide against the Beijing regime from the US, Canada, France and several other countries.

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A spokesperson with White & Case expressed concern about the nature of Saturday’s panel, but stopped short of saying that the firm would cancel its sponsorship of the event.

“White & Case has been a sponsor of ABILA’s International Law Weekend for several years, along with many other law firms and law schools,” the spokesman told The Algemeiner in an email on Thursday.

“We are aware of a panel being presented this Saturday at the conference titled ‘Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law’ and, similarly, we believe that this panel does not meet the criteria of presenting a balanced, non-extremist viewpoint of the issue that will be discussed. We have shared these concerns with the event organizers,” the firm added.

ABILA meanwhile did not return a request for comment.

White & Case’s statement came one day after the firm claimed it was unaffiliated with a separate event at the University of Chicago Law School titled “Apartheid: International Law in the Israel-Palestine Conflict,” during which two panelists accused Israel of being an apartheid state.

Despite the disavowal, an advertisement for the event held on October 12 included a note thanking White & Case LLP for being “our sponsors.”

The firm said that its name “was incorrectly listed on the event’s promotional materials…We are not involved in or consulted on the programming decisions this organization makes, but we expect the viewpoints presented at an event run by any organization we support to be within a range that is non-extremist and overall balanced. The ILS panel did not meet these criteria, and we have shared this view with both the student organization and the University of Chicago Law School. Had we known in advance of this event, we would have insisted that our firm not be associated with it in any way.”

A spokesperson for the University of Chicago Law School confirmed to The Algemeiner that the law firm had sponsored the organization that staged the event, but not the event itself.

“White & Case is a 2022-2023 sponsor of the International Law Society, which was one of the student organizations that offered the program last week,” said Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, Associate Dean for Communications at the University of Chicago.

“As with all of our sponsors, the firm would not have had any advance notice about or input into any programs that ILS put on this year. The firm was thanked on the communications about the event as an annual sponsor,” she added.

White & Case’s involvement with the two events comes several months after it issued a report exonerating the Chicago based investment firm Morningstar of allegedly promoting divestment from Israel. US state officials, however, have argued that Morningstar may be engaging in BDS, citing a practice that placed Israeli businesses and those that do business with Israel on a “watch list.”

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