Sunday, February 21, 2016

  • Sunday, February 21, 2016
  • Elder of Ziyon

Harvard Law School "Justice for Palestine" wrote at The Harvard Law Record:

We have a confession to make. We, Harvard Law School’s Justice for Palestine (JFP), are the organization responsible for the highly controversial pizza order that cost the law school (and its students) an annual $250,000 in funding for student activities.

For the uninitiated, the “Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund” (or Milbank Fund, named after the multinational law firm that endowed it), was established in 2012 to support the activities of student-run organizations at Harvard Law School. The Dean of Students office allocates the funds through an open application process. As part of the arrangement, Milbank Fund recipients are required to recognize the contribution by ensuring that all promotional materials for Milbank-funded programming include at least one reference indicating Milbank as a headlining sponsor.

At the start of this semester, HLS announced, without explanation, the sudden termination of the Milbank Fund. We are writing today so that the record may reflect that the termination of the Milbank Fund is, in fact, completely our fault.

In our defense, we couldn’t have possibly foreseen how our actions would come to affect the rest of the campus community. On the eve of our first-ever Milbank-sponsored speaker event, titled “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack”, the only thing we were really concerned about was what type of food to order for our fellow classmates. Like many others, we are an organization that recognizes the value of quality food as a major key to the success of any lunch talk.

So we ordered pizza—about $500 worth. We made sure to get a little something for everyone, because inclusivity! We got some margheritas for the traditional, buffalo chicken for the carnivorous, and of course, some formaggio for our colleagues with a more refined palate. The pizza was delicious, and for that, we must take a moment to sincerely thank Milbank for its generous contributions.

Even though we had only used Milbank’s money for the pizza (our speakers, two civil rights attorneys and an undergraduate student, graciously offered their time at no additional cost to the school), we held up our end of the deal by including, in all promotional e-mails and at the bottom of the event’s official Facebook page, some iteration of the following sentence: “This event is brought to you by the generous support of Milbank LLP.”

Between bites of Milbank-funded formaggio, event attendees listened as speakers discussed the widespread suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in the United States. One of the cases highlighted was that of Steven Salaita, an academic whose tenure position at the University of Illinois was revoked after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s 2014 aerial bombardment over Gaza. Salaita’s lawyers later discovered that the university had caved in to significant pressure from donors who had threatened to pull their donations if the university insisted on retaining him.

Ironically enough, a very similar sequence of events would unfold at Harvard Law School in the aftermath of our event. The very next day, 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.[1] As a start, the organizer was asked to immediately remove the reference to Milbank’s “generous support” from JFP’s Facebook event page.

After acknowledging that they recognized the irony in asking a student to retroactively edit the description for an event that was about free speech and its exceptions, the Dean of Students administrators proceeded to make it very clear that our cooperation would be greatly appreciated. Even though the event had already passed, it was evident that the administration was feeling tremendous pressure to do something, anything, to appease Milbank.

In exchange for a written guarantee that JFP’s future funding (be it from Milbank or any other source) would not be adversely affected, we agreed to remove the sentence from the Facebook event page. Though that guarantee was promised to us, we never got it.

Turns out, that’s because our request was directly incompatible with what Milbank was demanding. Administrators would later reveal that Milbank had gone so far as to demand that JFP’s Milbank funding be rescinded completely. According to Dean Minow, this was not a demand her administration could honor, so Milbank decided to pull out all of its annual $250,000 in student activity funding as a result of her administration’s “principled stance” in support of our right to speak openly and honestly about Palestine.

We are grateful to Dean Minow and the law school administration for refusing to buckle under intense anti-Palestinian pressure. We are also disappointed, though not particularly surprised, that at Harvard Law School, too, there exists such an exception to free speech when it comes to Palestine. Frankly, this whole ordeal should not have happened, and it is absurd that students will have to bear the (quite serious) consequences of our pizza order.

Of course, in its reaction to our event, Milbank has only proven the point we were trying to make that day.
It should come as no surprise that the "Justice for Palestine" group has fudged the facts.

Milbank did not pull $250,000 in funding for student activities, as this press release from Harvard clarifies:

Milbank has not terminated its five-year gift or its support for the Law School. Milbank was never involved in decisions about which events to fund or not to fund. The Law School and Milbank are committed to freedom of speech and they do not decide which events to fund based on point of view.
The firm has decided there are other ways its support could be used at HLS to avoid creating any misimpressions that the firm endorses the viewpoints expressed by any particular student organization or journal. The Law School is able to fund student conferences with other resources, and the Law School has continued to maintain the same level of funding to support student activities. We are grateful for the many terrific speakers, conferences, and events led by our thoughtful and creative students, and we look forward to many more to come. We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Milbank, which has acted appropriately and with the highest integrity in all respects. We look forward to continuing that strong relationship in the future, and to discussing with Milbank how best to deploy its gift to further the Law School’s mission.
Student groups seeking funds for conferences and speakers are invited to confer with the Dean of Students office and can receive advice about how to ensure the best quality of programming and to secure funding.
Milbank wrote a letter to NGO Monitor that described their problem with how the "Justice for Palestine" group acted, saying "The sponsoring student organization, without consulting Milbank, included a reference on the group’s Facebook page that created a false impression that Milbank endorsed the views expressed by group. "

The central thesis of the J4P article is that they were required to place the phrase “This event is brought to you by the generous support of Milbank LLP" on all flyers and announcements about the event. I am not so sure that is true. I could not find any mention of that specific phrase outside articles about this one event last year. Instead, I found variations of "through the generosity of the Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund..." There is a difference between an event being "brought to you by" which implies being part of the organization of the event and "through the generosity of" which implies nothing more than funding. This would tend to support Milbank's claim that the J4P organization tried to misuse its name to imply support for their views.

Not surprisingly, the J4P's false version of events have been reproduced without any skepticism by Mondoweiss, Glenn Greenwald and many others.

Finally, J4P's assertion that withdrawing funding for some campus activities is an example of "an exception to free speech" is ridiculous. Free speech does not mean that all speech must be funded. (If it was, then I am still waiting for checks from all organizations that sponsor pro-Palestinian speech and websites to generously fund EoZ as well.)

(h/t Yenta)

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