Pro-BDS group settles lawsuit for discrimination against Israeli entities

The settlement, signed on Tuesday, commits the National Lawyers Guild to refraining from discriminating against Israelis.

An anti-Israeli protest inspired by BDS (photo credit: REUTERS)
An anti-Israeli protest inspired by BDS
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a significant legal victory against efforts to boycott Israelis and the State of Israel, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a civil rights group in the US which supports such a boycott, has come to a settlement with an Israeli organization for refusing to grant it advertising space in one of its publications.
The settlement could have a sizeable impact on the viability of Boycott Divestment Sanctions activity in the US more broadly given the acceptance by NLG in the settlement that discrimination on the basis of national origin violates anti-discrimination laws.
In 2016, an Israeli organization called Bibliotechnical Athenaeum sent an advertisement for publication in the dinner journal of the NLG’s Annual Banquet at its annual “Law for the People” convention.
NLG, which in 2007 explicitly endorsed the BDS campaign against Israel, refused however to publish the advertisement, saying “Unfortunately, we have a resolution barring us from accepting funds from Israeli organizations.”
Bibliotechnical Athenaeum, represented by The Lawfare Project Jewish civil rights group, argued that New York State’s Human Rights Law, specifically its anti-boycott provision, prohibits BDS-motivated commercial discrimination and the case eventually made its way to the New York State Supreme Court.
Bibliotechnical is not an operational, commercial business enterprise and although it is incorporated in Israel as a company and authorized to do business in New York its primary purpose is “to fight for Israeli equality interests.”
The original advertisement read “Bibliotechnical Athenaeum, Congratulations to the Honorees, 4 Shlomtzion St. Elazar, Gush Etzion, State of Israel.”
Elazar is an Israeli settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc of the West Bank.
Although the case was still in its pretrial stage, the court had already ruled against two motions to dismiss by NLG which may have ultimately persuaded the organization to settle.
In the settlement, signed on Tuesday, NLG commits to refraining from discriminating against Israelis and to accepting a statement of organizational policy drafted by The Lawfare Project on non-discrimination which must be disseminated to NLG’s chapters, staff and committees within 60 days of the settlement.
Critically, the settlement stipulates that NLG “affirms that no resolutions it has adopted, or adopts in the future” violate the new non-discrimination organizational policy.
That policy explicitly forbids discrimination based on “national origin or ancestry” which would include discrimination against Israelis or Israeli organizations.
NLG is also required to “prominently and indefinitely” display the new organizational policy on its national website.
In addition, it is required to publish a new ad by Bibliotechnical Athenaeum which “congratulates” the NLG “for Reaffirming its Commitment to Non-Discrimination,” a stipulation which essentially means that NLG’s own 2007 BDS resolution is null and void.
“This settlement makes it crystal clear to all who seek to engage in the type of conduct BDS advocates for that such conduct is, at its core, unlawful commercial discrimination,” said Benjamin Ryberg, who served on the case as lead counsel for The Lawfare Project.
“This case underscores the potential consequences awaiting those who violate civil and human rights law by illegally discriminating against Israelis, and deters future discrimination based on national origin, citizenship, religion, and all other protected classes.”
David Abrams, Executive Director of the Zionist Advocacy Center and principal of Bibliotechnical Athenaeum said that the case “emphasizes that boycotts of Israel and Israelis are illegal under American laws.”
Abrams said “To be sure, organizations have the right to criticize Israeli policies. But when organizations start engaging in actual boycotts of Israeli persons and entities, they cross an important line and those of us in the civil rights legal community will fight them in the courts.”
In a statement to the press about the settlement, NLG argued that it had originally refused to publish the advertisement because it stated that Gush Etzion was part of the State of Israel.
It described Abrams as an “Anti-Palestinian activist and serial litigant,” and that he had “voluntarily agreed to dismiss” the lawsuit.
“NLG reaffirms its commitment to Palestinian liberation, including support for Palestinian rights through grassroots tools such as boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS),” the organization said.
Ryberg pointed out that regardless of the declarative comments by NLG about supporting BDS, practically it was not able to engage in such boycotts in accordance with the terms of the settlement.
NLG said that the original advertisement “appeared deliberately placed to antagonize NLG for its positions in support of international human rights law,” and said it was “part of a global effort, led by Israel, seeking to paint support for Palestinian human rights as discrimination.”
The organization added that the original email rejecting the advertisement “did not correctly reflect NLG’s boycott policy” and that the organization’s BDS resolution “commits to boycotting institutions actively complicit in the denial of Palestinian rights – not Israeli individuals or organizations.”