Brooke Goldstein and the Lawfare Project – which she founded in 2010 and still leads – have been busy this year.
Their most recent success was last month when they held Saudi Arabia accountable for having discriminated against Israelis as host of a world international chess tournament run by the World Chess Federation (FIDE.)
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Goldstein discussed her legal battles against anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish discrimination by Saudi Arabia in chess, by Kuwait Airways and at San Francisco State University.
Under pressure from a threatened lawsuit by the Lawfare Project, FIDE stripped Saudi Arabia from hosting a 2019 chess tournament and moved the location to Russia.
The Lawfare Project sent a lawyers’ letter on behalf of Israeli nationals after the Saudis blocked Israelis from participating in the same tournament last year because of their nationality and were set on doing the same again.
“Saudi Arabia engages in an illegal racist boycott of Israeli persons,” but “competition and chess... should be free of drama,” Goldstein told the Post, noting that the Saudi chess story is just the latest version of antisemitism by “turning against the Jewish state.”
Goldstein said that apparently some of the other Israeli chess players were offered €500 each as compensation for the discrimination. But she said “my two clients did not accept this pay off. They were offended,” saying none of the chess players should have had to choose between accepting money or an uphill fight against discrimination.
She said convincing FIDE to move the chess tournament out of Saudi Arabia to Russia was a “perfect example of different elements of social mobilization to right a past wrong” and that she was proud of Lawfare Project’s role in the win.
Asked how the Israeli clients learned of their work as a US-based legal organization, she said “we have made a name for ourselves,” and referred to leading the way in over 70 legal actions in 16 legal jurisdictions worldwide while partnering with two dozen major international law firms.
In another case, the Lawfare Project has not yet won the legal battle, but has won the public relations battle and the legal struggle is ongoing.
In 2016, Lawfare Project led an effort to file a lawsuit against Kuwait Airways in a German court challenging the airline’s discriminatory policy of banning Israelis as passengers.
In September 2018, a German appeals court slammed Kuwait Airways for its ban on Israeli passengers, but said practical issues left it unable to force the airline to treat Israelis equally.
Lawfare Project has filed an appeal to an even higher court, but in the meantime, Goldstein said their clients have received an “overwhelmingly supportive response from the German public, media and government offices. So if the appeal is denied in Germany, it will be up to German society to right this wrong.”
In addition to winning in the “court” of German public opinion, she said her group has had “lots of success in the US” against Kuwait Airways’ discriminatory policy, including getting the airline to cancel its New York-JFK to London route. Kuwait Airways also canceled its inter-European flights following Lawfare Project’s bringing legal pressure there regarding Kuwait Airlines’ policy.
Next, she said Lawfare Project is due to “file in another European jurisdiction imminently... we will not stop until we facilitate Kuwait Airways coming into compliance” in treating Israelis equally “or not flying at all.”
Reflecting on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s policies discriminating against Israelis at a time when the Saudi government, the UAE, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Chad and others are finally opening up to Israel publicly, Goldstein said, “there is nothing black and white. This just shows the illogic of the Arab boycott” on Israel.
“Let’s drop denying that there is cooperation and stop denying that the old animus is still running things... the Arab boycott is a dinosaur that just hasn’t died. It’s about the Arab mood on the street,” which leads to “a bigotry of low expectations,” she said.
Overall, she said, “We are doing everything we can legally to ensure the Arab boycott dies.”
In an example closer to “home” in the US where Lawfare Project is located, the organization has filed an anti-discrimination state court lawsuit against San Francisco State University.
At its heart, the case asserts that the university violated its Jewish students’ right to free speech, freedom to assemble and right to have law enforcement protect these rights, as part of systematic discrimination or deliberate indifference to a hostile environment against Jews.
It was triggered following the alleged complicity of senior university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April 2016 speech by then-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.
Goldstein said “If we win, we will have set a precedent... to protect Jewish students.”
She added that this would serve as “a huge deterrent on other schools” and would start to tear down “the excuse of affirmative discrimination” that tries to argue “we’re not antisemitic, we’re anti-Zionist.”
In contrast, Goldstein explained that those who take this stand are only right that they can “hold an anti-Zionist event. But if you discriminate against a Jewish student who has nothing to do with Israeli foreign policy... and deny them the right to fully participate in... programs because of your animus,” then you have crossed into illegal discrimination territory.
A trial in the case is set for March 18.
Lawfare Project also has a federal lawsuit pending where it has encountered greater resistance from the federal courts about whether the facts of the SFSU case fit into the specific federal law protecting against discrimination.
She expressed hope that the federal lawsuit will also get back on track following an appeal since “we have a big problem in our country if we cannot get past the pleading stage” to contest such blatant discrimination against Jews in an American university.
The group has also filed cases in Spain and in France, where in early October, French authorities suspended their insistence on special labeling for West Bank products following allegations that the practice is discriminatory.
The European Court of Justice is expected to take up the case next month.
After an active 2018, and with multiple impending developments in 2019, one thing is for sure: as long as there is discrimination against Jews or Israelis that can be targeted legally, Goldstein and Lawfare Project will not be far behind.
The author has delivered speeches as part of Lawfare Project’s lecture series.