#BDS_Epic_Fail: Former 'white shoes' law firm withdraws Harvard Law School funding due to BDS
Back in the 60's and 70's, New York law firms were split into 'Jewish law firms' where Jews could be accepted and predominated, and 'white shoes law firms,' which for the most part did not accept Jews. By the time I came out of law school in the mid-'80's, the world was changing (my first law firm was one that was known as a 'white shoes' law firm and I had offers from others) although there were still vestiges of the old regime.
Milbank Tweed (known as Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCoy when I was in law school) was a 'white shoes' law firm 50 years ago. No more. Last week, Milbank withdrew $250,000 in student funding from Harvard Law School because students used some of the money to fund a program promoting the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
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.”
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. 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.Boo. Hoo.