Harvard Law loses $250K after ‘Palestine Exception’ event

Credit: NKCPhoto (Flickr)

Credit: NKCPhoto (Flickr)

The law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadely & McCloy reportedly pulled $250,000 from Harvard Law after a panel discussion called "The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack.” The October 20 lunchtime lecture featured Palestine Legal staff attorney Radhika Sainath, Omar Shakir, a Bertha Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Northeastern undergraduate Kendall Bousquet and was sponsored by the law school’s Justice for Palestine student group.

The event – which was standing-room only – began with a 3-minute video of students and professors discussing how they were censored, punished or falsely accused of anti-Semitism for taking a principled stance for Palestinian rights.  The panel included a presentation on a recent report released by Palestine Legal and CCR detailing the tactics used by Israel advocacy groups to silence speech supporting Palestinian rights, a discussion on the firing of Professor Steven Salaita after he issued tweets critical of Israeli policies, and a first-hand account of disparate treatment experienced by Students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern University.

After the event, Milbank, which had established a “Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund” to support the activities of student-run groups at Harvard Law School demanded that Harvard Law immediately rescind all Milbank funding for Justice for Palestine events. The Israel advocacy group NGO-Monitor, reported to have ties to the Israeli government, also sent a letter to Milbank, demanding information “in advance of a report [they] are preparing on the event.” After Harvard Law declined to single out Justice for Palestine for censorship, Milbank pulled its $250,000 annual grant.

“Israel advocacy groups and big donors are sending a powerful message that if you allow discussion of Palestinian rights at your university, you will be punished,” said Radhika Sainath. “One can see how colleges without Harvard’s endowment might find it hard to allow open debate on one of the most critical issues of our time.”

A law student with Justice for Palestine was also asked by the Dean of Students office to delete language on the event’s Facebook page thanking Milbank for its contribution following the event, a stipulation required by all student groups receiving the funding. According to Justice for Palestine, the approximately $500 the group received from the Milbank Fund went towards pizza for the lunchtime event. “We are grateful to Dean Minow and the law school administration for refusing to buckle under intense anti-Palestinian pressure,” said Justice for Palestine. “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.”