White & Case Backpedals In Face of Blowback Over Sponsorship of Anti-Israel Event

White & Case shielded financial giant Morningstar against accusation it enables Israel boycotts

Human Rights Watch Israel-Palestine director Omar Shakir / Getty Images
October 18, 2022

The law firm that helped defend financial giant Morningstar against accusations it is enabling Israel boycotts, White & Case, is distancing itself from a campus event last week that took aim at Israel's status as a Jewish state and slandered the country as an "apartheid" nation.

The event, held at the University of Chicago Law school, was titled, "Apartheid: International Law in the Israel-Palestine Context" and featured a speaker who deemed Israel an "apartheid" state that has "pursued a policy or intent to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians." An invitation for the event listed White & Case as a sponsor of the event, but following widespread condemnation by pro-Israel groups the law firm says it had nothing to do with it.

"White & Case was not a sponsor of this event," a spokesman for the firm told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. "Our firm does support International Law Societies, as do other law firms similar to us, not just at the University of Chicago Law School but at many law schools across the country. We are not involved in or consulted on any of the programming decisions these student organizations make. Had we known in advance of this event, we would have insisted that our firm not be associated with it in any way. We have conveyed this position to the [International Law Society] at the University of Chicago."

The firm has, for the past several months, been at the center of a controversy surrounding Morningstar’s alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which wages economic warfare on Israel and Jewish businesses. White & Case has a fraught relationship with the Jewish people, having defended foreign governments and the German national railway in lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors, as well as historic enemies of the Jewish state, including the Palestinian Authority. Morningstar, which guides investors through its corporate-ratings system, is battling accusations that it supports the BDS movement by downgrading companies that work with and in Israel. The financial giant retained White & Case to investigate these claims, and in a report that generated even more debate, concluded that Morningstar engaged in limited but correctable instances of bias against Israel. Morningstar has relied on the report to defend itself against claims it actively supports the BDS movement.

But White & Case is facing renewed scrutiny for its support of the Israel "apartheid" event at University of Chicago’s Law school, with one pro-Israel watchdog telling the Free Beacon that the law firm may be guilty of anti-Israel bias. Latham & Watkins—which came under criticism last week for its financial support of campus groups accused of anti-Semitism—is also listed as a sponsor for the event.

The apartheid event featured Omar Shakir, a vocal proponent of the BDS movement who works for Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization long dogged by accusations that it is anti-Israel and fosters anti-Semitism. Shakir, who works as HRW’s Israel and Palestine country director, was deported from Israel in 2018 for promoting the BDS movement, which is criminalized in the country (Israeli courts upheld the decision in 2019). He also plays a key role in work that has slandered Israel as an apartheid state and accused the country of war crimes for defending itself against Palestinian terrorism.

Shakir last week slammed Israel as an oppressor and decried its efforts to remain a Jewish state for the Jewish people, according to a partial transcript of his remarks obtained by the Free Beacon. Israel’s status as a Jewish state constitutes "intent by those that commit the crimes to maintain the domination by that dominant group over the marginalized group," according to Shakir.

Through his work with HRW, Shakir said he has determined "that Israeli authorities have pursued a policy or intent to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians." HRW did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on the allegations made by Shakir at the event.

The event drew widespread condemnation by pro-Israel groups and is just one recent example of a vast campus movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel and marginalize Jewish, pro-Israel students.

"First, White & Case provided legal cover to Morningstar, who are alleged to have engaged in a BDS campaign against Israel, and now they were sponsoring an event with notorious BDS and anti-Israel activist, Omar Shakir of HRW, so he could perpetuate the anti-Semitic lie that Israel is committing 'apartheid,'" Arsen Ostrovsky, an international human rights attorney and CEO of the International Legal Forum, told the Free Beacon. "What next, an event sponsoring Kanye West? Clients of White & Case really ought to be asking does the firm have an anti-Israel bias?"

White & Case has a checkered history with the Jewish people. It reportedly relegated Jewish employees to small back offices in the early 1930s, when it was common for elite American law firms to discriminate against Jewish employees. Milton S. Gould, a prominent Jewish attorney, claimed in 1994 that when he worked for White & Case in the early 1930s "he was sent to a small back office informally set aside for Jewish lawyers," according to a 1994 New York Times article. The firm also did not formally establish contact with Israel until 1993, according to Bloomberg Business News.

White & Case also has represented foreign governments seeking to shield themselves from lawsuits brought by Holocaust survivors. In 1999, the law firm represented the Polish government in a suit filed by Holocaust victims and their descendants seeking the return of property seized by the Nazis. That case was ultimately dismissed from U.S. courts. It also represented in 2012 the German national railway, which was lobbying against legislation that would have allowed Holocaust survivors who were transported to extermination camps to sue these railways in U.S. courts.

In addition to this work, the firm has worked with Israel’s foes, including the Palestinian Authority and Arab nations historically hostile to the Jewish state.