White & Case Law Firm Distances Itself From Second Anti-Israel Event in a Week

October 20, 2022

The White & Case law firm is for the second time this week distancing itself from an event it sponsored that portrays Israel as an "apartheid" nation and features a speaker who is at the forefront of the campaign to economically boycott the Jewish state.

White & Case—which helped defend financial giant Morningstar against accusations that it is enabling Israel boycotts—is listed as a sponsor of the International Law Association's annual U.S. conference, which began Thursday and runs through the weekend. On Saturday, the conference will host a panel discussion, titled "Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law," featuring speaker Omar Shakir, a longtime Israel critic who says the only Jewish nation is trying to "maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians." Shakir works for the nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is known as a leader in the anti-Israel advocacy world.

White & Case, in comments to the Washington Free Beacon, acknowledged its funding for the law association but condemned the event, saying it was not consulted on the content of the seminars. On Tuesday, White & Case distanced itself from a separate University of Chicago Law School event titled "Apartheid: International Law in the Israel-Palestine Context." That event also featured Shakir.

The law firm's sponsorship for these events is generating scrutiny in the pro-Israel advocacy world, given White & Case's role in a controversy surrounding Morningstar's support for the BDS movement. The financial giant, which guides investors through its corporate ratings system, retained White & Case to investigate accusations that its products discriminate against Israel. White & Case determined that Morningstar engaged in limited but correctable instances of bias against Israel, and Morningstar has relied on the report to defend itself against claims that it actively supports the BDS movement.

A White & Case spokesman on Thursday told the Free Beacon that it has nothing to do with the content of the International Law Association's annual American conference. The law firm issued a similar statement when questioned about the University of Chicago Law School event held earlier in the week.

"We are not involved in or consulted on the programming decisions this organization makes for this event, but we expect the viewpoints presented at any event we support to be within a range that is non-extremist and overall balanced," the spokesman said. "We believe the panel being presented this Saturday titled 'Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law' did not meet these criteria, and we are sharing this view with the event organizers."

But the law firm's repeated defense is not easing mounting concerns in the pro-Israel advocacy world, with several leaders telling the Free Beacon that White & Case's involvement in these events raises questions about its work on the Morningstar BDS matter.

"Following its sponsorship of a recent University of Chicago event with Omar Shakir of HRW, why is White & Case now again associating itself with such an individual, who relentlessly peddles in anti-Semitism and promotes the 'Israel apartheid' lie?" asked Arsen Ostrovsky, an international human rights attorney and the CEO of the International Legal Forum. "This should be an event celebrating international law and engaging in meaningful discussion as to its future; instead, a platform is being provided at this prestigious gathering to Mr. Shakir, who will again abuse and weaponize international law to spout more lies, hatred, and anti-Semitism."

Richard Goldberg, a former U.S. national security official and Middle East expert who has written extensively about White & Case's findings in the Morningstar matter, said the law firm's involvement in these types of events raises questions about the validity of its Morningstar investigation.

"Morningstar's entire defense rests on paying a law firm that sponsors events labeling Israel an apartheid state to conclude that its [Environmental, Social, and Governance] rating system isn't biased against Israel," said Goldberg, a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. "That defense has now been ripped to shreds. Morningstar needs to come to terms with the deep-seated BDS activity that has infected all of its ESG research products."

Saturday's International Law Association event with Shakir has also courted controversy. The original event information published by the law association only featured speakers critical of Israel. After the Free Beacon began reporting on the issue, that online information was deleted and replaced with a new program that includes the same seminar but now features at least one speaker who is likely to defend Israel.

The International Law Association's U.S. branch did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment.

White & Case, for its part, said that it has been sponsoring the law group's annual conference for "several years," but this does not mean "we endorse every position adopted by any one individual lawyer, client, or organization," according to the law firm's spokesman.

One senior pro-Israel official who was not authorized to speak on the record told the Free Beacon that White & Case's involvement in these events is a liability to Morningstar.

"If Morningstar was hoping to tamp down allegations of anti-Israel bias, they probably should not have hired a law firm that fights against Holocaust survivors and took on the terror-sponsoring [Palestinian Authority] as a client," the source said. "If they knew, I question their integrity. If they didn't, I question their due diligence."