Inside the Lawfare Project:
on Human Rights NGO’s
Hits the States
March 15th, 2010
As the anti-Goldstone, human rights-bashing Lawfare Project’s opening event
on March 11 wrapped up, I asked its chairman, Columbia University Law School
Dean David Schizer, for an interview. Schizer, who had just attacked the
Goldstone Report from the podium, pointedly refused to speak to me and
looked for the exit. As Schizer was leaving, he was politely confronted by
Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke, who heads the school’s
Program in Gender and Sexuality Law.
“Why didn’t you invite any speakers with an alternative perspective?” Franke
His reply was curt. “We invited one or two but they couldn’t make it,”
Schizer claimed before hurrying away.
Schizer was understandably nervous about his exposure. After all, he had
just presided over a day-long conference during which Israeli human rights
workers were labeled as traitors while and human
rights groups were compared to “anti-Semitic street gangs.” After several
speakers had harshly condemned legal efforts against the construction of
Israeli settlements in and the West Bank, Schizer appeared
beside them to lend his credibility to their views.
Held in the ornate NY County Lawyers Association meeting room in downtown
Manhattan, where the walls were adorned with portraits of the pioneers of
international jurisprudence, the Lawfare Project’s conference had the look
of a non-partisan academic conference. However, the event was organized by a
network of American Zionist groups and conservative operatives with apparent
encouragement from the Israeli government.
As Scott Horton noticed at Harper’s, the Lawfare Project’s rollout event
followed a remarkably similar conference in Jerusalem two weeks earlier.
Both conferences followed legislation in the Knesset designed to force NGO’s
to disclose their foreign donors so they can be more easily branded as a
fifth column and to strangle human rights groups in and occupied
The presence of high-level Israeli officials like UN Ambassador Gabriela
Shalev at the Lawfare Project conference suggested that the Netanyahu
administration was the hidden hand behind the event. If so, the Israeli
government has deployed its American Jewish allies to take the fight across
the Atlantic to groups like Human Rights Watch and the . Both groups were attacked at the event as
anti-Israeli and anti-American.
I arrived late in the day but just in time for a panel moderated by Pat
Robertson’s longtime legal counsel, Jay Sekulow. Sekulow, a convert from
Judaism to evangelical Christianity who has spent his career representing
anti-gay and anti-abortion clients, appears to be playing a key role in the
Through his American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Sekulow reaps
millions of dollars each year from Christian conservative donors. He uses
that money to pay himself upwards of $600,000, provide a lavish lifestyle
for his family, and procure the services of the PR firm, 5WPR, which
represents other upstanding clients like Girls Gone Wild and the pro-settler
5WPR was handling the press list for the Lawfare Project and shuttling its
speakers to and from media appearances. 5W Senior Account Executive Maggie
Davis told me that through the firm’s relationship with Sekulow, she was
arranging media appearances for Brooke Goldstein, founder of the Children’s
Rights Institute, which happens to share a domain address with the Lawfare
Project. Both websites were registered by the , which played a direct role in planning
the conference. Goldstein is now the lead spokesperson for the Lawfare
Project, according to 5W’s Davis.
NGO Monitor legal advisor Anne Herzberg was featured prominently at the
conference. During a panel discussion, she accused the European Union of
“pouring hundreds of millions into these NGO’s…that are actually in favor of
a one-state solution.” Without naming those NGO’s or explaining why
accepting foreign money was such a crime, Herzberg boasted of suing human
rights groups to force them disclose their donors. She accused Israeli NGO’s
like B’tselem of causing “a breach of sovereignty” against Israel by
contributing data to the Goldstone Report — an insinuation that Israeli
human rights workers were traitors.
An NGO Monitor report was distributed to conference attendees identifying
groups supposedly promoting “post-colonial ideology” as “anti-state,”
“anti-democracy” and “anti-American.” The report identified NGO Monitor’s
top targets: the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al-Haq. Al-Haq was
singled out because, along with a staffer from the Israeli group B’Tselem,
it filed an expert opinion in the case to move a section of the separation
wall annexing thousands of acres of farmland from the Palestinian town of
Bil’in to a nearby Jewish settlement.
The attack on Al Haq highlights part of NGO’s Monitor’s not-so-hidden
agenda: to allow the settler movement to usurp land in the West Bank without
limitations. As Didi Remez reported, NGO Monitor has partnered with the
Institute for Zionist Strategies, led by Yisrael Harel, who helped to found
the Gush Emunim settler movement and lives in the religious nationalist
settlement of Ofra. Remez also pointed out that NGO Monitor has made no
demand for financial transparency from pro-settler organizations which are
also engaged in what it would call “lawfare.”
NGO Monitor has also targeted US-based human rights group. It has gone after
Human Rights Watch on the basis of the group’s contribution of reporting to
the Goldstone Report and because Goldstone was at one point a HRW board
member. The Center for Constitutional Rights was singled out because its
founder, , went on the recent Viva Palestina mission with Code
Pink. None of the factual documentation these groups released was challenged
by the NGO Monitor report or in Herzberg’s presentation. Instead, the groups
and their leadership are being targeted with a scattershot of accusations
that recall McCarthyism in its crudest form.
As a consequence of his zeal, NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg was
hauled into an Israeli court this month and forced to apologize for claiming
a Palestinian human rights group “justified violence.” , a
former advisor to Ehud Barak, has condemned Steinberg’s activities, writing
that NGO Monitor “seems dead set on eliminating human rights monitoring
of Israel entirely and smearing anyone who supports this vital activity.”
The NGO Monitor report and the speakers at the Lawfare Project event
expressed alarm about the effectiveness of the global BDS movement and its
success in exposing apartheid practices in Israel and the . Speaker Richard Heidemann, the Honorary Chairman of B’nai
Brith, said that the fight against BDS was essential to the Lawfare Project.
“We have to stand up against slander, we have to stand up against boycott,”
he proclaimed. “If you were accused of apartheid, wouldn’t you consider
taking action?” However, he proposed no specific measures or tactics other
than making vehement statements.
Francois-Henri Briard, a conservative French attorney, voiced his outrage
that the BDS movement had successfully pressured the French company
Veolia to pull out of an Israeli light rail project that would have connected
illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem. He called the
initiative against the rail line “an attack on Israeli sovereignty” even
though it specifically targeted the settlement enterprise across the Green
Jeremy Rabkin, an outspoken neoconservative law professor, echoed
Herzberg’s smearing of human rights groups as treasonous. “These human
rights groups we keep hearing about are not loyal to their country or to
democracy, but to some strange world order,” he declared.
Not to be outdone,
Canada, maintained that because the International Criminal Court represented
the legacy of the Holocaust, it should always side with Israel. He went on
to compare the Goldstone Report and efforts to invoke international law to
prosecute Israeli officials to “anti-Semitism by gangs in the street.”
Matas’s invective against international law was ironic in light of the fact
that his most notable court case called upon international legal bodies to
prosecute China for supposedly harvesting the organs of Falun Gong
practitioners. In September 2009, Matas hailed a Spanish court (the concept
of “forum shopping” in Spanish courts was attacked repeatedly during the
conference) for indicting former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Chinese
officials for what he called “genocide and torture.”
Matas has defined genocide as merely stating “the intent to kill” a group of
people. What’s more, he has justified prosecuting Jiang by invoking
International Criminal Court statutes governing the prosecution of high
government officials who did not directly commit crimes against humanity but
may have allowed them to occur through specific administrative measures.
Couldn’t these statutes also be applied against the Israeli government
officials who oversaw the assault on Gaza?
Matas’s invocation of international law to prosecute Chinese officials while
attacking it to protect Israeli officials highlighted the underlying cynicism
of the Lawfare Project. Indeed, the project has nothing to do with combatting
the abuse of international law per se; it is an ideologically-driven effort to
intimidate anyone who stands in the way of Israel’s human rights abuses.
According to 5W’s Davis, the Lawfare Project’s opening event was a strategy
session designed to “raise awareness.” Though it is still unclear what
actions the project will take, the demonization that human rights groups and
other democratic elements in Israel have weathered foreshadows the attacks
their American allies may soon face.
Independent journalist and filmmaker Max Blumenthal is the New York
Times best-selling author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that
Shattered the Party and a Nation Institute Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow.
His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Salon.com, and
Mondoweiss, among other outlets. You can read his blog at
maxblumenthal.com, where this post originally appeared.
LobeLog is an initiative of IPS news agency and its Washington DC bureau
chief Jim Lobe