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Law Students for Hamas

Yale Law School claims to stand for human rights. So why has it been silent about the rampant antisemitism on its campus?

In its own telling, Yale Law School’s Schell Center for International Human Rights seeks to “equip lawyers and other professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to advance the cause of international human rights.”

The center has educated students and human rights professionals on atrocities large and small, issuing a detailed report last year on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and proposing a framework in mid-September to moderate “indirect hate speech online”—whatever that means.

But six days after Hamas’ October 7 massacre over 1,400 Israelis and kidnapping of 240 more, the center was silent.

On October 13, a Jewish law student implored the center to speak out.

“Don’t stay silent in the face of this genocide,” the student wrote in an email—reviewed by The Washington Free Beacon and The Free Press—to James Silk, a Yale Law School professor and the co-director of the Schell Center. “Be a leader for human rights.”

Silk replied that the center was still deciding whether to address the massacre. The situation, he said, was “complex.”

“We at the Schell Center are trying very hard and earnestly to do what is. . . in some calculation, best for our responsibilities and our community,” Silk wrote. “That is more complex than people hurt so directly by last week’s atrocities in Israel might feel.”

This need to appreciate the complexity of human rights atrocities—and the idea that those experiencing them secondhand can’t see the larger picture—seems to be a recent development for the Schell Center. Last year, the center sponsored an event on Israeli “apartheid” with Omar Shakir, a pro-Palestinian activist, as its sole speaker. “There is consensus today in the global human rights movement, spanning the major Israeli, Palestinian, and international organizations, that Israeli authorities are committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against millions of Palestinians,” materials advertising the event read.

In fact, the relationship between Israel and the West Bank is considerably more “complex” than the October 7 massacre, which has been condemned as a war crime by all major human rights groups, including those critical of Israel. The Schell Center’s willingness to address one issue but not the other rankled some Jewish students, who slammed the double standard in an open letter to alumni of Yale Law School.

“What kind of ‘Center for International Human Rights’ would refuse to host an event condemning the largest pogrom since the Holocaust?” the students wrote on October 20. “Does the Schell Center not think that Israelis are entitled to human rights, too? Or is it perhaps because they were Jewish?”

Only on November 1—more than three weeks after the pogrom and after Yale alumni began circulating a petition that excoriated the law school’s handling of antisemitism—did the Schell Center reverse course and agree to sponsor programming about the attacks, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. The event, “International Law and the Israel-Hamas Conflict,” will take place November 16 and feature Cardoza Law professor Gabriel Rona.

James Silk did not respond to a request for comment.

This quiescence goes beyond the Schell Center. Aside from a brief statement condemning Hamas—which did not include the words antisemitism or Jewish—Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken has said nothing publicly about the massacre. Nor has she addressed the torrent of terror apologia it elicited from the law school’s own students, who have been much less equivocal than their mealy-mouthed leaders.

Some students have blamed Israel for the attacks and singled out their Jewish peers for ridicule on a student-wide listserv, according to posts reviewed by the Free Beacon and The Free Press. Others have endorsed terrorism while denying that Hamas or Hezbollah qualify as terror groups. And still others promoted a rally—held two days after the massacre—that celebrated “Palestinian resistance” to “colonial oppression.”

“Breaking out of a prison,” posters for the rally declared, “requires force.”

The militancy has shocked Jewish alumni of Yale Law School, who say that the bloodthirsty rhetoric—and the reluctance of administrators to address it—indicate a festering moral rot.

“They have legitimized and provided a platform to students supporting violence against Jews and Israel’s destruction,” said Emily Shire, a 2020 alumna of the law school. “Yale Law cannot sit idly by as some students openly endorse the worst atrocity against Jews since the Holocaust.”

Shlomo Klapper, a 2020 alumnus, argued that the school’s passivity was not just a moral mistake but a pedagogical one. “Under no theory of law is killing innocents in the name of decolonization justified,” Klapper said. “It’s a war crime. To have students openly celebrate that and not to have the school correct that is a huge educational failure.”

The Hamas-splaining began on October 9 when Yale’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing legal group, endorsed a statement affirming the right of Palestinians to resist “occupation by all available means.” The statement, which was sent to the student-wide listserv by first-year law student Chisato Kimura, didn’t just call for “armed struggle” against the “Settler Colonial State of Israel.” It said that Hamas should be delisted as a terrorist group.

“We call for all Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations to be removed from the U.S. list of ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ and ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorists,’ ” the statement read. “These lists allow for the persecution, criminalization, and economic coercion of people resisting apartheid, genocide, and colonialism.”

A student familiar with the guild’s decision-making process said that its 15 members agreed to endorse the statement by a nearly unanimous vote, with just one member indicating opposition. Kimura, a participant in the Schell Center’s human rights clinic, is attending Yale on a full ride and says she is “interested in becoming an international human rights law professor.” Her scholarship, the Hurst Horizon program, is endowed by philanthropist Robert Hurst, a former board chairman of the Jewish Museum in New York City, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Kimura later issued a half-hearted non-apology and claimed that the statement had been misconstrued. The guild “is not, and I am not condoning war crimes,” she wrote to the listserv on October 10. “The opposite.” However, she continued, Hamas’s attacks were “a direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime.”

In the same vein, Iesha Phillips, the lead editor of the Yale Journal of Law & Liberation, wrote to the listserv on October 9 that “[e]xpecting Palestinians to peacefully respond to unspeakable war crimes and illegal collective punishment they’ve experienced at the hands of Israel is laughable.”

“Too many lives have been lost over the past few decades,” she added. “We shouldn’t only start to care because it’s now affecting Jewish folks.”

Phillips and Kimura did not respond to requests for comment.

Photo illustration by The Free Press. (Photos via agefotostock/Alamy Stock)

Yale Law School has long been a breeding ground for influential policymakers, from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Six sitting senators are also alumni.

It’s far from the only elite incubator with a blind spot around Jews. A member of the Harvard Law Review and others were captured on video—published over two weeks ago by the Free Beacon—accosting an Israeli Harvard Business School student. Harvard has yet to address the incident beyond a statement from Srikant Datar, the dean of the business school, lamenting both “Islamophobia” and antisemitism. It did, however, create a task force for the “doxxed students” who signed an open letter blaming Israel for Hamas’s atrocities.

What kind of message, exactly, are these schools sending to future leaders, who have for weeks now watched their classmates cheer terrorists and jeer Jews with no administrative pushback? Yale Law School’s budding attorneys aced the LSAT, sure, but they were also admitted because they can read rooms and climb greasy poles.

When, in so many other instances, every microaggression is policed, every alleged trauma met with concern, and every act of horror denounced with an official statement, what other lesson will they draw from the past month than that Jews matter less than other groups?

“I think some Jewish students feel deeply uncomfortable being at the law school right now, knowing that their peers would likely condone and maybe even celebrate their murder by terrorists,” said one Jewish law student, who, like almost every other student interviewed for this story, requested anonymity. “And the law school’s silence—when it is so often quick to jump to a moment of moral clarity—suggests that there is something wrong with Yale Law School.”

Consider the following parallel.

When Yale Law student Trent Colbert invited classmates to his “trap house,” a term some claimed had racist associations with crack houses, in 2021, it took exactly 12 hours for administrators to process nine discrimination complaints, haul Colbert in for a meeting, and suggest his career was on the line if he didn’t sign an apology they penned on his behalf. Gerken, the law school’s dean, also authorized a schoolwide message condemning Colbert’s language.

But when Jewish students appealed to Gerken almost two weeks after the Hamas attacks, describing the antisemitic vitriol in their inboxes, they got a rote reply from her deputy, Debra Kroszner, who directed them to student support services.

“Dean Gerken wanted to ensure that you are connected with any support you might need in [the Office of Student Affairs],” Kroszner wrote. “I understand these are deeply challenging times and we appreciate you reaching out to share your concerns.”

Another student said he received an almost identical note from Gerken herself.

Kroszner told the Free Beacon and The Free Press that the law school had policies in place to “address complaints made by members of this community” and that it did not tolerate “harassment or discrimination.”

Alumni aren’t taking Yale’s word for it. Last Friday over 100 of them sent a petition to Gerken that asks Yale to report “student endorsements of terrorism to state bar committees on character and fitness,” and calls on the school to adopt a “zero-tolerance policy toward antisemitic threats or harassment,” including toward students who express support for Israel.

“The failure to make these and other changes swiftly and substantially would be a betrayal of the law school’s history and values, as well as of the Jewish community,” the petition says. “This climate—and what the administration does or does not do—will undoubtedly cause many alumni, of all religions and political views, to think hard about their continuing connection to Yale Law School.”

Jewish law students say the silence has been “crushing.”

“The silence in the law school from all those who proclaim the mantle of justice, human rights, and rule of law is deafening,” one student wrote to the listserv. “For a school filled with self-assured outrage at evils across the globe, the absence of any response is crushing.”

Jewish undergraduates, meanwhile, who had their newspaper columns stealth edited to remove references to Hamas’s atrocities, were locked out of an anti-Israel event this week sponsored by several Yale academic departments, in which panelists declared that Israel “cannot remain the state of the Jewish people.” The students sent an email Wednesday morning demanding a meeting with Yale president Peter Salovey.

At a town hall meeting last week, Jason Rubenstein, a rabbi in the Yale Chaplain’s Office, said the campus environment has never been worse for Jews.

“It’s a darker scene than we’ve ever inhabited in my past five years at Yale,” he said.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article noted that the Schell Center agreed to sponsor programming about the Hamas attacks, but that it was unclear what form the programming would take or what experts it would feature. Those details are now available and have been linked to.

This piece has been co-published with our friends at the Washington Free Beacon, where Aaron Sibarium works as a reporter. Read his Free Press piece “The Takeover of America’s Legal System” and follow him on Twitter (now X) @aaronsibarium.

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