More than two dozen top US law firms sent a letter to more than 100 law school deans telling them to take an “unequivocal stance” against antisemitic harassment on their campuses.
The letter, which was signed by firms including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Wachtell Lipton Rosen and Katz LLP, comes after some law students saw their job offers rescinded for comments made about Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,400 Israelis. Israel’s retaliatory bombing of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, has fueled protests across the country.
Antisemitic incidents have soared since the war began, and the conflict has bitterly divided dozens of campuses, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Presidents at Harvard, Penn and Columbia University have announced task forces on antisemitism.
At Cornell University, a series of antisemitic incidents culminated in a junior engineering student being charged with making online death threats to Jewish students. A swastika was found drawn in Columbia’s International Affairs building, and videos have circulated of what appears to be Harvard students harassing a Jewish student during an anti-Israel protest.
“Anti-Semitic activities would not be tolerated at any of our firms. We also would not tolerate outside groups engaging in acts of harassment and threats of violence, as has also been occurring on many of your campuses,” the law firms’ letter said.
The letter was written this week by Joseph C. Shenker, senior chair of Sullivan & Cromwell, after he was contacted by Jewish law students from top universities. He circulated the draft to the other firms, each of which sent a copy to the law schools they work with on Wednesday night, Shenker said in an interview.
When asked if the firms would curtail recruiting from schools where they have seen concerning behavior, Shenker said, “People can draw their own conclusions. The letter speaks for itself.”
“We’re asking the deans to create a safe environment for all their students where one is treated with respect,” he said. “That’s what we require at our firms. I believe the deans are working towards that.”
Antisemitic incidents including assaults, harassment and vandalism soared 400% across the US since Oct. 7, with 54 incidents reported on campuses, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The group tallied 110 anti-Israel rallies on campuses in that period, with 27 including expressions of support for terrorism.
Hours after the attack by Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, more than 30 student groups at Harvard placed the responsibility for the violence on Israel. It took criticism from Harvard’s former president, Larry Summers, before the school’s leadership denounced the attack and said the students didn’t speak for them.
At New York University, the student bar association president also laid blame on Israel in a post to law students. Law firm Winston & Strawn rescinded an employment offer to that student, who was previously a summer associate, after learning of the “inflammatory” comments. Davis Polk & Wardwell also rescinded job offers to three law students at Harvard and Columbia after organizations they were part of made controversial statements about the Hamas attack.
“As employers who recruit from each of your law schools, we look to you to ensure your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment, much less the kind that has been taking place on some law school campuses,” the law firms’ letter said.
Yvette Ostolaza, chair of the management committee at Sidley Austin LLP, said she was grateful that Shenker took the lead in making sure the legal industry was unified in their statement to law schools.
“It’s important during times when you see evil happening and it affects your colleagues and your clients to speak up and stand for what’s right,” she said.
President Joe Biden this week announced measures to “counter the alarming uptick” in antisemitism in schools and college campuses, including having the Department of Education expedite its update of the intake process for complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to state that certain forms of discrimination against Jews are against the law.
A spokesman for Harvard Law School declined to comment and Yale Law School didn’t respond to requests for comment.