Brooke Goldstein, who was born in Toronto and graduated from McGill University, is the founder and executive director of the New York-based Lawfare Project, a non-profit advocacy organization that serves as a legal think tank and litigation fund intended to uphold the civil and human rights of Jews and pro-Israel activists around the world. She also co-authored the book, Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech: A First Amendment Guide For Reporting in an Age of Islamist Lawfare, which serves as a guide for journalists reporting on the national security threats faced by liberal democracies.
Goldstein will speak at Adath Israel Congregation in Toronto on Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
What’s a good definition of lawfare? It’s acquired a bad rap as a kind of frivolous or vexatious legal action.
That’s basically what it is. It’s a term used to denote the use of the law as a weapon of war. So instead of “warfare,” it’s “lawfare.” But more generally, it is the frivolous and malicious use of legal systems to undermine basic rights and civil liberties. A perfect example that I use is the al-Qaida manuals that were discovered by coalition forces, which instructed captured militants to file false claims of torture in order to reposition themselves as victims in the eyes of the media and the law.
Since then, lawfare has been used in a variety of situations, whether it’s to silence and chill free speech about issues of national security, such as terrorist organizations or terrorist sympathizers who file lawsuits against anyone who is brave enough to report and speak publicly about theologically motivated terror, in an effort to basically intimidate them. And then you have any type of lawsuit that does not have the goal of the pursuit of justice or recovery of a wrong, but of intimidating someone for political purposes.
Actually, it’s funny because the name of our project is sort of counter-intuitive. We are the “Counter-Lawfare Project.” We don’t engage in lawfare. We engage in civil rights advocacy on behalf of the Jewish community, as a minority community. We fight against lawfare.
I started my career working for Daniel Pipes of Middle East Forum. I ran a legal defence fund, where we raised money to support anyone who was sued, whether it was the counter-terrorism community, moderate Muslims or reporters who were speaking publicly about issues that others wanted to have silenced. I realized that there were millions of dollars going toward these lawfare strategies. When I left Daniel Pipes, I said, “I want to work for a pro-Israel litigation fund,” and there wasn’t one. So we set up the Lawfare Project about 10 years ago and we got into the litigation game about four years ago.
Since then, we have filed or supported about 80 lawsuits in 17 jurisdictions. We’ve recruited over 400 lawyers and they’ve dedicated themselves to working pro bono or at reduced rates to enforce the civil rights of the Jewish community. And those rights are being violated in almost every single Western democracy.
Can you give examples of some of your more prominent cases?
The most recent significant one was the San Francisco State University case, where we sued for rampant civil rights violations against Jewish students, and we ended in a monumental settlement, in which the California university system recognized that Zionism is an integral part of the identity of Jewish students. Those who target students use the excuse, “Well, we’re not targeting you because you’re Jewish, we’re targeting you because you’re Zionist and Zionism is a political point of view.” They can no longer get away with that. We all really know what that means, and that’s codified in the settlement, along with a lot of other provisions to safeguard Jewish students.
Another very significant case is the lawsuit we filed against the French government, which is now being heard before the European Court of Justice on behalf of the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, challenging the discriminatory labelling practices of the French government against Jewish products from Judea and Samaria.
We have a very significant case, the first ever case against BDS in a New York court against the National Lawyers Guild. This prestigious lawyer’s guild enacted a BDS resolution. Our client attempted to buy ad space in their journal and they were told, “I’m sorry, we don’t do business with Israelis,” which is illegal in New York. You cannot discriminate against someone based on protected categories, including race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. That’s like having a restaurant saying “no Chinese people allowed,” or a bar saying “no Africans allowed.” You can’t have a businesses saying “no Israelis allowed.” That’s racist.
The United States has very vigorous protection of free speech. Does that impede your work?
The United States has the First Amendment. I don’t think any country in the world has the equivalent of the First Amendment, where your speech is protected, even speech that is offensive to your religion. There are exceptions – defamation and obscenity. Unless you’re saying something false that defames a person and can be proven to be false; unless something is obscene, such as child pornography and society has very good reason to regulate it, it is absolutely protected. Even the most offensive speech is afforded the highest protection.
If you can’t talk about things that are politically incorrect – for example, the roots of theologically motivated terrorism – how can you possibly understand it? And how can you then defeat it? Without a free marketplace of ideas, I think a society is really stifled and the ability of that society to grow is hindered. It’s a proven fact.
Any message to your native Canada?
I’m a very proud Canadian and I had the most wonderful childhood. I credit my parents for instilling in me my values, my Zionism and my love for the Jewish people. My greatest hope is that I raise my children to have pride in who they are, in their religion, and also to have pride in Zionism, recognizing that Zionism is the civil rights movement of the world’s oldest ethnic minority. It is a beautiful thing that we should be very proud of and not ashamed of.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.