Why are Jews so defensive? Brooke Goldstein asks. “We should go on the offense, not play defense, and assert our rights,” she said. “We have the right to equal rights under the law, just like every other community.”
She has earned that ferocity.
Ms. Goldstein, who will be speaking in New City for the the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education (see box), is in her late 30s. She’s a lawyer and a documentary filmmaker, the founder and executive director of the advocacy group called the Lawfare Project — she did that in 2010 — and also of the Children’s Rights Institute. She’s a fierce and fearless defender of the rights of Jews and of Israel, and she uses impact litigation to bring cases that fight against BDS and anti-Semitism. (Impact litigation, also called strategic litigation, is the practice — possibly more accurately the art — of filing lawsuits aimed at social change.)
She plans to talk about “empowering the Jewish community, as a minority community, to engage in civil rights advocacy and to enforce their rights using courts of law internationally, using impact legislation.
“I’ll talk about some of the most groundbreaking cases,” she continued. Those cases include the ones Lawfare brought against Kuwaiti Airlines, both in the United States and in European courts, for refusing to accept Israeli passports and refusing passage to Israeli nationals; the result of that lawsuit was that the airline canceled its flights from JFK to London, and then its inter-European flights. That cost the airlines millions of dollars.
Another case she might discuss is the still-ongoing one against the EU about how it demands that Israeli wines be labeled; she won a case that would have restricted Israeli imports into the EU. Or she might talk about the lawsuit that Lawfare won against San Francisco State University that demanded that the school “agree that Zionism is an integral part of the Jewish identity.”
Ms. Goldstein, who was born in Toronto, did her undergraduate work at McGill, and earned her law degree at Cardozo, started making her first documentary when she was 23, and still in law school. The film was called “The Making of a Martyr”; it’s about the ways in which Palestinian children’s childhoods are disrupted and corrupted as they are trained for suicide attacks. “I secured first-hand interviews with designated terrorist groups,” she said. “I interviewed kids who had attempted suicide bombings and were in Israeli prisons.” She interviewed members of Al-Aqsa, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, she said; she also talked to families of suicide bombers and the teachers who helped shape those bombers.
“I made the documentary from a human rights perspective,” Ms. Goldstein said. “I have spent a good deal of my career advocating for innocent Muslim children. I was running a litigation defense fund for my work defending people in the Muslim reformist and counterterrorist community.
“I won the audience choice award for the best film at the U.N. documentary film festival, and that put me on television and media when I was 26,” she said. She often is on Fox News and sometimes on CNN; she also hosts a Jewish Broadcasting Service show called Outspoken. She’s been published in the New York Daily News, Commentary, and the American Spectator, as well as in other newspapers, magazines, and journals.
Ms. Goldstein also wrote a book, co-authored by Aaron Eitan Meyer, called “Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech — A First Amendment Guide for Reporting in an Age of Islamist Lawfare.” And perhaps unsurprisingly, given all this — and there’s much more — in 2007 she was made one of the Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36.”
She disapproves strongly of the way pro-Israel campaigns are run in North America. “Even though millions of dollars are being spent on pro-Israel advocacy, we aren’t engaging in strategic impact litigation,” she said. “Where is the pro-Israel ACLU?”
Why does she think that the efforts she sees as misguided are so predominant?
“This is my theory, based on my experience,” she said. “When I first launched my organization, I got some pushback from the Jewish community’s so-called leaders. They said I was too aggressive. They said, ‘We work behind the scenes.’ And what they are doing is bogus. We deserve our day in court, to aggressively stand up for ourselves.
“When I am being accused of standing up in court for the rights of Jews, that is a compliment to me as a lawyer.
“Can you imagine the black community accusing the NAACP of filing lawsuits too aggressively on their behalf? But the Jewish community says that. It is insane. Collective shame and guilt gives our enemies the green light, because they know that there will be no aggressive collective response. That’s why you have these rampant civil rights violations — and we respond with a 15-page pamphlet for students about defending Israel on campus. But that is not their job.
“The strategy that we are pursuing in terms of our pro-Israel advocacy is backward and counterproductive. We should assert our rights, like every other community.”
There is something terribly wrong with the way the world looks at and labels Jewish activists, she continued. “I was called an Islamophobe for advocating on behalf of Muslim women and children. As if risking your life to save Muslim children is anti-Muslim, as if saying that they deserve the right to life is Islamophobic, as if you are a racist for saying that.”
It takes a great deal of courage to take these positions as publicly and as assertively as she does. How does she do it? Just asking the question, well, “that’s the problem,” she said. “I have pride in my history. I love my people. I am a Zionist. I was brought up in a household that told me that the Jewish people and Jewish culture are something to be proud of.
“If black lives matter, if we celebrate LGBT pride, then what about Jewish pride? Why do we advocate for inclusion for everyone except us?
“We are the most persecuted minority in human history. If we believe what our enemies say about Zionism, we should be ashamed. Our community is putting so much money into fighting our enemy, into refuting their logic — into being on the defensive! — that we have forgotten Jewish pride.
“If you are anti-Zionist, if you are against the notion of sovereign rights for the Jewish people, you are a bigot. It is that simple. I know my contemporaries’ kneejerk reactions — ‘Oh no, I’m not a Zionist.’ We have allowed our enemies to define it for us. It is time for us to regain our narrative.”
There are models that we can follow, Ms. Goldstein said. “I listened to Martin Luther King’s speeches. He is so inspirational. Why aren’t there any Jews talking like he did?”
They should, she said. We all should. Because, after all, she concluded, “Zionism is a progressive value.”
Who: Brooke Goldstein will talk about
What: “Empowering Women Through Unity and Philanthropy,” a program of the Women’s Circle of the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education in Suffern
When: On Wednesday, November 13, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: At a private house in New City; you’ll get details when you register
How much: $54
For more information or a reservation: Email email@example.com or call (845) 574-4099.