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Top law firms signal they won’t recruit from college campuses that tolerate antisemitism

<i>Andrew Kelly/Reuters</i><br/>Signage is seen on the exterior of the building where law firm Cravath
Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Signage is seen on the exterior of the building where law firm Cravath

By Matt Egan, CNN

New York (CNN) — Some of the nation’s most powerful law firms are warning America’s elite universities to crack down on antisemitism on campus – or the schools and their students will face real consequences.

“Over the last several weeks, we have been alarmed at reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel,” more than two dozen law firms wrote in a letter obtained by CNN. “Such anti-Semitic activities would not be tolerated at any of our firms.”

The law firms added they would not “tolerate outside groups engaging in acts of harassment and threats of violence, as has also been occurring on many of your campuses,” and say they are putting universities on notice about hiring implications in the future.

“As employers who recruit from each of your law schools,” the law firms wrote, “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 behind the letter are among the most sought-after landing spots for students who graduate from these same law schools, including: Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Debevoise & Plimpton; Kirkland & Ellis; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Since the initial publication of the letter, additional law firms have signed on. A full list is available here.

The letter campaign was spearheaded by Joe Shenker, senior chair of Sullivan & Cromwell, according to the New York-based law firm.

The letter was sent Monday to the deans of law schools including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Virginia, Georgetown, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, the University of Michigan, New York University and Stanford, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

“There is no room for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism or any other form of violence, hatred or bigotry on your campuses, in our workplaces or our communities,” the letter said.

Impact is already being felt

There have already been real-world consequences for some students.

Last month, the president of the NYU Student Bar Association, Ryna Workman, released a letter saying Israel “bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.” Law firm Winston & Strawn promptly pulled a job offer to that NYU student, who had previously worked as a summer associate at the firm.

Afterwards Workman said in a statement that her message “came across as insensitive to the suffering of Israeli’s during a time of crisis and that is not what I intended.” Workman also said they’ve received multiple death threats attacking “all facets” of their identity after the initial comments.

In the letter from the law firms on Wednesday, they requested a dialogue to understand how the law schools are “addressing with urgency this serious situation at your law schools.”

On the same day the letter was sent, some elite universities grappling with sky-high tensions over the Israel-Hamas war launched new efforts to fight antisemitism.

Facing a backlash from donors calling for her ouster, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill on Wednesday unveiled an action plan to counter antisemitism. That plan was designed after convening with national and local Jewish leaders, faculty, staff, students and alumni, the school said.

“This is an incredibly challenging moment in the world, and we are feeling its reverberations on our campus,” Magill wrote in a letter to the Penn community on Wednesday. “We can and will do better to combat antisemitism and to reject hate in all its forms.”

Columbia University also announced Wednesday it is forming a task force on antisemitism following a “series of antisemitic incidents” on campus.

“One would hope that by the twenty-first century, antisemitism would have been relegated to the dustbin of history,” Columbia University leaders said in a statement. “But it has been rising here in New York City, across the country, and around the world in recent years.”

Gillian Lester, dean of the Columbia Law School, recounted how an antisemitic epithet was recently directed toward a visibly Jewish member of the law school.

Last month, a Columbia student hanging up posters on campus in support of Israel was assaulted.

A Cornell University student accused of posting online threats to members of the school’s Jewish community was arrested earlier this week and charged federally with “posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications.”

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