The Israeli news site Haaretz is reporting that the Zionist state’s government has contracted with a U.S. law firm to help it in its fight against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The firm named in the report is Sibley Austin, reportedly the sixth largest corporate law firm in the US. Though based in Chicago, it also has offices overseas, including one in Munich, Germany, and according to documents obtained by Haaretz, it is helping the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry fight BDS activists both in North America and in Europe.
“The Justice Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry have declined to reveal the nature of these activities, for which the state has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years,” says the Haaretz report. “The ministries call the activities ‘diplomatically extremely sensitive.'”
The Stategic Affairs Ministry is the government body given responsibility for coordinating the fight against “delegitimization,” and the agency’s director describes “gathering intelligence and attacking” as being among its endeavors, Haaretz reports.
Government bids for a law firm to help spearhead the fight against BDS were reportedly put out in early 2016, though the report states that a “detailed description of the services was censored from the document.” The reason was that publication of the information might lead to “damage to the country’s foreign relations and damage to the ability of these bodies to provide the requested service,” says the article.
Apparently Sibley Austin was not the first law firm engaged for the effort. The report mentions one other firm, unnamed, that was hired previously. It also states that the Israeli government has refused to publicize the contracts, leading Haaretz to speculate:
The secrecy surrounding the contracts raises the suspicion that the work involves not only writing legal opinions but also preparing lawsuits against BDS supporters, as Israel does not want to be revealed as supporting such actions, to avoid the perception that it is interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
The comment about “gathering intelligence and attacking” apparently has at least one Israeli human rights lawyer concerned. Eitay Mack, who has defended the rights of Palestinians and who has also fought for release of information on the government’s anti-BDS efforts, says, “It is deeply worrying that the military terminology used by senior officials in the Strategic Affairs Ministry is being used in the fight against civilians abroad who criticize the State of Israel.”
The report goes on to note that, “Sidley Austin did not reply to questions on whether it was working for the Israeli government.”