Attorney Warns Biglaw’s Antisemitism Letter Makes Lawyers Worry About Getting Fired, Gets Fired


fired layoffs laid offIn the immediate aftermath of the attacks Hamas launched on Israel last month, some law students and lawyers said some incredibly awful things and got penalized for it. An NYU Law student saw their future job yanked after writing that the attacks were “necessary.” Firms rescinded offers to students for belonging to groups that signed a letter describing the attacks as a “counter-offensive.” One lawyer went full Hitler.

Firms have a right to terminate employees for making controversial statements. And downplaying terrorism falls squarely in that zone! But it quickly became clear that some firm would eventually run into a more difficult fact pattern. Indeed, Davis Polk almost immediately opened the door to backtracking on its decision to cut ties with students who merely belonged to groups that signed a controversial letter.

A government cannot and should not be above criticism, but navigating the line between critiquing Israeli policy and antisemitism can be difficult. Faced with this challenge and the complex issues it brings, Biglaw firms put out a public letter blaming law school deans.

While some firms have taken concrete action to confront antisemitism, most rested on vague denunciations and passed the buck back to the academics who don’t have the luxury of walking away from the hard cases where they have to decide when a protest calling for a ceasefire is really a peace rally or just a convenient cover for people airing antisemitic tropes.

And this is a real problem! Not to embrace the Potter Stewart standard, but two groups making superficially the same call can have very different motivations. To use an example from the flipside, Marjorie Taylor Greene led the drive to censure Rashida Tlaib for antisemitism while also speaking to groups founded by a Holocaust denier.

In response to the Biglaw letter, Sidley attorney Melat Kiros drafted a lengthy piece critiquing the signatory firms for conflating antisemitism with geopolitical commentary. Kiros argued that while antisemitic harassment and violence is rightly denounced, critical statements about the state of Israel as a political entity represent the sort of core political speech that is “the bedrock principle of a true democracy.” By failing to grapple with this distinction in the letter, “the chilling effect is undeniable,” on attorneys worried about their jobs.

So she got fired.

The associate, Melat Kiros, a regulatory lawyer based in Sidley’s New York office, published the letter to Medium, which was widely shared on LinkedIn. Senior members of the firm had asked her to take the letter down, according to sources. After she declined, she was terminated. One of the people said that the firm had informed Kiros that the letter ran afoul of certain of the firm’s policies and procedures.

Where Kiros lost a lot of folks was framing the question around the letter characterizing “calls for the elimination of the Israeli state” as antisemitic. The rest of the Kiros piece suggests some sort of multiethnic state as opposed to the very, very antisemitic talk of the “elimination” of Israel through murder and exile.

Perhaps it is naive to believe that the people in Palestine and Israel might one day live together as neighbors, in peace, without fear of persecution, under a new government, but it is not hopeless, and, most importantly, it is not anti-Semitic.

That’s a far cry from defending violence. But “elimination” is still a rhetorical framing requiring the reader to get past the first paragraph to untangle. The piece had, understandably, already triggered a lot of people with its language by that point.

While on the subject of the existence of the state of Israel, Sidley’s website indicates that its Middle East work includes sovereign entities and working in “each Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country,” the latter organization includes multiple governments that refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. Qatar is in the GCC and historically provides funding for Hamas. Maybe the firm only works with sovereign entities of the GCC governments who have recognized Israel — that’s not clear from its description of its work.

Which isn’t meant as a knock on the firm as much as a suggestion that delineating where a stance on Israeli policy crosses into antisemitism is more complex for firms than they might admit.

Earlier: NYU Law SBA President Brands Hamas Attacks As ‘Necessary’
Biglaw Firm Joins Hotline For Victims Of Campus Antisemitic Harassment
Attorney Goes On Pro-Hitler, Antisemitic Social Media Screed, Immediately Loses Her Job
Biglaw Firms Tell Law Schools To ‘Pls Hndle Thx’ Antisemitism
Davis Polk Rescinds Offers To T14 Law School Students For Their Controversial Statements On Israel

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.


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