A conversation with Nanette Rosen, Chair of CIJA’s Legal Task Force

The fight against antisemitism is happening on many fronts: like advocacy, social media, and—crucially—law. Since October 7th, CIJA’s Legal Task Force has created a Legal Rapid Response Team to address emerging and serious cases of hate. In a short time, the team has expanded into the equivalent of a large law firm. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers are offering free legal support to community members facing antisemitism, and are leading or preparing lawsuits to hold antisemites accountable—from school boards failing to deal with hate, to unions creating an unsafe environment for their Jewish members through radical anti-Israel activism. UJA’s Snapshot team sat down with Nanette Rosen, Co-Chair of the Legal Task Force, to learn more about the role of legal action in holding antisemites accountable.

You became Chair of the Legal Task Force in September 2023. How has the work of the Task Force evolved since October 7th?

When I was asked to take on this role, the Legal Task Force held a major annual conference, along with monthly meetings and recruiting lawyers to act on a pro bono basis on behalf of members of our community for one to three cases a year. That’s what I signed up for! Then October 7th happens—and that conference happens to be on October 10th. Very quickly we set up the Legal Rapid Response team and put out a call to lawyers for help. Over 300 people came on that first call, organized by UJA’s Countering Antisemitism team. The response was overwhelming.

Right now, Legal Rapid Response Team is essentially a Jewish law firm of pro-bono lawyers. It’s divided into teams: administrative and constitutional law, campus, charities law, criminal law, education (public schools), international law, Jewish institutions and schools, labour and employment, professional regulation, and research. We have lawyers on each of those teams, led by a team leader. Mark [Freiman, Co-Chair of the Legal Rapid Response Team] and I essentially act like managing partners. And crucially, we have support from community professionals: Richard Marceau [CIJA’S Vice President, External Affairs and General Counsel] and Nurit Richulsky [UJA’s VP, Legal & Corporate Affairs].

When community members reach out to us with an issue, we put them in touch with a particular team. For example, let’s say it’s a Jewish teacher experiencing antisemitism at a public school. They would connect directly with our Jewish schools team. Someone from that team will then reach out to that person directly to assist them. There’s a lot of overlap in the work of the teams—so in that example, for instance, that teacher might also need to talk to our labour and employment law team. These cases can be complex and nuanced, requiring team leaders to coordinate—and the leaders all have a fabulous working relationship with each other.

What kinds of cases are you dealing with?

Some won’t be surprising to most community members. For instance: we’ve all seen how campus is a hotbed of antisemitism, and we work closely on those issues with Hillel and CIJA’s Director of University Relations, Scott Goldstein. We knew campus was a big problem before October 7th. But shockingly, there has also been a tremendous amount of antisemitism experienced by Jewish doctors at hospitals—anonymous online trolling and doxing by their colleagues. So at the personal level, we help doctors individually with escalating their concerns to hospital management. At the macro level, we’re also collecting evidence of the hate they are experiencing for presentation to the Toronto Police Service’s Hate Crimes Unit.

Speaking of the macro level: there have been some high-profile cases through the work of the Legal Rapid Response Team—but my sense is that this is the tip of the iceberg, in comparison to the behind-the-scenes, one-on-one work with community members experiencing antisemitism.

We’ve assisted over 300 community members so far. We take these cases very seriously. For each person involved, they are a huge deal. The mother of the only Jewish kid at their public school, for example. We had a case where a young Jewish girl was bullied in such a way that the administration hired security to accompany her from class to class. This was their “solution.” We arranged to have her pulled from the school. Now, I used to be a prosecutor, and something I used to ask as a prosecutor was: why is the victim the one who must be penalized? Why aren’t the bullies the ones being pulled from school? I mention this example because of course it is a micro case but for this mom and her daughter it is a major case.

How are executive decisions made about where the Legal Rapid Response Team will allocate resources?

We have a steering committee which operates almost like an executive committee. That’s myself, Mark Freiman (co-chair of the Legal Rapid Response Team), Professor Adam Dodek, Steven Frankel, along with our team of professionals—Richard Marceau and Randi Rose from CIJA, and Nurit Richulsky from UJA. We work closely with the team leaders about the resourcing they need or the cases they are facing. Sometimes we need to go out and recruit more lawyers, depending on the need. One concrete example of this was our Jewish schools team. There were a series of protests, graffiti, and incidents of property damage at the Miles Nadal JCC—then of course there were the protests at BAYT. It became clear we needed to recruit lawyers to expand the Jewish schools team, forming the Jewish schools and institutions team.

From a strategic perspective, what role does legal action play?

For me, the law is not about forming alliances or making people love us. The law is about making people behave. Given the kind of antisemitism we’ve seen in certain parts of society, we know they’re not going to like us. But when antisemites behave badly, the law is a tool to make them behave. To use the example of that little girl from before: I can’t make anyone invite her to their birthday party, but she can’t be bullied either. And we can use legal means to hold the bullies—and those who enable them—accountable.

You’re holding people to account who do not expect to be held to account.

Exactly. There are all these different, important tools in addressing antisemitism—political advocacy, lobbying, building allies, and so on. But at a basic level, Jewish kids should be able to go to school without being bullied. People should be able to walk to and from Jewish institutions and businesses without being accosted. A doctor shouldn’t have to go into the hospital staff room and see antisemitic posters on the bulletin boards. We have a right to go to school, to go to work, to live on campus, safely.

The future is uncertain, but do you see this legal work as a permanent feature going forward in how we address antisemitism?

Yes, I do. I think if we’ve learned anything, it’s that this hate didn’t magically appear after October 7th. It has been close to the surface and well-organized for a long time. We’ve also learned those who hate us are more organized than us. This has been fermenting for years. In response, all our strategies are changing—and legal action will be at the heart of it.

It is stunning to me, the number of lawyers who have stepped forward to help.

It’s incredible, and everyone deserves their due. Every volunteer, every team lead, the dedicated leaders on our steering committee: Adam, Steven, Mark—who is our extraordinary Co-Chair of the Legal Rapid Response Team—as well as Richard, Nurit, Randi, and our generous donors. This group is doing a lot of good together, and we’re just getting started.