A group of around 20 protesters rallied outside Yale Law School on Wednesday, criticizing the school for accepting a $10 million donation from a Saudi businessman last year and calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.
Chanting “Stop the bloody Yemen War,” protesters lined up outside the law school for an hour in the early afternoon, holding signs about Saudi Arabia’s killing of Yemeni civilians and the school’s Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization, which was established last September. The group consisted mainly of activists and residents from the greater New Haven area; no law school faculty members or students were involved in the protest. The rally took place just four days after hundreds of Yemeni-Americans rallied before the United Nations on the one year anniversary of the start of the Saudi’s military operation in Yemen.
“The reason we rally outside the law school is because Yale took $10 million from Saudi billionaire Abdallah S. Kamel to establish a center to study Islamic law at the Law School,” Stanley Heller ’69, executive director for the Middle East Crisis Committee in Connecticut said in a March 28 press release. “Kamel’s family owns Dallah Avco which Newsweek has said has extensive ties to the Saudi Defense Ministry.”
Kamel is the former chief executive and current chairman of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group, a Saudi conglomerate with investments in real estate, banking and health care.
The 2012 Newsweek article cited in the press release described Dallah Avco, a subsidiary of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group, as an aviation-services company with “extensive contracts with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation,” which protesters accused of dropping bombs and killing civilians in Yemen over the past year.
Heller, also a main organizer of the protest, said he found “real problems” with the Kamel Center, adding that this protest is only one of the first steps his group will take to raise awareness. Though he does not have specific plans for future actions, he will “eventually” ask for a meeting with Yale Law School Dean Robert Post.
Co-director of the center and former law school dean Anthony Kronman did not return request for comment regarding the protest. Kronman told the News in the fall that Kamel and his company were “thoroughly vetted” by the law school and Yale’s Office of General Counsel.
This is not the first time the Kamel Center has come under scrutiny. Days after the school announced the donation, the donor attracted national media attention. In a Sept. 14 Huffington Post article, Omer Aziz LAW ’17 highlighted Kamel’s ties to the Saudi Royal Family, who Aziz said has ruled the country under a totalitarian regime, and attacked Yale for accepting money “stained with both blood and oil” and “prostrating at the feet of the Saudi Royal Family.” In the article, Aziz also mentioned Dallah Avco’s ties to the Saudi military.
Aziz did to return request for comment.
In addition to the alleged link to Saudi air strikes in Yemen, Dallah Avco was also criticized for previously employing Omar al-Bayoumi. A Saudi citizen who provided housing for two of the 9/11 hijackers in Los Angeles in 2000, Al-Bayoumi was accused in a court complaint of befriending and helping fund the two terrorists. However, a FBI investigation concluded that Al-Bayoumi did not know the pair were al-Qaeda terrorists.
In addition to the donation, protestors came to Yale Law School because they said Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen pertains to international law. Heller told the News that Saudi Arabia has no right to interfere with the Yemeni civil war, and still “the U.S. has been helping” by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.
“What is a better place to bring [the issue] up than a law school?” Heller said.
Henry Lowendorf, co-chair of the Greater New Haven Peace Council who attended the protest, said hardly any of the attendees at the protest were Yemeni-American. The group is made up of people who have been active in the peace movement for decades, he said.
Lowendorf said the protest concerns law school students because there have been many cases of human rights violation in Yemen, and a number of law school graduates will end up working for nonprofits or human rights advocacy groups. He also questioned what the center had done concerning the Saudi-Yemen conflict. Hope Metcalf, executive director of the Schell Center, declined to comment on the war in Yemen and its relationship with the law school.
Protesters gave out two flyers to passersby and drew an initial crowd, which soon dispersed. The flyer by the Peace Council criticized Saudi royals for disseminating their religious extremism and the U.S. government for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia; it made no mention of Yale Law School. The other flyer, prepared by the Middle East Crisis Committee, focused on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen. It noted the “extensive ties” between Kamel’s company and the Saudi military and accused Kamel for operating a TV station “long known for its extremism and anti-semitism.”
Two law school students interviewed expressed confusion about the protest, saying they did not understand the link between Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the reason for protesting at the law school specifically. Another two students said they appreciated the protestors’ call for greater attention to the Saudi-Yemen issue from the law school community, but declined to comment on the Kamel Center.
Lowendorf said he is concerned about the U.S.-Saudi alliance and that the law school’s participation in such an alliance through the acceptance of a huge sum of money from a Saudi businessman is a “shameful act.”
“What does it mean to get money from [Kamel]? What is he expecting back from Yale — be quiet? Support something?” Lowendorf asked. He cautioned against the school’s “unwritten duty” to the donor, although he said he doubts it will take the form of restricting research freedom at the Kamel Center. “[The influence] will be more subtle. Yale is a sophisticated corporation,” Lowendorf said.
Still, Lowendorf said his frustration is not targeted exclusively at the Kamel donation, adding that he wanted to take the advantage of Wednesday’s protest to speak out against the broader U.S.-Saudi alliance.
Elizabeth Neuse, a resident of Hamden, Connecticut who participated in the protest, said she was frustrated that Yale accepted the “tainted money” from Kamel. She called the killings of civilians in Yemen “anti-humanity,” adding that a law school that upholds international law and human rights should question the sources of the donations it receives. Janczewski Allan, a protester from New York City, said he came to the protest to call for the law school to “stop its complicity with Saudi Arabia” by accepting donation from a Saudi Arabian billionaire.
Kamel has been the chief executive of the Dallah Albaraka Group since 1999.