I’ll admit that when I read Dua Abudiab’s op-ed in the online version of the King County Bar Association (KCBA) Bar Bulletin titled “From the River to the Sea,” which denounced the widespread censorship and discrimination of pro-Palestine voices on and off social media, my initial reaction was shock; not in response to the content, but in response to the outlet that published it. 

As a former employee of the KCBA, I am very familiar with their recent politics, so, while I was pleasantly surprised to see the op-ed, in my head I knew it was too good to last. I was right. KCBA Executive Director Christina Entrekin Coad, “leadership,” and the Board of Trustees swiftly deleted the piece after less than 24 hours. 

They left the link intact, so if you go to it now, then all you will see is a prime example of the censorship that pro-Palestine activists have been experiencing since October 2023. Leadership and the Board replaced the op-ed with an apology for the harm they caused by allowing such a thing to be released. Nowhere in the lackluster statement did they acknowledge the tens of thousands of Palestinians that Israel has killed in Gaza during the last four months, or the Palestinian-Americans that have been attacked or killed on US soil. They claim the “conflict in Israel and Palestine” is outside of the scope of their mission and insist that the KCBA is a professional service organization, an argument akin to “not our business, not our fight.” But that stance is ironic, given the organization’s conception.

KCBA was founded in 1886 in response to the government’s racist attempts to deport Chinese citizens. In 2007, the organization adopted a resolution in support of marijuana legalization. In 2011, it received a Goldmark Award from the Legal Foundation of WA for its 125-year commitment to civil legal aid and social justice. That same year, KCBA adopted a resolution against racial profiling of immigrants by Arizona state. In 2013, it approved a resolution calling for an end to the death penalty. I’m sure KCBA’s “diverse and collegial membership” did not unanimously support these measures, but the organization proudly represents these actions in its history. 

KCBA has a Pro Bono Services Department that provides low-income folks access to family law, debt and bankruptcy services, criminal record vacations, and eviction defense through The Housing Justice Project (HJP). HJP staff make up over half of the KCBA staff and greatly outperforms the rest of the departments in the amount of funding received. I point this out because less than a month before KCBA leadership pulled Abudiab’s op-ed, almost half of HJP staff released an independent statement in support of Palestine. HJP’s stated mission has been to “end homelessness” through legal representation for tenants facing eviction. I know for a fact that KCBA’s “diverse and collegial membership” do not unanimously support this goal, as there are members who appear as opposing counsel on a regular basis.

So why the cop-out when it comes to Palestine? We should look to KCBA’s “Diversity” page for insight:

KCBA defines racism as attitudes, practices, policies, and law which negatively and disproportionately target or result in inequitable outcomes for Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, populations, and communities.

While we denounce racism, we cannot stop there; active engagement through anti-racism efforts is necessary. KCBA’s anti-racism approach requires consistent and widespread efforts to combat white supremacy, educate all members of our community regarding the harmful effects of racism, the dismantling of intolerance, the inclusion of BIPOC perspectives and lived experience, and promotion of racial equity.

The King County Bar Association commits to the following anti-racism policies and practices:

  • Creating awareness and recognizing the role racism has played and continues to play in all areas of the law;
  • Incorporating the perspectives of BIPOC individuals at all levels of KCBA’s work, including the board, committees, and internal staff;
  • Investing resources that will support initiatives focused on racial equity;
  • Promoting and creating a sustainable environment that enriches the lives of BIPOC legal professionals;
  • Developing and supporting programs to increase and to retain the number of BIPOC individuals in the legal profession and the judiciary, which reflects the diversity of the King County community, through early, secondary, college, law school, and continuing education;
  • Actively educating stakeholders both within the King County Bar Association and outside of the bar on the topics of racism and anti-racism; and
  • Denouncing racism explicitly in any setting.

Perhaps they met one of those goals when KCBA Executive Director Christina Coad sent an email response following staff’s disapproval of the censorship, reminding them that she herself is an Indigenous woman of the Oneida tribe with lots of experience working with disadvantaged populations, so they should be nice to her and show some compassion. In the email, she insisted the problem wasn’t the content of Abudiab’s article but rather its editing and placement. Moreover, they really did care about Abudiab’s experience, but the article hurt people, and they know removing it hurt people, so it’s all too difficult, so please be nice. OF COURSE Christina Coad couldn’t be upholding white supremacy, y’all! No person of color in the history of the world has ever condoned, enabled, or been a paid mouthpiece for colonialism and white supremacy. 

Or perhaps they were simply following KCBA’s anti-racist policies and practices when Coad and Board President Karen Orehoski reached out to Daniel Swedlow, a local attorney, to discuss the pain and agony the op-ed caused him. 

After admonishing the KCBA and Abudiab in a LinkedIn post, Swedlow wrote an update to the same post: “I just had a good conversation with the Executive Director and the President of the KCBA who reached out to me to ask for a meeting and informed me that they were just as shocked as the rest of us when they saw this headline. This was a complete breakdown of the editorial process and the bar association neither endorsed nor authorized this article at all and agreed that it was offensive and completely inappropriate for a local bar association publication. I believe they will be issuing a statement of apology and they will work to ensure this does not happen again.” 

Let’s talk about Dan Swedlow. As it turns out, he isn’t just any regular ol’ attorney. Swedlow is a proud supporter of Israel, and why wouldn’t he be? Two of his adult children are members of the Israeli Defense Forces, you know, the military that has been bombing, poisoning, starving, imprisoning, torturing, and raping Palestinians for the last several decades. 

Swedlow does not support a ceasefire until Hamas unilaterally releases the hostages from October 7, 2023. KUOW featured him in a mid-November article, wherein he cried white tears about how worried and scared he was for his adult children, who are part of an army whose leaders are eager to wipe out an Indigenous population in the guise of self-defense. Swedlow has been so fearful that, according to recent Facebook posts, he apparently traveled to Israel in December to go wine tasting and to eat brunch! I guess I can’t blame him because I sometimes rely on brunch and wine to relieve stress as well. 

Snarky humor aside, KCBA’s censorship of its former executive director for standing in support of Palestine while catering to complaints from supporters of Israel’s genocidal campaign puts the organization firmly in a non-neutral stance. They chose a side, and it was the wrong side.

They failed to be inclusive of BIPOC perspectives and lived experiences when they censored their former executive director–a Palestinian woman–for speaking out against the genocide of her people. They failed to educate all members of their community regarding the harmful effects of racism when they succumbed to the vitriolic backlash. Nowhere in their statement did they explicitly denounce or even acknowledge the racism and the Islamophobia Abudiab was subjected to.

Palestine is a racial justice issue. Palestine is a legal issue. The KCBA missed an opportunity to educate and actively engage their “diverse and collegial” membership in discussion and stand true to their stated anti-racism values. Instead, they furthered white supremacy and gave racists a platform. Christina Coad weaponizing her identities to further shame and silence her staff is inappropriate and abusive. The KCBA should remove all mentions of its commitment to anti-racism on its website, and Coad should step down as executive director.

Tram Tran-Larson is a former King County Bar Association/Housing Justice Project employee.