What to Do When You’re a Jew

Every once in a while, you come face to face with the disconcerting news that people who don’t know you, are otherwise generally nice enough and who you view as regular people, hold a covert view of you that you are a bad and dishonest person.  Anne Reed’s  Deliberations post did that for me today.

I am Jewish.  Not much of a Jew by religious standards, but most assuredly a Jew nonetheless.  God and I have an understanding, and we’re cool with it.  But to the outside world, or as Jews of my generation had beaten into us during our youth, when Hitler comes, you will be at the head of the line.  I got the message.

Anne brings us statistics that shock me.  I admit that I did not realize how others felt below the surface.  I work regularly with black and Hispanic lawyers and clients, and don’t think much different of them than I think of anyone else.  They aren’t colors, but people.  Some are smarter than others.  Some are nicer than others.  They are whoever they are.  Now I wonder:  What am I to them?

Here’s the details:

[T]he survey asked . . . whether respondents agreed with a list of “index” questions. Here is the percent of respondents who said each of the following statements is “probably true”:

  • 50% say Jews stick together more than other Americans.
  • 32% say Jews always like to be at the head of things.
  • 33% say Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.
  • 15% say Jews have too much power in the U.S. today.
  • 17% say Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street.
  • 19% say Jews have too much power in the business world.
  • 15% say Jews have a lot of irritating faults.
  • 15% say Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want.
  • 15% say Jewish business people are so shrewd that others don’t have a fair chance at competition.
  • 12% say Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.
  • 12% say Jews are not just as honest as other businesspeople.

Fourteen percent of respondents said that six or more of these statements were probably true, making them “unquestionably anti-Semitic” as the ADL defines that term. That number is down from 17% in 2002.

They [the ADL] did find that negative Jewish stereotypes were highest among people 65 and older (24%, twice the rate of any younger group), African-Americans (36%), and Hispanics, especially those born outside the U.S. (29% and 35% respectively).



This study relates to jurors perception of Jewish lawyers.  Anne’s point was to show that a jury attributed better qualities to a lawyer who was obviously of Irish descent than a lawyer who was obviously Jewish.  This is a problem.

In New York City, there are a lot of Jewish lawyers.  There are also a lot of black and Hispanic jurors.  Are we doing our clients a disservice by representing them?  Is my religion yet another hurdle that they have to get over to receive justice at the hands of a jury? 

In the past weeks, we’ve  posted about that Icon of Conservative Love, Ann Coulter, and her desire to “perfect” me, as well as  my reaction to the over-intellectualization of Coulter’s mumbling.  (Note:  Anne saw this as my view that she wasn’t worth my attention.  I apologize for being so unclear.  My point was that Ann Coulter was unworthy of such overblown analysis by others who sought a deeper understanding of Coulter’s purpose.  There was nothing deep, in my view, about it, and she is unworthy of in-depth analysis).

Then, just yesterday, a local fixture, Nobel prize winner James Watson,  denigrated an entire continent because of their skin color.  If you’ve read anything by Dr. Watson, you will know that he’s a science maniac (I was going to use the word “nazi”, but changed my mind).  Jim Watson believes that ethics, political correctness, and all the penumbras that go along, interfere with proper analytical consideration and are destructive to scientific advancement.  He believes in science untainted by sentimentalism.  This is, in my view, both intellectually honest from a scientific-purist perspective, but dangerous.  Very dangerous.

Applying Dr. Watson’s purist approach to Anne’s statistical revelation, Jewish lawyers are in a bad place.  If we are to put our clients’ interests ahead of our own, as we are sworn to do, then our duty seems clear.  We must not appear before juries on behalf of a client.  By simple virtue of our appearance, in our full Jewishness, we add to the burden our clients face, making their circumstances worse and adding to the likelihood of their conviction because of juror bias. 

On the other hand, I’ve had clients of color come to my officer and tell me that they are there because they want a “Jew lawyer.”  It always makes me chuckle, as if my being Jewish gave them a leg up.  When I would ask them why, just for sport, they would tell me it was because Jews were smart, and they wanted a smart lawyer.  I admit, I didn’t inform them otherwise. 

When I try a case, I never consider what role, if any, my religion plays.  Now I must.  But it’s unclear to me what to do about it, since I don’t know if there is anything I can do about it.

4 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re a Jew

  1. Garrett Smythe Brown, II

    No personal offense, but how could you be shocked by the survey?? Go read the online comments section in the Washington Post whenever there is an article on Israel or the “neo-cons.” Jew hating is alive and well and thriving. Read Daily Kos or the Huffingont Post, you will see loads of jew bashing; much of it is noted a being anti-Israel but the fact is that when folks don’t think that Jews have the same right of self-determination as other groups in the world, that is anti-semitism. In the spirit of speaking frankly, to be shocked by that survey says that you have either led a very sheltered life or you are being disingenuous. I know you are not stupid, so that cannot be it. And the Anne Coulters of the world are not our problem. Our problem is that we must face the fact that over 60 years after the Holocaust, while maybe it could not happen here in the states, there are forces in the world that would like nothing better that to make it happen again. Iran says so openly and is then invited to speak at Columbia and the UN.

  2. SHG

    No offense taken.  There’s no surprise to find anti-semitism in the world, in Iran, with Neo-cons, etc.  What surprises me is how deeply embedded it is in regular people, and the extent to which the survey found it.

    Remember, I’m in New York, a place with more than its share of Jews.  Perhaps I am sheltered as a result, but I just don’t think much about it and certainly don’t walk around anticipating it or being vigilant of the slightest hint of bias against me.  I assume if someone doesn’t like me, they come by it honestly. 

    This survey laid it out in a painfully clear fashion, so that I couldn’t ignore its import. 

  3. Anne Reed

    Scott, I think you’re right to think/hope there are regional differences. The ADL didn’t break its data down that way, but my strong suspicion is that parts of the Midwest and some other areas pull the average numbers up.

    The saddest part of the data I think is in the responses of Hispanics and African-Americans. If we could say that young people were consistently more open than their elders, we could have some hope for the end of these attitudes, but with those reponses from minority groups, that’s not at all clear.

    If it’s any comfort (I know it won’t be), many studies offer data that’s similarly discouraging for women. I hope to post about that sometime reasonably soon.

  4. SHG

    They say that misery loves company, but I most assuredly hope that the stats for woman are not so discouraging.  And I thank you (as always) for bringing such thought-provoking information to light.

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