A mock trial not long ago taught me a lesson about anti-Semitism. One of the presenting lawyers was Jewish, with both first and last names suggesting that heritage. The other lawyer had a name and a look suggesting Irish ancestry.
The case had nothing to do with religion. The Jewish lawyer spoke second, and the jurors filled out questionnaires. One juror said that at that point he was siding with the Irish lawyer. In the blank for "Why?", he wrote, "Christian argument."
"You didn't really say that, did you?"
This week Ann Coulter said on CNBC that Christians wanted Jews to be "perfected," and of course she started people talking. Scott Greenfield flagged the story early, and then decided Coulter wasn't worth his attention. Others debated whether Coulter was (correction: whether the idea of "perfecting Jews" was, see the comment) really anti-Semitic, with Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft saying yes and David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy and Paul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg saying no.
To me, the key phrase of the interview wasn't something Coulter said. Instead, it was the reaction of her interviewer, Donny Deutsch. When Coulter said, "We just want Jews to be perfected," he said: "Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?"
However you define anti-Semitism and whatever you think of Ann Coulter, the interview is a reminder that negative attitudes and stereotypes about Jewish people are very much alive, and very much taboo as a conversation topic. Many jurors hold these views, and they're among the most difficult attitudes to learn about in voir dire.
The Anti-Defamation League's 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America is its most recent look at these stereotypes in the U.S. The press release for the survey is here and a more detailed set of slides on the survey results is here.
You can't just ask folks what they think of Jewish people, so the survey asked instead 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.
Who holds these views? The ADL couldn't tie them to respondents' religion, economic situation, or political affiliation. They 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).
So in voir dire . . .
If you're trying a case that clearly involves allegations of anti-Semitism, your task in voir dire is clear, if challenging. Since these issues are already on the table, you can invite jurors to have the same kind of open discussion about their relevant experiences that you would in any other case. You're particularly looking for lack of interaction with Jewish people, since stereotypes grow where experience is missing.
If you're an ordinary Jewish lawyer heading into an ordinary trial, your task is much more difficult. You can't ask whether they have a problem with you, or even come close to that. (The same is true obviously if it's your client or a key witness who might trigger these stereotypes.) All you can do is be alert, to the kinds of vocabulary and related attitudes that might signal a problem.
It may be helpful to know that the ADL's survey found that people who strongly believed negative Jewish stereotypes also agreed strongly with these statements:
- "Students do better attending schools with people from similar racial and ethnic backgrounds."
- "AIDS might be God’s punishment for inappropriate sexual behavior."
- "It bothers me to see immigrants succeeding more than Americans who were born here."
- "Books that contain dangerous ideas should be banned from public school libraries."
Wish they'd asked more questions like that.
(Photo by Windell Oskay at http://www.flickr.com/photos/oskay/313881232/; license details there.)