Amicus Brief

Law firm leaders call out silence around rising antisemitism

Letter cited the 'demonization of Jews pervading the press, social media, and the streets of this country.'

Erik McGregor/Getty Images

Participant holding a sign at the rally. Thousands of New Yorkers joined community leaders and city and statewide elected officials in Foley Square at the No Hate. No Fear. solidarity march in unity against the rise of anti-semitism.

Managing partners from 17 prominent global law firms issued a letter on Thursday denouncing antisemitism “in all its forms.” The letter, originally published in The American Lawyer, comes amid a sharp rise in antisemitic violence and rhetoric stemming from recent violence in Israel and Gaza.

The letter cites a recent opinion piece written by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, titled “Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism? Someone Didn’t Get the Memo,” in which he criticized elements of the progressive left for distinguishing anti-Zionism from antisemitism. In the piece, Stephens pointed to the increased use of antisemitic dogwhistles and recent incidents in which pro-Palestinian demonstrators used overtly antisemitic language — including chanting “Death to Jews.”

The firms condemned the “demonization of Jews pervading the press, social media, and the streets of this country.”

The letter is the first of its kind on behalf of a group of major American companies.

“I had previously addressed the rise of antisemitism in a firm-wide communication earlier, including this past week,” Brad Karp, chairman of Paul Weiss, told Jewish Insider. “Sadly, I have found it necessary to publicly address intolerance and hate and violence targeting multiple communities, including the Jewish community, numerous times in recent years.”

Many law firms, at the behest of clients and staff, have taken public stances in support of minority communities in recent years, with some encouraging and funding their lawyers to take pro bono cases on certain issues. The letter’s signatories alluded to these efforts.

“We have fought against efforts to separate children from their parents’ arms at our borders; we have fought to expand the right to marry to include same-sex couples; and we are engaged in the struggle to end gun violence,” the letter continued. “We are advocates who take action to redress the wrongs in our country and to protect the vulnerable. Today, and every day, we stand against the pernicious and violent attacks against Jews in this country.”

The letter’s signatories noted the lack of media coverage and public condemnation following the recent uptick in antisemitic attacks.

“We are disheartened and alarmed by the lack of urgency in denouncing these escalating and offensive attacks on Jews. In the face of these acts in our own country, we are frightened by the silence of a nation that vowed never to forget the massacre of millions at the hands of hate.”

“The silence is kind of deafening, and it doesn’t make sense,” Joseph Shenker, chair of Sullivan & Cromwell, who first proposed writing a letter, told Jewish Insider in an interview on Thursday afternoon. “We are so used to not being considered a discriminated against minority — which was nice — that we don’t realize that there are elements that still hate Jews.”

The firms previously issued a joint letter supporting voting rights, along with numerous internal letters addressing social and civil issues across the country. 

“I’m very proud of the increasing willingness of private law firm leaders to speak out on important issues of social justice, civil rights and tolerance and inclusion,” Karp said. “I believe it is vital for leaders – whether in business, in law, in government, in academia – to speak out in the face of intolerance and injustice, in all forms. Increasing acts of antisemitism cannot be ignored; they must be called out and hate crimes must be prosecuted.”  

Shenker emphasized that these were not political statements. “These are the bedrock of what as officers of the court in the system of the United States and the Constitution we’re sworn to uphold.”

Read the full letter below.

As leaders of some of this country’s largest law firms, we are heeding the call by Bret Stephens, Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism? Someone Didn’t Get the Memo, The New York Times, May 24, 2021, to publicly denounce anti-Semitism and the demonization of Jews pervading the press, social media, and the streets of this country.

We stand for the rule of law and the tolerance and inclusion of all. We have protested the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others; we have publicly condemned acts of violence and hatred against Asian Pacific Islanders, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities; we are litigating against hate groups to hold them accountable for their racist and violent acts; we have litigated seminal civil rights cases; we have fought against efforts to separate children from their parents’ arms at our borders; we have fought to expand the right to marry to include same-sex couples; and we are engaged in the struggle to end gun violence. We are advocates who take action to redress the wrongs in our country and to protect the vulnerable.

Today, and every day, we stand against the pernicious and violent attacks against Jews in this country. We are horrified by the vitriolic hate being spewed, by both the uneducated and the educated who know better, on social media. We are disheartened and alarmed by the lack of urgency in denouncing these escalating and offensive attacks on Jews. In the face of these acts in our own country, we are frightened by the silence of a nation that vowed never to forget the massacre of millions at the hands of hate.

An attack on any group based on race, religion, color, sexual orientation, or national origin — including Jewish people — is an assault on the values of diversity, equity and inclusion that are the bedrock of this country and that we as law firms strive to uphold in our own institutions. We call on our colleagues, the leaders of corporate America, and private and public academic institutions, including law schools, to stand with us and publicly denounce anti-Semitism, in all of its forms.

Neil Barr (Davis Polk & Wardwell)

Barbara Becker (Gibson Dunn & Crutcher)

Michael W. Blair (Debevoise & Plimpton)

Bradley J. Butwin (O’Melveny & Myers)

William R. Dougherty (Simpson Thacher & Bartlett)

Scott Edelman (Milbank)

Eric Friedman (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom)

Michael A. Gerstenzang (Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton)

David J. Greenwald (Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson)

Julie Jones (Ropes & Gray)

Brad S. Karp (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison)

Kim Koopersmith (Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld)

Jami McKeon (Morgan Lewis & Bockius)

Daniel A. Neff (Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz)

Faiza Saeed (Cravath Swaine & Moore)

Joseph C. Shenker (Sullivan & Cromwell)

Barry M. Wolf (Weil, Gotshal & Manges)

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