What’s Good For The Jews …

Two of the three leading Jewish organizations have provided an unintentional, and unwelcome, reminder of why Jews are often regarded as greedy, unprincipled, and interested only in … what’s good for the Jews.

The Washington Post reports today that the 100,000 member American Jewish Committee and the 50,000 member American Jewish Congress have abandoned their historic opposition to race-conscious college admissions (they both filed briefs supporting Allan Bakke) and are filing briefs supporting the University of Michigan. Why? Because “many American Jews” (or is it only organzations claiming to speak for them?) have decided “that admissions policies designed to boost minority enrollment do not threaten their own hard-won foothold in elite colleges and graduate schools.”

For many Jews at the time of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the concern was that universities would use affirmative action as an excuse to shut out Jews, thus restoring the notorious de facto caps on Jewish enrollment that had only recently been abolished.

But fears of a new “Jewish quota” were not borne out after Bakke, in which the court prohibited quotas but permitted the use of race to achieve diversity, said Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, who assisted the American Jewish Committee on its 1977 brief in Bakke.

“We feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away,” he said. “The WASP quotient would be held constant, and the Jews and African Americans would be left to fight over the crumbs. What happened is that Jews have become the WASPs. They are among the dominant groups on campus, in terms of numbers.”

Exactly what “hard earned right” was that? Was it only “our” right? It doesn’t matter, since now that we Jews “have beome the WASPs” we don’t have to worry about “rights” any more, certainly not the rights of people who aren’t even Jewish. Too harsh? I don’t think so. Dershowitz, whose principles often seem to be based on his committment to what’s good for … Dershowitz, added that “his own opposition to race-conscious admissions has dissipated because his experience teaching law in racially diverse classrooms has convinced him that ‘affirmative action works.'” Does it work for, say, physicists or engineers or accountant? Who cares. It works for me. And why screw up something that “works” by gumming up the gears with talk of “rights”?

Some Jewish leaders said their changed position is based on a desire “to minimize black-Jewish conflict.” Presumably they are less worried about antagonizing whites (other whites?) and Asians.

“Today there is an entire conservative apparatus challenging affirmative action, so some Jews say: Why do we need to be in the middle of it? Why do we need to alienate the black community?” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress.

In other words, according to these two Jewish organizations, now that we’re safe (or even among the “dominant,” as Dershowitz put it), we no longer have a dog in that fight.

Among the many problems with this view, perhaps the most profound is that it is so thoroughly unprincipled. Make no mistake: Jewish groups had always favored neutrality and colorblindess because they realized it benefited them as a group, but in the past they also made highly effective principled arguments that preferences were wrong. For example, one of the leading historians of Bakke has written of the “rising disenchantment of many Jews with Affirmative Action over the course of the 1970s.”

As they saw it, the ‘something more’ they initially had strongly supported as a fair and effective way to promote equal opportunity for minorities was in danger of being transformed into race preferences and quotas, which they felt were wrong in principle and threatened the welfare of their own group…. [T]hey were dismayed and alarmed by the increasing respectability given to redefining equality, equity, and individual achievement in terms of groups and the group identity of the individual…. [T]he amici briefs filed by Jewish organiations [in Bakke] represented the prevailing sentiments their members in the the firm opposition they expressed to racial preferences and quotas.” [Alan Sindler, BAKKE, DEFUNIS, AND MINORITY ADMISSIONS (Longman, 1978), 243-244]

Because the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress no longer feel the interests of Jews are threated by preferential admission, they have dropped the principled arguments they made over the years. Now, like other liberal groups, they chant the mantra of “diversity.”

“It is imperative to produce educated citizens and professionals who reflect the diversity of our society,” Jeffrey Sinensky, the [American Jewish Committee’s] general counsel, said in an interview.

I wonder what Mr. Sinensky will say in the future when (not if, when) “diversity” is invoked to “take religion into account” and limit the number of Jewish applicants. I also wonder why anyone will care what he says, since he’s just demonstrated that in his hands principled arguments are mere tools to protect Jewish interests and and can be dropped as soon as they’re no longer necessary.

For the first time I wish I had actually joined these two groups, so I could now resign in protest. Fortunately all the Jewish organizations are not so shameless. Alone among the major Jewish organizations The Anti-Defamation League has remained true to its principles.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said his organization is sticking to its “principled position” that people should not be judged by skin color, and any use of race in admissions is unconstitutional.

“We feel diversity should be achieved in a racially neutral manner,” Foxman said.

Anyone who wants to join me in supporting the ADL can find a contribution form here.

Say What? (4)

  1. Jian Li March 3, 2007 at 4:46 am | | Reply

    Don’t let the ADL off the hook just yet. Look at the amicus brief it filed in Gratz and Grutter.

  2. John Rosenberg March 3, 2007 at 7:11 am | | Reply

    Although Jian Li is usually right, he is wrong here. The ADL opposed race preferences in both Gratz and Grutter. It’s brief is quite good. Here’s an excerpt:

    While ADL has endorsed limited racial preferences in order to remedy specific discrimination, it has consistently opposed the non-remedial use of race-based criteria, believing that the eradication of discrimination in our society is best achieved through strict assurance of equal treatment to all. Thus, while strongly sympathetic to the goal of increasing thenumbers of minority students in our nation’s selective universities and professional schools through the pursuit of diverse viewpoints, life experience, and outlooks, ADL continues to adhere to the principle that school admissions programs must be race neutral.(pp 3-4)

    In the context presented here, ADL agrees with the University of Michigan and its Law School that diversity in higher education is an appropriate and legitimate educational goal. ADL believes in the importance of diversity in education, not only because of its contribution to the educational experience but as a factor in the positive evolution of a fully integrated society which honors inclusiveness and which is free of racial and ethnic hatred and the discrimination which flows from it. But while we approve of the ends sought by the University and its Law School, we cannot agree with their methods. The admissions systems before this Court deny to applicants who are not members of designated minority groups fundamental equal protection because those systems value persons for their race, not for relevant individual characteristics. In doing so, they violate this nation’s core constitutional precepts and its civil rights laws.

  3. Jian Li March 3, 2007 at 9:49 am | | Reply

    My objection to the ADL brief is that it is labeled “in support of neither party” rather than “in support of the petitioner.” But upon reading the brief now, I wonder why they didn’t choose to label it “in support of the petitioner.”

  4. […] in 2002 I wrote:  Because the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress no longer feel the […]

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