Anti-Semitism is present-day reality for us all

BY KAREN AROESTY

Anti-Semitism has often been called “the oldest hatred”. At differing times in history, it has taken differing forms, some more obvious, as with quotas for Jewish students in colleges and universities up to the 1960s, through discrimination in employment and public accommodations. How many have experienced the pain of hearing that a colleague or business associate succeeded in “Jewing someone down”? How many job opportunities were denied because applicants were Jewish? It was not so long ago that Jewish Hospital was created in the very history of denying Jewish doctors positions at other institutions.

A 1995 survey of our own St. Louis Jewish community shows that then 74 percent of us perceived a great deal to moderate amount of anti-Semitism, and 30 percent answered that they had personally experienced anti-Semitism within the last year. Last year, nearly 65 percent of the hate crimes that occurred in this country on the basis of religion involved Jewish victims.

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The ADL was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people … and to secure justice and fair treatment for all”. We like to think as a community that anti-Semitism is not so pervasive, that it doesn’t affect us personally, and is limited to the activities and ideology of organized of hate groups.

Regrettably, anti-Semitism is not history, it’s a current event. Last week, the ADL confronted anti-Semitism in an appalling case involving allegations by two jurors that other members of the jury used viciously anti-Semitic slurs to describe two key Jewish defense witnesses. After the verdict was announced in favor of the plaintiff, a juror approached defense counsel to say that other jurors had made anti-Semitic remarks during deliberations. One juror alleged that another had called one witness “…a Jewish b-tch”, “…a Jewish witch”, “…a penny-pinching Jew” and “…a cheap Jew”. Another comment referred to the owner and president of the defendant company, also a key witness. It was allegedly stated that “the Jew…makes [millions] per year and should pay money to the Plaintiff in this case.” A second juror has confirmed the anti-Semitism in the jury room.

This is a case of first impression in Missouri. The Court of Appeals will decide for the first time how high juror prejudice must rise before it undermines our basic notions of justice, fairness and the due process of law. We are asking that it send the case back to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether the verdict should be allowed to stand. If the trial court finds the claims to be credible, it should order a new trial.

This case is a wake-up call for the entire community. For those who work within the judicial system, for litigators who represent the rainbow of parties and clients, juror bias is something to be carefully reviewed. For the Jewish community, however, we must understand the insidiousness of the anti-Semitic jurors and the potential impact that continuing anti-Semitic stereotypes have on our lives, at work, at school, with our community relationships. We must work to challenge anti-Semitism with confidence, and to defend against all forms of bigotry, however and wherever, they occur.

Karen Aroesty is regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois.

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