May 28, 2021

Brad Butwin's Jewish privilege

       Earlier this week, I saw an article about an Iranian woman, Tali Farhadian-Weinstein, who is running for the office of Manhattan District Attorney. In surfing her twitter, I noticed that she went out of her way to talk about how Jewish she was. Every other tweet was about being Jewish, or being connected to a Jewish group. I think I know what this is about. One way for Iranian-Americans to escape anti-Iranian prejudice, is to constantly advertise that they are Jewish Iranians, and not Muslim Iranians.

       I've even known Muslim Iranians (with non-religious names) who did this. One even wore a yarmulke and pretended to be strictly orthodox, even though I knew he wasn't Jewish and he wasn't religious at all. He was one of the more amoral people I knew. He actually got a lot of Jewish clients by doing that. Of course, I have never done that. I always used my Muslim Iranian name, regardless of any anti-Muslim comments and discrimination I heard and felt as a child and adult. When I was blacklisted from the legal profession for protesting my boss's anti-Muslim acts and his public criticism of the Geneva Convention, and later called a "mosquito" by O'Melveny's General Counsel Martin Checov after I asked for help -- I simply changed professions. Principle is worth more than a few legal bucks.

        This brings me to the subject of this post: a letter Brad Butwin co-authored with other law firm chairs protesting anti-Semitism. Of course the attacks we've seen against Jews after the May 2021 Gaza war are abhorrent and illegal, and I imagine the attackers will be prosecuted. I was physically attacked a number of times as a child, for things Iran did as a country. Once I was held hostage by students in elementary school, even though my family had to flee Iran due to an uncle's political connections to the shah. I didn't take it personally; I knew they were just playing around. But for those who take it more personally, I agree that no one should be attacked because of something that happens across the world. 

       But I do wonder about Mr. Butwin's claims of anti-Semitism, and would consider the counter-hypothesis that Jews actually receive quite a lot of privilege in the legal profession. Of course, it's just a hypothesis, not something I've tried to prove, or will try to prove . . . this is just a quick post. But anecdotally I've seen things. For example, right in the letter, you can see that the law firm chairs who signed it appear to be about 50% Jewish, based on their last names.1 A demographic that is only a tiny percentage of the U.S. population, is roughly half of the law firm chairs. Unless you think Jewish people are genetically and culturally superior in legal ability, and thus deserve these positions, it appears to be evidence that simply being Jewish will help you advance in the profession.

       So like I facetiously applaud those Iranians who pretend to be Jewish for the benefits, I'd like to applaud Mr. Butwin for his Jewishness. It may have taken you further in the law, than you would have gone if you were named Mohammed.

       [Addendum: A few weeks after I wrote this post, Los Angeles Magazine did a story on the influencer Yashar Ali. The article says he was born to an Iranian Muslim family, but tells everyone he is a devout Catholic who attends mass three times a week. The article goes on to describe instances when he was accused of being a con artist and a grifter, acts that seem antithetical to the values of a religious person. Of course, I don't know if the stories are true, but they made me wonder if this was a public example of what I described above.]

       [Second Addendum: Ms. Farhadian-Weinstein lost to Alvin Bragg, after spending a jaw-dropping $13 million on her campaign (including $8 million of her own family's money.) I say jaw-dropping because according to that story, the other seven candidates spent an average of about $1 million each.]

1 I guess I should show my work here. Note I am not an expert on Jewish names. Some people are but not me. Once, when I was working retail in college, I mentioned to a customer that my favorite math teacher shared his last name. He asked how it was spelled, and then explained that the teacher's spelling signified a Jewish version of the last name, as opposed to the Scottish version that he possessed. Some people are really good at this, but not me. Any way, I think the following signers are Jewish: Neil Barr (Davis Polk & Wardwell), Bradley J. Butwin (O’Melveny & Myers), 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), Brad S. Karp (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison), Daniel A. Neff (Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz), Joseph C. Shenker (Sullivan & Cromwell) and Barry M. Wolf (Weil, Gotshal & Manges). These signers I suspect are not: Barbara L. Becker (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher), Michael W. Blair (Debevoise & Plimpton), William R. Dougherty (Simpson Thacher & Bartlett), Julie Jones (Ropes & Gray), Kim Koopersmith (Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld), Jami McKeon (Morgan Lewis & Bockius) and Faiza Saeed (Cravath Swaine & Moore). Whatever the exact numbers, I don't think it would disrupt my conclusion that about 50% are Jewish.