David R. Henderson  

Is Hiring Jews Evidence of anti-Semitism?

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At first glance, the title of this post seems strange. How could hiring Jews be evidence of anti-Semitism? And yet that is where we are. I got a late start this morning and made the mistake, while on my exercise bike, of turning on Megyn Kelly's new show on NBC. Apparently, Alabama Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore had been accused of anti-Semitism. Kelly showed a clip of his wife defending him in which she pointed out that they had hired a Jewish lawyer. Kelly then asked a Roy Moore supporter, with a somber tone, whether he could understand how that statement by Moore's wife could upset some people; presumably she had Jews in mind. I thought the Roy Moore supporter deflected the issue nicely by pointing out that some people will get offended by anything.

But I would have preferred a more direct response. It would have gone something like this:

No, I don't see why it would upset people. What evidence would we look for it we were trying to figure out whether someone was anti-Semitic? One major piece of evidence would be whether they associate with Jews. Assuming Roy Moore's wife told the truth, the evidence here is that he does associate with at least one Jew. That may not be enough evidence to persuade people who think he's anti-Semitic. But it's some evidence and it goes in the right direction.

In a broader sense, think about one reason people care so much about whether others are anti-Semitic, anti-black, or anti-gay. If you look at the discussion when I talk about freedom of association, you can't help but conclude that one major reason is their fear, possibly justified, that those who are anti-Semitic, anti-black, or anti-gay will refuse to hire or do business with, Jews, black people, or gays, respectively.


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CATEGORIES: moral reasoning




COMMENTS (45 to date)
Andrew_FL writes:

Oh come on, the reason this kind of statement is offensive is the idea that you hired someone as a token to use to shield yourself from credible accusations of bigotry.

David R Henderson writes:

@Andrew_FL,
Oh come on, the reason this kind of statement is offensive is the idea that you hired someone as a token to use to shield yourself from credible accusations of bigotry.
By the way, you could use a lesson in civility. Your “Oh come on” beginning is off-putting.
So, if hiring a Jew is not evidence that one is not anti-Semitic, what evidence would you look for?

Quite Likely writes:

This seems a bit disingenuous. Obviously the upset is from a combination of annoyance at the "but some of my best friends are X" excuse and the stereotypical "Jewish lawyer" example used to illustrate that excuse.

It's like defending yourself against charges of being anti-Mexican by saying "No that can't be, my gardener's Mexican!"

Ignoto Fiorentino writes:

I am a longtime reader with libertarian leadings who generally finds your insights valuable, so I am surprised to see you pose such a clueless question [I won't even touch your last sentence in which you suggest that Jews', blacks', etc. oversensitivity provides a justification for avoiding dealing with them/us.]. But everyone has their blind spots, I guess.

I don't think Andrew conveys it very well, but maybe you could try [non-defensively] asking a Jewish friend to explain it to you. Maybe David Friedman?

Orin writes:

Would you make the same argument if Moore's wife instead said "I'm not anti-semitic: one of our money-lenders is a jew" Or "I'm not racist: one of our maids is black" ?

Brian Weiner writes:

There are clearly a set of people who would be comfortable with hiring a jewish lawyer -- but would balk at a jewish neighbor, or a jewish member of their country club, or a jewish son-in-law.

"Jewish Lawyer" is literally listed as a popular jewish stereotype on wikipedia.

Ak Mike writes:

Dr. Henderson -
(1) Evidently you are not familiar with the cliche statement "some of my best friends are Jewish" (or "black") used by anti-semites and racists (e.g., Laura Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement). This is a pretty well known trope, and members of minority groups are sensitive to such statements which were commonly used in attempts to cover up bigotry.

(2) Hiring a Jew as a lawyer is not evidence of anti-semitism, but neither is it much of a defense. If your best response to a charge of antisemitism is that your lawyer is Jewish, that could reasonably be seen as clueless evidence that indeed you don't much like Jews. E.g., Harry Truman hired plenty of Jews but was an antisemite.

Manfred writes:

Don't mean to defend Andrew...
But, "Law & Order" had an episode where a white supremacist hired a black lawyer, on purpose.
I know, I know, that was for TV, make believe stuff, but it seems to me that it can happen.

Emily writes:

Bringing up weak evidence can be worse than not saying anything, because it implies you don't have stronger evidence and you don't understand that it's weak evidence.

It's not that he had a Jewish lawyer. It's that his wife defended him by pointing this out.

James Hanley writes:

It's not antisemitism to hire Jewish people, but it's a signal that one doesn't really know many Jewish people on a personal, friendly, level when they say they hired "a Jew." It's in the realm of the classic "some of my best friends are..." trope.

Matt Skene writes:

There's a long history of bigots accepting the stereotype of Jews as good lawyers and bankers and begrudgingly dealing with them in these roles. The fact that someone's only example of a Jewish person they interact with is someone in one of these roles is far from evidence that they aren't anti-semitic. Using such an association as evidence that he isn't is, at the very best, incredibly tone deaf.

Steve Horwitz writes:

Agreeing with Andrew_FL here.

The relevant problem is the tokenization of Jews, particularly in a stereotypically Jewish profession.

"Some of my best friends are...." and the like are the oldest bad defense in the book as it says nothing about the person's views.

In the case at hand, it doesn't necessarily show anti-Semitism, but as a defensive reaction to the charge, it shows an insensitivity about that trope which has been used by (some) anti-Semites with great frequency. Of all the things she could have said, that was among the least helpful.

Again, it's about tokenization and the history of that kind of defense, not the fact that they hired a Jewish lawyer.

Daniel Hill writes:

@Andrew_FL
Possible and probable are not the same thing. We're faced with the following possibilities:

  • he hired a lawyer who happened to be jewish
  • he deliberately hired a jewish lawyer as part of a plan to protect himself against allegations of anti-semitism.

Occam's Razor should tell you that the first is the more likely scenario. If someone wants to argue for the second, the onus is on them to present some evidence. When you hear hoof-beats think horses not zebras, at least until you see stripes.

P.S. I had a very low opinion of Roy Moore before he was accused of molesting children. But everyone deserves to be confronted with actual evidence before being found guilty, even in the court of public opinion.

Jule Herbert writes:

Believe it or not, I believe the negative reaction stems from the fact that she said: “...one of our lawyers is a Jew.” And not as you phrased it that they had a “Jewish lawyer.” It is a long-standing fact that many people shy from referring to a specific person as a Jew and would prefer to turn the description into an adjective. I have noticed this over the years, even coming from "Jewish persons" themselves – which always sounded strange to my ears.

Andrew_FL writes:

Sorry that I express disappointment out of respect in an off putting way.

We both know that it makes sense to hire the lawyer a better lawyer up to the point that spending an additional dollar does not provide him with more than an additional dollar of subject value. So even if Judaism is part of how he values people's services rendered to him, in a negative manner, unless it's a rather extreme prejudice, it would not absolutely prevent him from hiring someone Jewish.

Evidence of not being Anti-semitic would be, not having a history of expressing anti-semitic sentiments.

Kevin Dick writes:

As a technical matter, it is certainly possible that _pointing_ to a single or modest number of Jewish associations when accused of anti-semitism could be evidence of actual anti-semitism.

If one had enough cases of people eventually judged anti semitic by some standard and their response when initially accused, there are any number of classification algorithms that could measure the signal from this behavior.

At that point, the first order logical analysis is nearly moot. I'm not saying that's the case here, but the first order logical analysis is certainly not dispositive.

Weir writes:

If anyone is "not anti-Semitic" it's the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions activists.

Whenever I hear the words "not anti-Semitic" the next words are always "to say that Israelis are trafficking in children's organs" or "to say that Israel is a Nazi colonialist regime."

The logic is obvious. If it's "not anti-Semitic" for an elderly rock star to boycott his fans in Israel, and "not anti-Semitic" to picket a Jewish-owned chocolate shop, and "not anti-Semitic" to refuse to communicate with academics at Israeli universities, the corollary is equally clear: The anti-Semites are talking to and partnering with and making friends with Jews.

Alex writes:

Not that I would make a big deal of this, but the reply does tell you something about her thinking.

Suppose someone told you "Oh David, you are anti Asian"

Would you reply: "No, I have a Chinese dentist"?

Of course not, because if you had a Chinese dentist you wouldn't care and it wouldn't be present in your mind. Unless you did have something against Asians in which case it would be always in your mind.

Philo writes:

If you are unaware of the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, you can't be an anti-Semite; if you are aware, you might be one. Showing that you know the lawyer you hired is a Jew puts you in the latter group. (True, it also gives further information that points away from anti-Semitism, as compared with admitting to knowing that someone you didn't hire was Jewish.)

David R Henderson writes:

@Alex,
I don’t buy it. She knew that her husband was attacked for being anti-Semitic, so she prepared this remark. It’s hardly evidence that she’s being thinking about it a lot before the charge.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Andrew_FL

the reason this kind of statement is offensive is the idea that you hired someone as a token to use to shield yourself from credible accusations of bigotry.

The problem with that line of reasoning is it requires an assumption of anti-Semitism. In other words, it's assuming the very thing Moore's accusers are trying to show. If you weaken that assumption even a little, then the line of reasoning goes right out the window. To follow this line of reasoning to the "it's offensive" conclusion requires a prejudice.

Rather, the line of reasoning requiring no assumptions is, as Prof. Henderson points out, that the hiring of the Jewish lawyer is evidence of a move in the right direction.

Of course, no one will ever really know Moore's true reasons. It may be that Moore did hire a token Jew. Only Moore and God Himself know Moore's mind on the matter. Any line of reasoning that requires an assumption will be very difficult to defend.

Tom P writes:

While I see your point, in the end I feel that being friends with a Jew proves very little. It would be much more credible if that lawyer came out on TV and said that he considered Moore a friend.

More generally, the correlation between doing business with a Jewish person and not being an anti-Semite seems quite weak. Look at Nixon and Kissinger.

As for why it is offensive — making such an argument trivializes racism by making it seem like racism cannot exist so long as you associate with someone of a particular minority group.

Now I’m sure Moore’s wife never meant to offend anybody but I think that is a fair account of why some people might consider themselves offended.

Sol writes:

This is a thing in America now, right? If you say/do something that corresponds with a stereotype about race/culture, many people will automatically assume you are bigoted, even though taken at face value the statement/action seems to suggest the opposite.

Market Fiscalist writes:

I don't get the title 'Is Hiring Jews Evidence of anti-Semitism?'.

No one (to my knowledge) is claiming that - - they are rather pointing out that "well, I have Jewish Lawyer" is a laughably weak and cliched defense against a charge of ant-semitism.

David R Henderson writes:

@James Hanley,
It's not antisemitism to hire Jewish people, but it's a signal that one doesn't really know many Jewish people on a personal, friendly, level when they say they hired "a Jew." It's in the realm of the classic "some of my best friends are..." trope.
It probably is a signal that one doesn’t know many Jewish people on a personal, friendly level. But that’s hardly evidence of anti-Semitism.
And notice that Tom P, in his comment above, says that even "being friends with a Jew proves very little.”
So associating with someone in the market, where that person is in a relationship of important trust, doesn’t count, and friendship with a Jew doesn’t count. What’s left?
I think that Jon Murphy has the best comment above:
The problem with that line of reasoning is it requires an assumption of anti-Semitism. In other words, it's assuming the very thing Moore's accusers are trying to show. If you weaken that assumption even a little, then the line of reasoning goes right out the window. To follow this line of reasoning to the "it's offensive" conclusion requires a prejudice.
If you’re determined to detect anti-Semitism, then there’s probably very little evidence that can be stated in a sound bite that will persuade you.

Hazel Meade writes:

I think you all are being too hard on Dr. Henderson here.

Yes, it's true that the "some of my best friends are ..." line is a trope, so it sounds kind of funny when Moore's wife uses it today. I don't see using a token association as evidence OF bigotry though. It's just not evidence of non-bigotry. Besides, she wasn't saying that they hired a Jewish lawyer as a client, she's saying they hired him as a colleague, which is roughly recognizing someone as an equal. Anyway, the recognition of the line as a trope is itself kind of a trope. It's in the same category as taking offense at "you people". Cut people some slack. Having black friends really should count as evidence of non-racism.


RPLong writes:

This all reminds me of a quote I first encountered in an article by psychologist Abigail Brenner, although the quotation is ubiquitous enough that I doubt she coined it:

Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Jon Murphy-I don't think it's unreasonable to assume a man as prejudiced as Moore is also prejudiced against Jews. But is the accusation of antisemitism being deflected with this comment really coming out of nowhere?

David R Henderson writes:

@RPLong,
I love it.
I would alter it somewhat because, of course, her husband might be anti-Semitic.
Here’s my version:
Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to believing the worst about you.

Mark writes:

I don’t think it’s evidence of anything one way or another. Clearly an anti-Semite may still hire a Jewish lawyer for self preservation, but frankly, not having any Jewish friends isn’t remarkable in Alabama, where there aren’t very many Jews (in fact this goes for most of the country - it’s important to remember most people don’t live in NY or LA). I don’t have any Pacific Islander friends, and I don’t think this reflects my attitude toward them.

I also don’t think the Jewish lawyer stereotype is necessarily at play, unless there’s evidence that they have other Jewish acquaintances she neglected to mention: if their interior decorator is Jewish but she went straight to mentioning her lawyer, then it may be weird.

There are plenty of good reasons not to like Moore. Perhaps we should stick to those.

David R Henderson writes:

@Mark,
frankly, not having any Jewish friends isn’t remarkable in Alabama, where there aren’t very many Jews (in fact this goes for most of the country - it’s important to remember most people don’t live in NY or LA). I don’t have any Pacific Islander friends, and I don’t think this reflects my attitude toward them.
Exactly.
I also don’t think the Jewish lawyer stereotype is necessarily at play, unless there’s evidence that they have other Jewish acquaintances she neglected to mention: if their interior decorator is Jewish but she went straight to mentioning her lawyer, then it may be weird.
The key word here is “may.” What if she hired the interior decorator 3 years ago, but they dealt with the lawyer 2 months ago? She’s more likely to remember the lawyer. Or what if she knew the lawyer was Jewish but didn’t know that the decorator was Jewish?
There are plenty of good reasons not to like Moore. Perhaps we should stick to those.
Yes. Why accuse him of anti-Semitism, which may or may not be accurate, when he seems pretty clearly anti-Muslim?

TMC writes:

+1 Hazel

"Yes, it's true that the "some of my best friends are ..." line is a trope," "Having black friends really should count as evidence of non-racism."

The reason it's used is because it is a pretty effective answer to being called a racist. How incredibly racist one must be to marry someone from another race, following this tortured line of thinking.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Andrew_FL

I don't think it's unreasonable to assume a man as prejudiced as Moore is also prejudiced against Jews.

It is if you're trying to show he's prejudiced against Jews. You're assuming the very thing you're trying to show (i.e. begging the question). You've already prejudiced yourself against anything he could say, which makes it unfair for him.

WalterB writes:

I never thought to ask my lawyer whether he is Jewish. Was I supposed to?

George Godwyn writes:

This is, literally, the stupidest thing I've read in a week.

Kyle writes:

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Friend_argument

john hare writes:

It seems that often people forget that there are degrees of racism. I am Caucasian. I have black friends, business associates, often employees, and have worked for black people. I have never dated a black woman and probably never will. That is one level of racism. In a binary system, I am a racist and we're done. It's not binary.

I don't see everyone as exactly the same and don't see how anyone can honestly say they do. People are not interchangeable with names simply used as serial numbers so they can be told apart. I can't match most of the people on this site for formal education, and it's doubtful that any here can match me in concrete construction knowledge. So what.

James Peron writes:

With all due respect I will disagree Mr. Henderson. When I lived in South Africa, during the end of apartheid and first years of ANC rule I constantly ran into racists who asserted "some of my best friends are black."

I had the misfortune of having a landlord once who was a raving anti-Semite and loved Hitler (literally). He'd go on about how Jews were evil and then assert how he like certain Jews and how that proved he wasn't an anti-Semite.

Hitler had a Jewish doctor growing up, sent the man Christmas cards every year (a bit clueless on that aspect) and stationed soldiers outside the man's home to protect him from his own Nazis. He finally let him emigrate to the U.S.

In my lifetime, the only people I've run into who assert loudly they don't hate X, Y or Z are generally individuals who actually hate X, Y or Z. Those who don't feel such hatred find little reason to assert it publicly.

David R Henderson writes:

@George Godwyn,
This is, literally, the stupidest thing I've read in a week.
You don’t read much, do you, George?
I bet that you haven’t learned to argue much either.

Jon Murphy writes:

@James Peron

Your post is excellent, but it differs from the argument Prof. Henderson (and I) are making in a crucial way: you have additional direct evidence to make the person's claim appear insincere (e.g. the landlord).

The point that Prof. Henderson and I are making is that the statement "I have a Jewish friend/coworker/lawyer/whatever" in and of itself evidence of anti-Semitism. The claim being made above by Kelly is that the statement is in and of itself evidence of anti-Semitism. As I have noted, Kelly's line of reasoning requires an assumption that the speaker is anti-Semitic, which is the very claim Moore's opponents are trying to support.

@Kyle:

Nota bene: The friend fallacy requires more than just the statement "I have a Jewish lawyer." Look at the examples they give in your link.

Kyle writes:

@Jon Murphy

The fallacy only requires an argument of the form:

1. I have an X [relationship] who is Y [ethnicity/race/religion/etc].
Therefore,
2. I am not a bigot.

The only point to be made here is that the premise does not provide evidence for the conclusion.

It doesn't mean the person making it is necessarily a bigot, but people roll their eyes at it because it is a transparently silly argument.

Regarding the question of how to tell when someone is actually a bigot this fallacy says nothing, and I'd argue that there is no way to prove the negative.

You can only provide evidence that someone is a bigot and/or make counter-arguments against such evidence when it is proposed.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Kyle:

Your link, and my argument, do not support your conclusion that "the premise does not provide support for the conclusion."

Again, to argue it dies not provide support for the conclusion requires making another fallacy, begging the question.

Mark writes:

Kyle,

I think that there is a valid (not necessarily correct) argument that a person having a friend of a particular race does decrease the likelihood that they are racist against that race. It is true if one accepts the premise that racists are at all less likely that non-racists to have friends who belong to the race in question. That may not be true, but it's not self-evidently false. The difference of course may be negligible, and it could be 'silly' like arguing 'you just smoked one cigarette, which means now you have cancer.'

The over arching point though is that, even if having a friend of another race isn't evidence of non-racism, that does not make it evidence of racism. Nor does it's 'silliness.' "I'd probably really good at baseball, because I was born in February," is a 'silly' argument, that doesn't make the claim evidence that one born in February is actually bad at baseball.

Market Fiscalist writes:

I was initially a bit sceptical of James Peron's mention of Hitler's Jewish doctor - but it looks like its true!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Bloch

Rena Henderson writes:

Some issues cannot be handled with logic only. In this case, your logic seems to be that (probably) an anti-semite wouldn't hire a Jewish lawyer. I know you're talking about "evidence" and not a conclusion, but there are plenty of antisemitic beliefs on which one might base the decision to hire a Jewish lawyer: e.g., they're money-grubbers and good at weaseling money out of your opponent, and they'll do anything to win. As for choosing to associate with a Jew, hiring one for the courtroom is far from inviting one over for dinner. You can hire a lawyer you despise, but are very unlikely to socialize with someone you despise. Finally, after watching Moore's wife almost literally spit out the word "Jew," I am not the least bit convinced that Moore is not an antisemite. I'm not saying that he is--just that I didn't see his wife's pronouncement as credible evidence that he isn't. Is my reaction based on emotion? In part.

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