Antisemitic graffiti at Etz Chayim in Huntsville on the first day of Passover, April 2020. SJL file.
By Richard Friedman
Through an initiative that originated in Birmingham and Huntsville, Dentons, a worldwide law firm, recently released a statement condemning antisemitism and affirming its concern over the increase in hostility and hatred toward Jews.
Steven Brickman, a long-time Birmingham Jewish community volunteer leader and a shareholder in Dentons Sirote, which is part of the firm and based in Birmingham, initiated the statement, encouraging the national firm to make its opposition to antisemitism widely known.
Michelle Levin, a shareholder in Dentons Sirote’s Huntsville office, also was involved. She is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.
The two Alabama lawyers encouraged Dentons management and inclusion and diversity leaders to focus on antisemitism, including attacks on Israel that are clearly antisemitic, in addition to other forms of discrimination.
Brickman also noted that the recent Dentons statement mentioned some of the most recent and egregious examples. Mentioned are the widely reported incidents involving Kanye West and the University of California Berkeley law school — the latter a prime example of how discriminatory attacks on speakers who advocate for Israel are inherently antisemitic. The statement, Brickman noted, was distributed to the firm’s 5000 U.S. lawyers.
“Given the escalation in antisemitic rhetoric and conduct across the U.S. region, it was important that Dentons, the world’s largest global law firm, issued a clear condemnation of antisemitism and hate in all its forms,” Tobin McClamroch, managing partner of the U.S. region, told Southern Jewish Life. “The rise of explicit antisemitic statements and conduct by well-known voices is alarming, dangerous and must be condemned.”
Over the past few years, as antisemitism has grown, “many prominent firms released statements demonstrating a shared commitment to denouncing antisemitism from across the profession,” said McClamroch. A list of some of those firms appeared on JewishInsider.com in May 2021.
McClamroch said it was important for Dentons to issue a statement in view of the firm’s connections with historically Jewish law firms that have become part of the Dentons network. “We have numerous lawyers, leaders and business services professionals across our firm who are Jewish. Legacy firms in our U.S. region, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and Sirote & Permutt, were founded by lawyers whose Jewish heritage was a barrier to entering other established law firms at that time. This legacy is an important part of who Dentons is today.”
Added McClamroch, “By issuing this statement, we are standing in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues and making it clear that Dentons does not tolerate antisemitic words, actions or any other hateful and discriminatory conduct from our people, our clients or our communities. Our hope is that this statement assists our Jewish colleagues in feeling heard and supported during these challenging times.”
The statement came out in November and referenced the observance of Kristallnacht, the series of pogroms in 1938 launched by the Nazis against Jews of Germany. “It is with great distress that we continue to witness an escalation in antisemitic rhetoric and conduct across the U.S. While hateful speech is a disappointing reality, the rise of explicit antisemitic statements and conduct by well-known voices is alarming, dangerous and must be condemned with even stronger fervor.
“Dentons wholeheartedly condemns hate in all its forms, and we stand with our Jewish colleagues and clients in rejecting this dangerous and unacceptable rhetoric — be it Kanye West’s tweets; the actions of nine student groups at Berkeley Law School in seeking to ban speakers who support Zionism; or the threats of violence against New Jersey Synagogues.
“Sadly, hate crimes have dramatically risen since 2020, including a 34 percent increase in reported antisemitic incidents in 2021 as compared to 2020, and the highest number on record since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. These incidents, along with the similar rise in hate crimes against other groups, including African, Asian and Muslim Americans and the LGBTQ+ community, are rooted in racism and xenophobia, and intended to divide us.
“Many colleagues are experiencing fear and pain, and we call upon the strength of our Dentons community to provide support, empathy, allyship and understanding to Jewish people right now.”
(Disclosure: Richard Friedman’s son, Samuel, is a shareholder at Dentons Sirote.)