From The Tablet:
THE AMERICAN JEWISH AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ABOUT-FACE
Why major Jewish organizations switched sides in the affirmative action debate
By Jacob Scheer
July 31, 2018 • 9:30 PM
Affirmative action in higher education is arguably the most contentious political and social issue of the last half-century. … In recent Supreme Court cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), Fisher v. Texas (2012) and Schuette v. BAMN (2013), Jewish organizations led by the “big three”—the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee—submitted legal briefs defending race-conscious university admissions policies on the grounds that diversity is a compelling state interest. Although this may seem like a given considering the liberal bent of many if not most American Jews, the Jewish stance on affirmative action has not always been supportive. In 1978, when the Regents v. Bakke case first successfully challenged affirmative action at the Supreme Court level, the big three American Jewish organizations all submitted amicus curiae briefs opposing affirmative action admissions policies in support of Bakke.
… A better explanation seems to lie in Jewish accumulation of status and political power, as well as the rapidly expanding presence of high-achieving Asian-American students in academia. …
Jewish organizations expressed a particular concern about racial quotas because prior to World War II numerus clausus quotas were used to limit the number of Jews in universities and other professions. After a prolonged struggle spearheaded by the “big three,” nearly all institutions of higher learning and professional schools abandoned their Jewish quotas by the 1960s. The re-emergence of quotas as a policy to aid disadvantaged groups was seen as a threat to the achievement-based society in which the Jews had become “one of America’s most successful ethnic groups with the nation’s highest per capita income and high representation in legal, technocratic and academic professions.” …
Statements by Jewish organizational leaders bespeak an attitude shift from staunch opposition to comfortable acceptance of race-based affirmative action, independent of the factual or legal differences in the two cases. This change can be observed most acutely in statements made by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who served as council to the AJCommittee in crafting their amicus briefs in 1977 and in 2003, and whose positions on affirmative action and college admissions have undergone a very clear transformation in the years between Bakke and Bollinger. …
Yet Dershowitz’s formerly vociferous censure of race-conscious affirmative action gave way to a quiet acceptance of the practice 25 years later. In the Washington Post, he admitted 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.” Whether or not this is true, Dershowitz goes on to explain that Jews in general are not as opposed to affirmative action as they once were because in 1977:
we feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away. 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.
Jews used to have more of the kind of jobs that are most vulnerable to affirmative action. Mark Zuckerberg’s paternal grandfather worked in the Post Office, for example.
Others ran candy shops and liquor stores in the slums where police protection could be a life or death question. A lot of the domestic neoconservatives of the 1970s were Jewish intellectuals who listened to their relatives’ complaints.
… These statements show that factors having to do with Jews’ status in society and not a principled legal argument may underlie the communal shift on affirmative action.
Dershowitz left out an important corollary to his observation that Jews have become America’s new WASP elites, namely that Asians have become the new Jews.
It is no longer true as it once may have been that Jews, as a people, have more drive, more fortitude than others. Even in my 30-plus years of teaching at Harvard, I have seen a significant change: Jewish students are simply not as outstanding as they once seemed to be. …
… Were affirmative action to be repealed in the near future, the main beneficiaries would be Asian-Americans.
When affirmative action again reached the Supreme Court again in 2012 (Fischer v. Texas) and 2013 (Schuette v. BAMN), Jewish communal organizations spoke with one voice, in favor of preserving affirmative action in higher education. …
The explanation put forward by this article is that Jews have become America’s WASPs. They back the current system of affirmative action because it protects their self-interest as a group with outsize political and social influence. As leaders in the political arena, Jews have an image to maintain as upholders of liberal values like diversity, racial equality, and affirmative action. At the same time, Jewish overrepresentation within the Ivy League can be attributed in part to the opaque admissions programs that at once benefit certain minorities like African-Americans, but hurt other such as Asians. Many find this reminiscent of the numerus clausus that barred Jews from entering these same institutions just a century ago.