Protesters hold banners at an anti-Semitic march in London. Photo: Alishia Abodunde/Getty Images
Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of New York-based fund manager Stone Ridge, was once a frequent donor to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
His millions were instrumental in creating a fintech center at the college's business school, which provided students with key analytics to help with their education.
However, having withdrawn his support, Stevens recently withdrew a $100 million (£79.5 million) donation over claims the Ivy League university had failed to tackle anti-Semitism.
The move comes as university president Elizabeth Magill threatens to resign after she refused to say whether calls for “Jewish genocide” violated school rules.
Her comments echo those made by Harvard University President Claudine Gay earlier this month, who told a congressional hearing that the school's commitment to freedom of expression covers “views that are objectionable, offensive and hateful.”
Unsurprisingly, the comments sparked anger among those calling for Jewish students to receive greater protection in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks.
Among those calling for more to be done was one employer in particular – graduate: law firms.
Calls for campus crackdown
Hundreds of U.S. firms signed a letter last month asking college deans to take action to combat the rise in hate speech and harassment on campuses.
The letter stated: “As employers who recruit from each of your law schools, we hope that your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are committed to becoming an active part of labor communities with a zero-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination or harassment, not to mention those found in some laws. school campuses.”
The letter was signed by dozens of so-called “white shoe” law firms—the country’s most prestigious firms, known for their clients and high profits.
Among them were Davis Polk & Wardwell, one of the world's largest law firms, which in October withdrew job offers to three Columbia and Harvard students who allegedly signed letters critical of Israel's role in the war.
However, when asked by The Telegraph, many of these same American firms remained silent on how their London offices responded to the rise in anti-Semitism in British universities.
While the US letter has since been sent to some UK universities, UK law firms have failed to publicly raise similar concerns about the safety and treatment of Jewish students in that country.
An increase in anti-Semitic incidents
This is happening despite Community reports The Security Trust, a charity that protects Jewish people, has seen 140 anti-Semitic incidents linked to universities in the UK since 7 October.
This is more than double the 56 incidents reported in the UK. throughout 2022.
Earlier this week, Cardiff University Jewish Society students said: “We now fear for our safety on campus and feel unsafe walking between lectures.”
Anti-Semitism protesters attend a march in London. Photo: Guy Bell/Alamy Live News
There are exceptions. City law firm Mishcon de Reya last week accused Queen Mary University of London of “empty talk” over antisemitism on campus after Jewish students were reportedly subjected to jokes about Hitler.
The University responded: “We continue to ask all members of our diverse and inclusive Queen Mary community to come together to support each other with compassion, understanding and empathy for the pain of others.”
p >One explanation for the difference in the response of law firms is the size of the Jewish population in each country.
There are approximately 271,000 Jews living in England and Wales, according to the 2021 UK Census.
In contrast , the Jewish population of the United States surpassed eight million in 2020, which in turn meant greater representation in the legal profession.
“You might think we have a lot because we have a number of people who have managed to get into senior positions in firms and become lawyers, but the numbers [at a UK firm] are different compared to a New York firm,” says a Jewish lawyer from London.
'They're worried about security'
The lack of representation has fueled fears among UK law firms that high-profile support for Israel could put employees.
“[Law firms] feel like they're trying not to be too vocal about the issue,” she says. “They're not sure what the right answer is, but they're concerned about safety.”
Another possible explanation for the muted response is the weaker connection between law firms and universities in the UK, some experts say.
“It's different here. Law is an undergraduate subject, whereas law schools in the States are postgraduate schools,” says Professor Graham Zoellick, chairman of the British Jewish Bar Association.
“Many law graduates in the UK do not and do not intend to enter the legal profession, and half of the lawyers here did not study law at university.”
Instead, American law schools are seen as gatekeepers to white-shoe firms , and are trusted to groom a pipeline of new hires, resulting in more transactional relationships with U.S. law firms.
Others say UK law firms are wary of making statements that could upset international clients, including from countries hostile to Israel.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, says: “They will be concerned about the risk seem to support one side or the other – especially if this is not necessary, since other organizations are effectively addressing these problems.”
“Isolated and unsupported”
It comes as companies that were quick to speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement and the war in Ukraine are rethinking their commitments to ethical and environmental goals, including whether they should be as outspoken on political issues as before. .
“Some workplaces are questioning whether this is the right thing to do in the workplace,” says Denis-Smith. “You are a legal entity, not an individual.”
Dentons, the world's largest firm by headcount, came under such pressure when it removed and replaced its response to the war between Israel and Hamas after an initial statement. was criticized for not acknowledging the deaths of Palestinians, as first reported by Law.com.
However, there has been a reluctance by UK law firms to get involved on university campuses for fear of getting it wrong.
< p>How says one Jewtown lawyer: “The problem with silence is that those people within the country who are affected will feel isolated and unsupported by their organization.”