Being Jewish Made Kunstler a Radical
Legendary lawyer’s daughters speculate as their documentary opens
“I’m not a self-hating Jew,” the radical lawyer William Kunstler says in William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary opening today. “Anyone who knows me knows I love myself.” Kunstler became famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for defending the Chicago Seven, the Catonsville 9 (who burned draft files to protest Vietnam), Meir Kahane’s killer, and one of the defendants in the Central Park jogger attack, among others. This film, made by his two younger daughters, is “a refresher course on the history of American left-wing politics in the 1960s and ’70s as well as an affectionate personal biography,” says New York Times critic Stephen Holden. Born into an upper-middle-class New York City family, Kunstler followed a clean-cut path to the Ivy League and then World War II service. So what turned him radical? In an interview with Gothamist, Sarah Kunstler noted her late father’s “profound sense of injustice and empathy for oppressed peoples” and said that she and her sister have “been wondering if it had anything to do with growing up Jewish during the first half of the 20th century.” She explained: “When dad graduated from law school in 1948, none of the top law firms would higher Jewish lawyers. Most Jewish lawyers from that period started their own firms or went into private practice. I think that on some level, being treated as an outsider made dad think more creatively about what to do with his law degree. Conforming just wasn’t an option. So when the ACLU asked him to go to the South to observe the arrests of Freedom Riders, he leapt at the chance.”
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