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Anti-Semitism lingers in Mo. politics

Allyssa D. Dudley//March 9, 2015

Anti-Semitism lingers in Mo. politics

Allyssa D. Dudley//March 9, 2015

Amid the tragedy of the apparent suicide of Missouri State Auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich has surfaced an ugly truth: Bigotry is still a part of the Missouri political landscape.

“Words do hurt. Words can kill,” former U.S. Sen. John Danforth said during Schweich’s eulogy on Tuesday. “That has been proven right here in this state.”

Schweich, 54, fatally shot himself Feb. 26 in what police say was an apparent suicide at his home in Clayton. Danforth said Schweich was particularly distraught by what he perceived to be an anti-Semitic whispering campaign by the chairman of the Missouri Republican party, who Schweich said had been telling people that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich was Christian, but had some Jewish ancestry.

The party chairman, John Hancock, has denied making anti-Semitic remarks, though he has acknowledged he mistakenly believed Schweich was Jewish and may have mentioned it in an off-hand way to some people.

Although the end to Schweich’s story was horribly unexpected, the story itself is not new. Whisper campaigns, sometimes not so silent, have plagued Missouri’s political scene before.

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman dealt with anti-Semitism as a child in Philadelphia, the Supreme Court’s first and only Jewish judge said in an interview. But as an attorney in Missouri, more of his challenges came from being legally blind than from his faith and family history, he said. That changed when he was up for retention in 2004.

Teitelman said what he experienced was “not so whisper-y” and that he encountered claims that he was “the antichrist.” He said he and Booker T. Shaw, a black Court of Appeals judge also up for retention in 2004, heard claims that they were “not like us.”

“Well, what are we like?” Teitelman said with a laugh.

Anti-Semitism did not stay in Germany, Teitelman said. In mid-century Missouri, some St. Louis bar associations would not permit Jewish people, black people, women or insurance attorneys to join its ranks. That is why the Lawyers Association of St. Louis was created, said current president Tom Neill of Gray, Ritter & Graham in St. Louis.

Neill, who isn’t Jewish, said that those issues are mostly in the past within the legal community.

“It is just a matter of fact, not an issue to be discussed,” Neill said. “It’s not a hot-button topic. But maybe now it will be.”

Neill said it was possible that the legal community, populated by persons who are judged primarily on their skills, might be insulated from some forms of bigotry. When attempting to move into the political sphere, as Schweich did, that may be where issues start to arise.

“That would seem to suggest that in 40 years not much has changed,” Neill said. “That would be awful.”

Teitelman said he couldn’t speak to the legal community’s current level of acceptance towards to the Jewish people, but as a whole?

“That hatred is still out there,” he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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