The practice of employers to deny employment to Jewish applicants, on the basis of unjustified discrimination; that is, without regard to their experience, past record, or fitness for the positions they are eager to get, is doubtless the most widespread and discouraging manifestation of racial and religious intolerance against the Jews.
Our American Jewish civic organizations, notably the American Jewish Committee, have now and then, when cases of such discrimination were reported to it, taken action to combat this un-American practice. In many instances, especially when the discrimination complained of was practiced by a governmental, quasi-governmental, or public service agency, the fight could be brought to a victorious end.
As a rule, the employers who discriminate against Jews attempt to escape censure for their vicious practice by offering specious reasons for their denial of work to Jews. These subterfuges, coupled with the difficulty of securing direct evidence that the anti-Jewish discrimination is practiced, make the fight against it a problem of great complexity and vast extent. This problem requires nice handling, and a solid basis in the form of incontrovertible facts and figures is needed for an efficient attempt at a solution.
Several years ago the American Jewish Committee, in cooperation with a Christian employment agency, undertook a study, on a small scale, of the practice of anti-Jewish discrimination which revealed many interesting facts, especially as regards the underlying “reasons.” This study indicated that a wider investigation, aimed particularly at finding out the extent to which the discrimination is practiced, especially by public or quasi-public agencies, may prove of great usefulness in determining the proper way of coping with the evil.
In the meantime, the severe economic depression aggravated the calamitous situation to an acuter degree, and more energetic action was urgently called for. In October, 1930, a report of the National Committee on Discrimination, that had been set up by the American Jewish Congress several years before, came to the following conclusion: “Unless definite steps were taken by a representative Jewish body, such as the American Jewish Congress, it would become increasingly difficult for Jews to find employment.”
No wonder, then, that in December, 1930, and January, 1931, representatives of national Jewish organizations, called by the B’nai B’rith, discussed at conferences held at New York the subject of unemployment discrimination. Stress was laid upon the desirability of a comprehensive study of the subject to be undertaken cooperatively by a group of national Jewish organizations. As an outcome of this discussion, a National Conference on Jewish Employment was formed.
The participating organizations, besides the B’nai B’rith, were: the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Welfare Board, United Hebrew Trades, and a few others.
The purpose and aims of the National Conference were formulated thus: to study the position of the Jew in the field of employment in the United States, particularly from the point of view of possible discrimination against Jewish labor on the ground of creed or nationality; to ascertain the facts and to endeavor to improve conditions through educational vocational guidance.
A procedure was agreed upon, and a few of the participating bodies voted appropriations as their shares of a fund for a preliminary study of the subject. However, the new agency has been unable, during 1931-1932, to begin its work because of lack of money.
At the same time, several communities beside New York have taken steps to study some of the aspects of the subject.
In November, 1931, as a result of a study under the auspices of the Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Family Welfare Association of Minneapolis, a number of Jewish organizations in that city determined to expand the functions of an existing employment bureau for Jews so as to include an effort to deal with the problem of anti-Jewish discrimination.
In December, 1931, an employment bureau for this specific purpose was set up in Los Angeles by the local B’nai B’rith lodge and the Jewish Social Service Bureau.
In April, 1932, a Committee on Unjust Discrimination Against Jews Seeking Employment was established in Chicago. The noted lawyer, Sigmund Livingston, founder of the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith, was elected chairman.
Now, the program of this committee, in the opinion of Harry Schneiderman, editor of the American Jewish Year Book, expressed in his review of the year 1931-1932, reflects the most salient elements which should underlie efforts to cope with the employment discrimination evil:
This committee on anti-Jewish Discrimination in Employment established a couple of years ago in Chicago, set itself a five-fold task, namely: First, to make a survey of cases of discrimination; second, to cooperate with the existing employment agencies in discouraging such discrimination; third, to educate offending employers as to the unfairness of the practice; fourth, to discourage individual volunteers who may wish to attempt corrective measures.
And last, but not least, to prevent and discourage false rumors of unjust discrimination against any employer.
During the year 1933, finally, the National Conference on Jewish Employment, formed two years before in New York, decided that, instead, of attempting a study on a national scale, it would be more expedient to sponsor and promote local efforts along the lines of what is being done in Chicago.
Accordingly, a joint committee, similar to the one in Chicago, has been set up in New York City.