The Eulogizer: Radicals’ lawyer, more on Liz Taylor


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

Leonard Weinglass, 77, lawyer for left-wing causes

Leonard Weinglass, a defense attorney for prominent radicals and left-wing causes since the 1960s, died March 23 at 77.

Weinglass, described as “perhaps the nation’s pre-eminent progressive defense lawyer,” rose to prominence during his work with William Kunstler on the defense of the “Chicago Seven,” the notorious group that included Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin charged with the disruption of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Despite the theatrical impact of that trial, Weinglass’s most significant successful defense may have been that of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who in 1971 were charged with leaking the Pentagon Papers, classified documents about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which played a role in ending public support in America for the conflict.

Ellsberg said Weinglass wasn’t drawn to money but to justice.

"He felt in many cases he was representing one person standing against the state,” Ellsberg said. In an echo of that case, Weinglass recently worked with the lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 

The clients on Weinglass’s legal resume read like a Who’s Who of late 20th century radicals and left-wing activists: Mumia Abu-Jamal; Kathy Boudin, a member of the Weather Underground; Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army charged with the kidnap of Patricia Hearst; Jane Fonda; Black Panther Angela Davis; and “White Panther” John Sinclair, among many others.

More recently, Weinglass worked on the defense of the so-called “Cuban Five,” who have been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States. In an interview with a Havana-based website, Weinglass called on the group’s supporters to continue to agitate on their behalf.

“Like few other cases on the international stage, this case calls out to the conscience of people worldwide,” he said.

Gerardo Hernandez, one of the group’s members, wrote a letter from his prison in California that said, “Nothing stopped him. When we would meet, the same thing would always happen: At some point in our conversation, while listening to him talk, my mind would separate from his words and I would focus on the person. I would realize that here is this great man, the tremendous lawyer, the legendary fighter for justice, right here in front of me.”

Weinglass was well known in Cuba, as well, and Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon said of him that “the history of the struggles of the American people cannot be written without mentioning, on every page, the name Leonard Weinglass.”

Weinglass was born in Belleville, N.J, and played football and was on the debating team in high school. His father, Sol, was a pharmacist. He graduated from Yale Law School and was a captain in the Air Force with the judge advocate’s office before opening a law office in Newark.

Lawyer John Mage, who worked with Weinglass on one of Boudin’s appeals, said Weinglass “represented clients who did not choose to be in court, and who faced the near certainty of conviction in political cases in hopelessly biased courts. … Lenny never pursued the monetary rewards his skills would easily have made available were he but to have put politics aside.”

Former ’60s radical Tom Hayden cited Weinglass’s Jewish heritage as a source of his abilities.

"He exemplified the best qualities of a Jewish upbringing; he questioned everything," Hayden said. "He was a funny man, a man of wisdom and passion who would throw himself into deeply unpopular causes because he believed in human rights."

Weinglass friend Debbie Smith said that outside the courtroom, Weinglass was a “wonderful gardener and had a huge collection of tree and plant catalogs. He had a beautiful place in the Catskills and lived in a tepee up there for a couple of years."

Elizabeth Taylor tidbit

The Eulogizer took a swipe at The New York Times last week for failing to mention that Elizabeth Taylor was Jewish and that she had converted in 1959 in a fashion that makes Madonna’s dallying in Kabbalah seem like a back-page story. The New York Jewish Week had a similar idea.

We followed that up with a short e-mail to the Great Gray Lady herself — or at least to her Obituaries editor, Bill McDonald — suggesting that the paper’s excellent Taylor obit, prewritten and rewritten many times over the last decade, was missing something important by not making mention of Taylor’s religion.

McDonald took the comment under consideration, and the web version of the obit was subsequently updated to mention Taylor’s conversion. Thanks for listening and responding, Mr. McDonald.

Other mianstream media have been mentioning Taylor’s Jewish and Israel connections in the last few days, as well. A CNN religion blog offered a fuller exploration of Taylor’s Jewish legacy, with links to many articles about it, including the excellent JTA blog entry that delved into the JTA’s archives, and noted that Rabbi Jerry Cutler of L.A.’s Creative Arts Temple conducted the private service at Forest Lawn Cemetery. The headline on this Op-Ed in the Washington Post said it all: “Elizabeth Taylor and Israel, a lasting love.”

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