Jeremiah S. Gutman, one of the nation’s leading civil rights attorneys and a vocal advocate for Israeli civil liberties, died February 25 after suffering a heart attack at a Metro-North Railroad station. He was 80.
The night before his death, Gutman presided at a meeting of Meretz USA, a Jewish organization promoting peace and civil rights in Israel, of which he had been president since 2001. Gutman’s devotion to Israeli causes extends back to the Jewish state’s early history. After serving in combat in Europe during World War II, Gutman attended the New York University School of Law, while also gathering light arms for Israel during its War of Independence, according to a Meretz official.
“Significant issues changed civil rights in Israel, such as the rights of Arab Israelis, and he was at the forefront,” said Charney V. Bromberg, executive director of Meretz, who was one of Gutman’s clients as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam era. “He’s risked his life over years for causes of justice and he was a man of enormous courage.”
In 1951, partly as a response to the tactics Senator Joseph McCarthy used to fight Communism in America, Gutman helped found the New York Civil Liberties Union, and was a member of the board of the American Civil Liberties Union at the time of his death. As a partner at the law firm Levy, Gutman, Goldberg & Kaplan, he often litigated civil rights cases. His clients over the years included the anti-establishment activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and cult figures such as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and leaders of the Hare Krishnas.
Gutman recently made headlines when he testified in the Martha Stewart case, having briefly represented Merrill Lynch & Co. assistant Douglas Faneuil.
Gutman is survived by his wife, Marilyn Gates-Gutman, and twin six-year-old sons, Ariel and Emanuel; four grown children, Thea Gutman, Malaika Gates-Gutman, Rebecca Menon and Mara Ferris; a brother, Robert W. Gutman, and two grandchildren.