Talking with … An attorney with a powerful kickby jon roisman
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Name: Desmond Tuck
City: Redwood City
Occupation: Lawyer, karate instructor
Desmond Tuck: I managed to take facts — only facts, not opinions — from about 15 newspapers to write a pro-Israel report of the [Lebanon] war. It was totally pro-Israel, using facts from every single newspaper, and that’s when I realized how you can shape opinion in writing by just using the facts.
I can’t remember the number of letters I’ve written over the years and had published — it must be over 100, not all in the J. obviously. But at some point I started writing about stuff that outraged me or made me feel like I needed to chime in.
J.: You’ve been practicing for 30 years as a civil litigation attorney and have lived in the United States most of your adult life. Where did you grow up?
DT: I was born and raised in South Africa. I grew up in Durban and I moved to Johannesburg for college and was there for eight years and then immigrated to the United States.
J.: Why did you come to the U.S.?
DT: After the Soweto riots [in 1976], it looked like things were going downhill, and through my ex-wife’s family I had an opportunity to come to the U.S. and get a green card legally.
J.: What got you interested in law?
DT: I did it by the process of elimination. Like every Jewish kid whose parents want them to be successful, I thought I should be a doctor. But I eliminated that and eventually by trying lots of other things I ended up liking law a lot. I started studying in South Africa and was in my third year of a four-year law degree when I immigrated. I left it all behind and came to San Francisco and went to night school for four years and got an American law degree.
J.: You grew up in a Jewish household and your family belonged to a local synagogue. Have you always been vigilant against anti-Semitism?
DT: I’ve been conscious of anti-Semitism since I went to high school, and so I’ve always felt a little bit defensive when I started to learn a bit more about the Holocaust. That education really happened more in the U.S. than in South Africa because there weren’t that many Holocaust survivors there. I met quite a few survivors here and listened to their stories. When I heard their stories, I looked at what was being written in the newspapers about Israel and it seemed like something needed to be said — if not correct the record, then to vent the point of view of Israel rather than just let people throw rocks.
J.: You are a 7th degree black belt in Goju-Ryu karate and you teach martial arts as a volunteer in the South Bay, including at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. And you’ve got a talk coming up this weekend at your synagogue, Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, titled “Jewish Self-Defense: Not an Oxymoron.” How did you get interested in martial arts?
DT: I started doing judo originally in 1964 because I was a year younger than everyone else in school, and my dad told me since I was going to be 11 in eighth grade, I probably needed to defend myself. I was on the U.S. karate team that went to the Pan American Maccabi Games in Venezuela in 1987. I used to volunteer with Jewish children, but I don’t teach kids anymore, and it’s not confined to Jews.
J.: Sometimes your letters make a point that people can be persuaded easily if they’re not thoughtful. Do you think that can lead to anti-Israeli sentiment?
DT: People are really impressionable. I’m a lawyer and I know how you can persuade people with your language. I was afraid that people who don’t think very deeply or are just superficial when they read things can be persuaded to become anti-Semitic — and to me that’s a real problem.
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