Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Political antisemitism in the United States, 1873-1932

You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance."

Introduction: Over the past months I have described the development of anti-Judaism in Christian theology and its transformation into secular antisemitism with the 18th century Enlightenment. In the 19th century secular antisemitism quickly evolved into a political movement with an agenda aimed at excluding Jews from civil society and antisemitic parties appeared throughout the West. In Germany-Austria the political agenda changed from social exclusion to physical extermination with the goal of achieving a final solution to the West’s Jewish Problem. This week we turn to the evolution of political antisemitism in the country with the largest surviving post-Holocaust Jewish Diaspora population, the United States.

As in Europe, organized political antisemitism also appeared in the United States in the 19th century. And, as in Europe, a movement to deny Jews legal and social rights did not just appear: it emerged from an already present antisemitic culture.

The first Jews to set foot in the New World arrived with Christopher Columbus in 1492. In 1584 Joachim Gaunse, a Jewish metallurgist who accompanied Sir Walter Raleigh to the Virginia territory, was threatened with blasphemy and forced to return to England. “In 1647, the Portuguese authorities arrested Isaac de Castro for teaching Jewish rites and customs in Portuguese controlled Brazil and sent him back to Portugal where the Inquisition sentenced him to death and burned him at the stake.” Seven years later twenty-three Jewish refugees fled Portuguese Brazil for the more tolerant Dutch New Amsterdam (later renamed New York under the British) where they were barred entry by the colony’s Director General, Peter Stuyvesant. “The Jews who have arrived,” he wrote the directors of the Dutch West India Company, “would nearly all like to remain here, but learning that they (with their customary usury and deceitful trading with Christians)… [we ask that] that the deceitful race -- such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ -- be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony…” The Company apparently felt the Jew’s “customary usury and deceitful trading” would be of value and ordered Stuyvesant to let them stay. As for French colonial areas, the Jews were barred until 1759; and the Spanish, like the Portuguese, planted the Inquisition in the New World and persecuted and executed their “suspect” Conversos, Catholics of Jewish descent.

While the 1789 US Constitution, following Enlightenment principles, protected citizen rights regardless of religion, the first acts of “political” antisemitism came in the form of “states rights,” which allowed states to make local laws, including a state’s relations with Jews. Anti-Jewish legislation would only be rescinded in North Carolina in 1869, while New Hampshire finally relented and allowed “non-Protestants” to hold state office in 1887. Sabbath laws, forbidding commerce on Sunday, was another form of legal antisemitism.  Such discriminatory laws remained on the books well into the twentieth century. Their antisemitic intent was clearly described when, “in the 1855 California assembly debate on the topic, the speaker of the house argued that Jews ‘ought to respect the laws and opinions of the majority.’”

As for “popular antisemitism,” attitudes held by individuals: “when a Jew rose to national prominence, he would always be open to attacks based upon his Judaism.” Mordecai Noah, a diplomat to Tunis from 1813-15, was recalled from his post having been denounced as an “enemy of Christ.” And, “Uriah Phillips Levy, then the only Jewish officer in the U. S. Navy, was dropped from the officer list in 1855… after six courts martial, two dismissals, and the killing of one opponent in a duel, all over slurs against his Judaism.”

Political antisemitism: Social stress is generally associated with a rise in antisemitism. This was also true during the Long Depression of 1873 to 1896. The period gave rise to the emergence of populist political parties, most of which were short-lived. With the appearance of the Populist, or Peoples Party, things changed and antisemitism entered American party politics.

During the presidential election of 1896 no “political party was above using anti-Semitism, especially to appeal to Christian constituents, but it was the Populist Party who used anti-Semitism most distinctively.

Watson on a 1904 People's Party campaign poster. (Wikipedia)

Tom Watson, who will reappear when we discuss the lynching of Leo Frank, was named vice presidential choice on the 1896 Populist Party presidential ticket and, in 1904, the party’s choice for president. The "Populists strengthened their cause by using religious metaphors to link money with a Jewish conspiracy [giving license to mainline parties to do the same]. Thus in 1896 Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, speaking in an idiom Protestant Fundamentalists were fully conversant with, could easily intersperse biblical imagery with economic necessity when he thundered, `You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.' The antisemitism evoked by the metaphor of the crucifixion was powerful and appealed to rural Protestants who possessed a similar religious and cultural heritage with other Americans in the South and the West," (Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, p.49-50). But when standing before a Jewish audience Bryan temporized, "We are not attacking a race, we are attacking greed and avarice, which know neither race nor religion. I do not know of any class of our people who, by reason of their history, can better sympathize with the struggling masses in this campaign than can the Hebrew race," from The First Battle, (p.581).

By the twentieth century racist antisemitism was even more open and popular, appearing in vaudeville, on the stage and even in the movies. In 1913, amidst a heated antisemitic atmosphere, an innocent Leo Frank was convicted of murder and, when the governor commuted his sentence, was dragged from his cell and lynched. One result of the lynching was the decision by B’nai Brith, of which Frank was regional director, to form the Anti-defamation League. Another was the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. By the 1920’s Henry Ford was distributing his Dearborn Independent by mail and in Ford Motor dealerships across the country. Its main contribution to the spread of antisemitism was publication, under the banner of the International Jew, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. American antisemitism was equal to that taking hold in Europe, with Jews discriminated against in housing, employment and recreation.

A 1934 edition by the Patriotic Publishing Company of Chicago (Wikipedia)

Parties specifically targeting Jews proliferated in the years leading up to the Second World War. “The era gave rise to domestic anti-Jewish bigots, such as Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald L. K. Smith and William Dudley Pelley, the leader of the Silver Shirts. It also witnessed the rise of the German-American Bund, led by Fritz Kuhn, and the notorious anti-Jewish speech by the aviator and US hero Charles A. Lindbergh to an America First Committee rally. Especially influential in the 1930s was Father Coughlin, a Catholic priest whose weekly radio broadcasts containing an openly antisemitic message reached millions. Coughlin's campaign paved the way for isolationist organizations, such as the America First Committee, to attract antisemites to their banners.”

Other writings in this Series:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is the Diaspora Doomed, Israel abandoned? An open Response to an email responder

Thank you for your email, Larry. I well remember our earlier discussion and, it appears, neither of us has much shifted in the interim! While I accept your position regarding the history of antisemitism reflected in Church/Christian policy; while I continue to accept also your distinction between us and them regarding slavery: still, beyond educating our youth to the reason we are hated, I don’t see the Zionist mission of providing for our physical salvation being advanced. My concern as I hope is reflected in all my writings is to demonstrate to the best of my abilities to my admittedly tiny audience the danger to our physical survival represented by Christendom (religion and secular); in other words, to our Diaspora.

Although not identical the threat to the state of the Jews is similar, as reflected in Bush and Iraq and, more blatantly, under the present administration. I am entirely non-(American) partisan in my comments, simply reflecting the facts as objectively as I can interpret them.

I am not so quixotic as to expect our Diaspora to rise up and leave; where to? The only other Jewish “homeland” was created under Stalin, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Siberia. And I hardly expect that to be open to mass Jewish immigration today even if we would all choose to move! Neither do I expect Israel to immediately abandon her quixotic “special relationship” with the US; after all, we are still tiny and vulnerable and dependent on the US, whatever the cost. What I am hoping to achieve is to raise doubt in the denial-prone consciousnesses of both communities as to the need to respond realistically to a very real environment. For me the enemy is not our lack of knowledge of the past, but our failure to accept its meaning for the future.

For our Diaspora “Never Again!” is an inappropriate and inadequate response to the Holocaust. The Shoah is a clear shot across our bow, the promise of things to come unless we take its implications seriously, and act. And for Israel, while our dependence on the West is real, it is long past time to begin looking outside Christendom for our next strategic alliance. China has few Christians and no culture or history of antisemitism; India, with its Moslem population, would still represent a problem so long as the state of the Jews remains in theMiddle EastIsrael simply must grow beyond her neediness, our emotional dependence on a false special relationship that in reality is special for the US, and that only so long as Israel fulfills America’s interests. And under the present US administration that bottom-line should, by now, be crystal clear.

Obama’s mouthpiece Panetta said as much, Israel, too, has a responsibility to pursue these shared goals – to build regional support for Israeli andUnited States’ security objectives.” For the US the bottom line is the US. That was how it was in 1940 when the US chose to ignore its “special relationship” with Britain under attack from Germany. If Britain is expendable, where does our faith come to play?

While I understand and substantially agree with your position, Larry, short of Divine Intervention (which failed to materialize in the Roman war) I fail to see how it will affect our physical survival in the real world, comes the real Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem?

Sounds harsh. But I know no other way to say that which I consider obvious.


Monday, December 5, 2011

America's Deconstruction of the Middle East: from Bush’s Iraq to Obama’s Egypt

Neither Israel, nor any of the mainstream Arab governments accept the Obama-Panetta proposition that time will magically temper the extremism of the Islamist regimes.”

Whenever US Middle East policy fails the administration in power turns on Israel as ready scapegoat. This occurred in the 1980’s when Irangate, the Reagan administration criminal involvement in drug trafficking, gun-running and money laundering began appearing in the press. And if the president eventually apologized to the Jewish state, in the end his administration deftly redirected attention away from their criminality to Israel and her spy Jonathan Pollard. And when Bush’s confident victory proclamation proved premature administration insiders sought to shift blame for the war onto Israel (actually Israel, Egypt and the Saudis strongly advised againstthe war!).

Enter my vote for America’s alternative to dirty and confused politics, Barak Obama. In style and apparent philosophy Obama appeared and may well be the opposite of his predecessor. But if the recent resignations of his two key Middle East advisers George Mitchell and Dennis Ross are an indication such qualities can also produce ideological rigidity, an inability to recognize and respond to situations that may not fit preconceptions. And that certainly seems to explain President Obama’s inability to grasp the complexities of the Middle East over the past two-plus years in office. And Obama, like earlier administrations: when failure looms, blame Israel.

Although Obama cannot be personally blamed for the regional disaster represented by the invasion and withdrawal from Iraq (Bush decisions set both in motion) Obama has followed Bush in shying away from directly confronting the consequences of the invasion. Having deposed the Sunni Baath regime and replaced it with one headed by Iraq’s Shiites Bush redefined the balance of power in the region from the Arabs to the Persians. Shiite Iraq was transformed from bitter enemy to potential ally and satellite of Iran

Saddam Hussein being pulled from his hideaway in Operation Red Dawn, 13 December 2003, (Wikipedia).

Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as secretary of defense. An outspoken opponent of even the threat of force against Iran, if Bush wanted to avoid confronting Iran he could have chosen no better replacement. When Obama succeeded Bush he retained Gates at defense, a clear statement of his own intentions regarding the Islamic Republic. And when Gates retired Obama replaced him with his apparent clone, Leon Panetta. Both defense secretaries and their chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs strongly supported the Bush/Obama policy of Appeasement (what better descriptive of Obama’s carrot-stick-retreat approach to Iran’s nuclear weapons program?). Obama became Ahmadinejad’s unwitting “straight-man,” something of a joke on the Arab street, and the US was losing face and credibility at an accelerating pace with regional friend and foe alike.

While Obama inherited the chronic failure of an elusive and unlikely Arab-Israel peace from a long line of predecessors; while he inherited Iraq and even the policy of Iranian Appeasement from George W. Bush, when it comes to Egypt and Libya and the much Obama-vaunted “Arab Spring” it takes little special insight or knowledge to appreciate that these are Obama’s contribution to an ongoing American retreat not only from Iraq, but as regional hegemon and protector of Middle Eastern oil.

Obama’s commitment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians was laudable, but even here his rigid “idealism” resulted only in an even deeper chasm between the sides. Obama’s idealistic commitment to regional “democracy” is again worth as an ideal, but as policy a disaster. His decision to back the Tahrir Square demonstrators and force Mubarak from office is, as a regional misstep, on par with Bush’s invasion of Iraq in terms of impact on America’s credibility in the region. And when, days before Egyptian elections and the expected landslide victory of Egypt’s Islamists Obama told the military the time arrived to turn over governance to “civilian rule.”

Mubarak on trial, (Reuters).

Iran has always represented the primary threat to America’s regional interests. The Iranian threat also represents a rare common concern uniting Israel and the Arab states. Following Obama’s actions in deposing Mubarak the Saudis were so incensed as to refuse even to take Obama’s phone calls. The refused even to allow visits from high level US diplomats. So mistrustful of their previous protector they entered into a secret agreement to purchase and house nuclear weapons in Pakistan, announced their intention to build their own atom bomb. None of these outcomes would have resulted had US policy makers been objective in viewing events on the ground, of setting ideology aside as determinant of America’s foreign policy objectives.

Three days ago, and for the second time in just over a week, Obama’s military spokesman Panetta, disowning the devastation of a US policy gone wild and following a well-established precedent laid responsibility for American failure on its always available patsy, Israel.

“Unfortunately,” said Panetta, “over the past year, we’ve seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold.” The “traditional partners” referred to are Turkey and Egypt, but Turkey’s regional realignment was itself a much earlier result of US weakness regarding Iran, and began long before the provocation of Mavi Marmara. And as for Egypt, the current state of relations between the two countries is again the direct outcome of misguided US policy, in this instance Obama’s decision to promote Egyptian Islamists over America’s reliable and long-time ally, President Mubarak. US policy towards Libya, Yemen, Bahrain…, all consistent with an ideology of Democracy. In an ironic twist of “the War against Islamist Terrorism” America now promotes Islamist rule from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. In fact American aid to the Islamists has a long history, the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden, and the 1979 Khomeini revolution in Iran.

Neither Israel, nor any of the mainstream Arab governments accept the Obama-Panetta proposition that time will magically temper the extremism of the Islamist regimes [those beneficiaries of America’s dedication to “democracy”] They have before them the example of a former Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, who made the same argument 32 years ago for the West to dump the shah and welcome Khomeini's ayatollah regime.”

Had America, starting with Bush in 2003, dedicated a fraction of its military expenditure on wars in Iraq and Libya on America’s principal adversary, Russia-sponsored Iran, had Bush taken seriously the  combined advice of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Saudis regarding Iran the region might be less “democratic today. But hundreds of thousands of Arabs who died in those adventures would be alive today; tens of thousands of US servicemen would not have lost life or limb lives in a failed Iraqi vanity conflict; more than a trillion dollars (the actual cost of borrowed money needed to fund the Iraq war) would not today be hanging over the US economy as debt and interest. And certainly the price of oil would be a fraction of its present cost, and if the global recession were not averted at least it would have been minimized. But most importantly for the future of the region and a West threatened by Islamist terrorism, had the US taken on Iran before the costs of such an operation spiraled out of control the threat of a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile places on the planet would have been averted.

And Israel today would not find herself threatened both by America-created instability in Arab states near and far, and by her policy-challenged senior partner in their “special relationship,” the true creator of Israel’s isolation.