When did American anti-Semitism begin?
Hate is something we all know about, it is something that most of us try to avoid. Yet, it is also something that can hide from us, something that can hide in a country dedicated to religious freedom and freedom of expression. In this essay I am going to explain to you how anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews, has evolved to the modern day, and how we can help combat the issue in America.
Although the term “[anti-Semitism] was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns under way in central Europe” (Berenbaum), that did not mean that hatred of Jews did not exist before then; anti-Semitism has been a part of the world for thousands of years. In the American context, beginning with the early formation of American colonies in the mid 1600s, “[Jews] could not become doctors or lawyers in some colonies, or even vote, unless they took an oath swearing that they believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ” (“Anti Semitism”). This separation of Jews from others became even more apparent with the huge wave of American immigration in the early 1730s, when the “trustees of Georgia sought to deport all Jews from Savannah. The presence of the Jews, they argued, would inhibit immigration” (Ginsberg) of other more ‘favored’ immigrants. In this extremely early case of American anti-Semitism, Jews are labeled as a ‘disruptive’ religious group.
Decades later, during the mass immigration and early formation of colonies, the U.S. constitution seeked ratification from the states in the 1780s, and “opponents argued that [the constitutional document] would be nothing more than an invitation to Jews, Turks, and Heathens to enter public office, and be seated at the head of government of the United States” (Ginsberg). This argument foreshadows the American fear of Jews taking over our government. This fear was quite ironic, because “by 1820, Jews in the U.S numbered perhaps 5000” (Appel), meaning that such a discriminatory fear is directed at such a small amount of the U.S population. Discrimination and hate continued when “crisis of impending civil war found many Americans of the 1850s looking at Jewish neighbors as cheating businessmen and traitors” (Klinghoffer).
While anti-Semitism has continued throughout American history, it took a particularly bad turn from the Roaring 20s through the 1940s. Anti-Semitic Americans quickly found a leader in “automobile giant Henry Ford, who published a newspaper in the 1920s, The Dearborn Independent, [which] served as an outlet for anti-Semitic propaganda” (Zelizer). Ford’s popularity continued, and “a lack of response to anti-Semitism by important public figures like President Roosevelt in the 1930s [show] how prominent anti-Semitism was throughout the early decades of the 20th century in America” (Lyon). Roosevelt was not acknowledging that, “even as Jews started to break into certain industries, such as entertainment, in the 1930s and ’40s, they [were] confronted [by] tight restrictions that kept them out of law firms, medical professions, and universities and colleges” (Zelizer). Levels of American anti-Semitism reached such high levels, that “[in 1945], the British ambassador in Washington informed his government that “The United States is so strongly anti-Semitic that anti-Semitism at home is an ever present problem for every American Jew”” (Dinnerstein).
American anti-Semitism was recognized by other countries, yet not even our own president could acknowledge such hate that within our nation. To learn more about the historical problem of anti-Semitism in our country, go here.
Modern Day Problem
Anti-Semitism today is on the rise; whether it is visible or not, and hatred of Jews becomes more apparent when Americans in power do not fight anti-Semitism. “Since the 2016 Presidential campaign, anti-Semitic vitriol has exploded on the Internet. Neo-Nazis tweet swastikas and Hitler-era propaganda of leering, hook-nosed rabbis” (Schwartz). This Jewish hatred had been built up over the years, and a mini explosion happened only two years ago, when in “[Charlottesville, white supremacist] marchers [chanted] ‘Jews will not replace us’” (“Jason Kessler On His ‘Unite The Right’ Rally Move To D.C.” ). Hatred burst from America’s veins as “Unite the Right enthusiasts attacked and injured counter protesters in Charlottesville, [before] a white supremacist from Ohio drove his car into a crowd of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring about 30 others” (Cullen).
Jumping to the present, anti-Semitic attitudes continue to infect our nation and Congress. Enter “Ilhan Omar, the freshman representative from Minnesota” (Stephens). Last month, she “[tweeted that] U.S. support for Israel was ‘all about the Benjamins baby’” (Stephens). “’Israel has hypnotized the world,’ she tweeted in 2012” (Stephens). Just in case you do not understand it, “claims that Israel ‘hypnotizes’ the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters ‘push for allegiance to a foreign country,’ repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries” (Stephens). Being a politician, you are constantly in the spotlight and are representing part of the American public, so there is no excuse for such remarks, even if “[Omar tweets] it [was] never [her] intention to offend [her] constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole” (Stolberg).
Surprisingly, the anti-Semitic sentiments of some of the founders of the Women’s March were laid bare in their attempts to exclude Jewish women from their “all inclusive” protests. For example, right after president Trump was elected, “Vanessa Wruble, a Brooklyn-based activist, said she told the [Women’s March founders] that her Jewish heritage inspired her to try to help repair the world. But she said the conversation took a turn when Tamika Mallory, a black gun control activist, and Carmen Perez, a Latina criminal justice reform activist, replied that Jews needed to confront their own role in racism” (Stockman). The case for American anti-Semitism had been shut down by leaders of a movement dedicated to equality, and currently, “questions about alleged anti-Semitism and possible racist rhetoric connected to the Women’s March organizers have swirled for months in response to an article in online Jewish magazine Tablet that made such claims” (Keneally).
An example of the more extreme side of American anti-Semitism occurred last year in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting with October 27th’s “massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history” (Greenblatt). An “assailant shouting anti-Semitic slurs stormed the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh with a semiautomatic rifle and murdered 11 people” (Cullen). Before this horrific act, the alleged shooter sought an online audience for his hatred where he “furiously railed on social media against HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was founded at the turn of the last century, to help the waves of Jewish immigrants who left imperial Russia for America” (Schwartz). The internet provides a forum for people like the alleged shooter in that their “feeding this upsurge in hate is the toxic soup of anti-Semitism found online” (Greenblatt).
These frightening events of terror and Jewish discrimination are the acts of anti-Semitism that you see, but, in reality, “millions of Jews in the United States and around the world are confronted with various forms of hate and vitriol” (“What We Do”), and those who spread it can be some of the most famous people, like Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg who goes by the name “Pewdepie.” If you do not already know who he is, “[Mr. Kjellberg] is the most popular video producer on YouTube, with more than 50 million subscribers from all over the world. His videos have been watched, collectively, billions of times” (Domonoske). Because Kjellberg has such a huge American fanbase, it was devastating when, “[throughout 2017,] PewDiePie posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery” (Domonoske). Much like Ilhan Omar, Kjellberg helps reveal the current underlying anti-Semitic beliefs in America that have not changed for centuries, but have simply been repackaged for the modern day.
The examples of Ilhan Omar, Charlottesville online trolls, and the recent Pittsburgh shooter make clear that social media frequently reinforces hateful beliefs, and “creates its own realities for individuals, where people feed off the anonymity and tailor what they read and whom they speak with” (Greenblatt). For this reason, it has become particularly urgent at this time to find solutions to the ongoing anti-Semitism in our country. To learn more about how anti-Semitism currently affects America, click here.
In finding those solutions, it is important to acknowledge that although one person is not as powerful as an entire nation, individual resistance to hate can go a long way. Therefore, one of the most significant ways for an individual to fight anti-Semitism in our country is by calling out friends or relatives who say things like “he’s a Jew, of course he’s rich” or “she has a Jewish nose.” Better yet, taking action and donating to organizations like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) can directly challenge anti-Semitism. A contribution to the ADL of $100 “equips two teens with the skills to confront anti-Semitism. $500 trains eight educators to teach the lessons of the Holocaust” (“Anti-Semitism in the US”). Donating to anti-hate organizations and calling out hate speech are both great ways to combat anti-Semitism on a more local level, since whether subtle or extreme, “in the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance by the perpetrators, the public, and worse, the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows” (“Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide”).
On a national level, the most important thing we can do is to publicize the ample amount of subtle and overt anti-Semitism found in American media and politics. We do not hear much about the fact that “concerns of American Jews about the rise in xenophobia and hate speech that accompanied Trump’s meteoric rise in politics [have been proven] justified” (Heistein), so putting the pieces together as a nation will help people to realize just how far this anti-Semitic hate has spread in our country. Reporting incidents on a national level through broadcast news will help combat the hate, because “more often than not, when hate flares up, good people rise up against it often in greater numbers and with stronger voices” (“Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide”).
In summary, by individually confronting intentional or unintentional anti-Semitism in our local communities, and as a nation becoming more aware of the dangerous underlying anti-Semitism found in American politics far beyond the fringe hate groups, we can help to make this a better and safer country for all. To learn more about how to take action and combat anti-Semitism in our country, click here.
To view the combined sources used in this project, please click here.