The contents of this blog may offend some of you. I apologize in advance, but I strongly feel it needs to be said.
Many modern-day American Jews are unaware of the current depth and pervasiveness of anti-Semitism (“AS”) in the US. They are complacent, because they feel that their rights are protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VI. They are too busy earning a living and raising a family to focus on AS. I understand, but that does not diminish the clear and present danger it represents.
It is true that AS and other forms of discrimination are officially prohibited by various federal and state laws, but it is also true that attitudes and beliefs cannot be completely controlled by laws. AS has not yet risen to the level of the 19th Century Russian pogroms or the organized terror of 1930s Nazi Germany, but, as I will demonstrate in this blog, AS is still present in the 21st Century, even in the US. Often, it is more subtle, but, nevertheless, it permeates many areas of our culture.
First, I think it would be instructive to review a brief history of AS in order to put the current situation in context. Although it has become a cliché, as students of history know, it does tend to repeat itself. AS has been with us for all of recorded history, and even before that. We are all very familiar with the struggles of Jews in ancient times and the Middle Ages. However, some of us may not be cognizant of AS in the US.
AS attitudes and beliefs in the US predate the country, itself. In 17th Century New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the colony, who probably had never met a Jew in his life, publicly characterized Jews as “deceitful, very repugnant and hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” At the time, there were only about a dozen or so Jews in the colony, but Stuyvesant still felt compelled to say what he said.
As late as 1790, one year before the adoption of the Bill of Rights (remember, one of its key provisions was and is freedom of religion), several states enforced restrictions against Jews holding political office, or even voting. New Hampshire was the last state to eliminate those restrictions in 1877. That said, AS was not a major social issue in the early days simply because there were so few Jews in the country. It was not until the late 19th Century when thousands of Jews emigrated to the US to escape the overt religious persecution of Eastern European countries, such as Russia and Poland, that AS became a major social and cultural issue. Between 1881 and 1920 approximately 3 million Jews emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe.
Over the years, as these Jews became influential and economically successful, AS, which had always there, bubbled to the surface. There were many manifestations of this attitude. Jews were restricted from certain universities, professions, clubs, restaurants and hotels. For example, Harvard and other Ivy League schools initiated quotas designed primarily to limit the number of Jews attending. Some of these quotas were “unofficial,” but real nonetheless. Yale officially evaluated candidates based, in part, on their “character, solidity and physical characteristics” (whatever that meant). It also instituted a “legacy” program, which had the effect of limiting the number of Jewish students since few of their parents had attended the school. How many of you know of a doctor who had to attend medical abroad because he was restricted from admission to a US school? Medical school is hard enough as it is. Imagine attending it in a foreign language.
As I discussed in a previous blog these restrictions with respect to restaurants and hotels contributed to the popularity of the Borscht Belt. Business leaders, such as Henry Ford, were overt in their AS. Ford maintained that Jewish financiers were responsible for starting WWI and other wars in order to profit from them. Furthermore, he restricted Jews from employment in his company.
Through the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, a majority of Americans “bought in” to all the stereotypes. According to various public opinion polls Jews were perceived to be “greedy,” “dishonest,” and “too powerful.”
Sometimes, AS was not so subtle. We all know the shameless story of the SS St. Louis. In addition, there is growing evidence that our political leaders, particularly the Department of State, were cognizant of the horrors of the concentration camps well before they were “discovered” by our troops. It is likely that US political leaders were held back by the wave of AS that was prevalent at the time. Want more examples? An acquaintance of mine related how in the early 1960s one of her fellow college students asked her to pull back her hair so she “could see her horns.” Another acquaintance was asked what she “kept in her refrigerator.” Personally, I encountered various subtle forms of AS at college in the mid-1960s. For example, the university enforced an “unofficial” quota of roughly 10% Jews per class; the school administration was none too friendly; many professors were known to be AS in their attitudes and grading; and many fraternities accepted either no Jews or one token Jew per year.
All the foregoing brings us to the present day. In recent years, AS has evolved. Now, it comes from all sides – the far right, the far left, and radical Islam. Its practitioners have come out of the woodwork, emboldened by the complacency of school administrators, the media, the politicians, and, indeed, the complacency of the majority of Americans who are not anti semitic. Often, it is disguised by anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian comments and actions, but, to many Jews, it is one and the same.
In my opinion, a major hotbed of the new AS is the colleges. In 2006 a study conducted by the US Commission on Civil Rights concluded that incidents of AS on college campuses are a “serious problem.” According to Stephen Norwood, professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and author of books on the subject of AS on college campuses and the Third Reich, support of anti-Zionist opinions and actions has encouraged the development of AS on college campuses. Additionally, radical Islamic groups, such as the Nation of Islam, have been engaging in revisionist historical interpretations that border on the absurd. For example, they maintain that the Holocaust never occurred, that Jews were responsible for the African slave trade and the unfair exploitation of African Americans, and that Jewish doctors deliberately injected AAs with the AIDS virus. Incredibly, some people actually believe these outlandish accusations.
Lest you believe that the new AS is the work of fringe groups, consider the plethora of incidents on college campuses in just the last few years, for instance:
- In February 2015 Trinity College and the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights published the disturbing results of their survey of some 1,200 Jewish students located at some 50 campuses nationwide. They found that 54% of the respondents had either been subjected to or had witnessed AS on their college campus.
- The sources included other individual students, clubs, classrooms, and the student union. Ariela Keysar, co-author of the report, opined that the perpetrators are not limited to a few politically active students. They found AS to be widespread throughout college campuses. It included all types of students – liberal, moderate, or conservative, as well as those who are politically active and inactive. In some cases, such behavior was ignored or condoned by the school administration. Furthermore, these results coincided with those of a similar study in the UK.
- There have been numerous incidents of harassment, violence, swastikas drawings, graffiti, and spray paintings at dozens of college campuses.
- At UC Santa Barbara fliers with a huge Star of David were distributed claiming that “9/11 was an outside job.”
- Vassar Students for Justice in Palestine published a Nazi WWII propaganda poster portraying Jews as a monster seeking to destroy the world. In a related incident a Jewish student at Temple University was attacked by another branch of the same group.
- Recent conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in movements on many college campuses advocating BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctioning) of Israel. Milan Chatterjee, a law student at UCLA and former student body president, had to leave the university in the middle of his final year because he felt unsafe due to excessive harassment by anti-Zionist students. His “crime” was to speak out against BDS during his tenure as president.
- There have been hundreds of similar incidents both in the US and abroad, but you get the idea.
Lest you think that AS is limited to misguided, idealistic, impressionable college students, be advised that last year the Anti-Defamation League published the results of its most recent audit of AS incidents. It reported in excess of 900 AS incidents in the US during 2014, which represented a 21% increase over the prior year.
I would venture to say that many of you have experienced or witnessed subtle, or maybe not so subtle, forms of AS in your professional or personal life. If not, you are fortunate, because it is still all around us. History tells us that in times of economic hardship, such as now, people seek to blame others for their problems or failures. Jews have always made a convenient scapegoat. Folks, this is not opinion. It is fact. If you doubt me, read up on the history of pre-WWII Germany, early 20th Century America or virtually any European country.
Finally, when politicians and others blame Israel, “bankers” and “Wall Street” for the world’s ills to whom do you think they are referring?