Let’s talk about code words. Not the Ultra code which was broken by the British during WWII and gave them German secrets. The type of words used in everyday public discussion which mean nothing out of the ordinary to the uninformed but which are of extreme relevance to those who know their history. “America First” was mentioned over and over during the campaign but with little notice or attention. Most Americans hearing it have no clue to its significance. Basically, it’s the same as any other political slogan from the past year. The fact that Jews heard this phrase and it didn’t register is to our community’s shame, a shame so deep and so raw it betrays the memory of those we have lost.
America First was the slogan of the White Supremacists in this country during the 1930s. The White Supremacism of old has a new name, the Alt-Right or Alternative Right. Code words like America First is what ties the old to the new. America First was the calling card for American Fascists and the German American Bund. It was the veil of legitimacy for those who used American nationalism as a front to convince the ignorant and the masses to hate and fear Jews. America First propaganda was broadcast by Father Coughlin in his weekly radio diatribes against the Jews, who he claimed were communists and guilty of persecuting Christians. Not quite a full political party, the phase represented both American desires for Isolationism in the face of Nazi aggression and White Supremacist approval of events such as Kristallnacht and the Nuremberg Laws. America First has the blood of Holocaust victims dripping from its syllables.
Due to the efforts of anti-Semitic propaganda from people such as Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and Father Coughlin America First became the official policy of the American government in the late 1930’s and during the Holocaust. When Kristallnacht happened on Nov. 9th 1938 the American government refused to allow Jews to escape Germany. Later, it turned back the steamship St. Louis which was full of Jewish refugees. Those Jews ended up in concentration camps. The American government suppressed stories of the Holocaust in the news to keep its people ignorant of genocide because it was fearful that people would demand something must be done. It’s reason? Supporters of America First in the government were scared that might mean admitting more Jews. The American government refused to lift a finger until it was almost too late. We refused to bomb the railroads going to Auschwitz and we refused make any efforts to save Jews till Henry Morgenthau forced Roosevelt to create the War Refugee board. The ideology of America First is the cause of all of these tragedies yet many Jews, ignorance of our history, have no problem with it anymore. On April 27th in Washington D.C. Trump first said “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” That a candidate for President could repeat America First over and over without condemnation but with Jewish cheers, that is the precise moment the Holocaust became dead to us. It is when American Jewry committed the unthinkable crime of forgetting to “Never Forget.”
So what does America First mean today? Again, to most it is a nothing more than a political slogan. But why those phrases and why use that exact language. To the Alt-Right “America First” is a rallying cry. It is a message that the intimidation and de-legitimization of Jews and other minority groups will again become the official policy of the United States. That Jews should not feel safe unless they do exactly as they are told and put their heads down. Jews will become suspect of disloyalty by the fact that they are Jews and cannot be trusted. Breitbart news called Conservative political analyst Bill Kristol the “Renegade Jew” when he stopped supporting Trump. He symbolized the disloyal Jew in Alt-Right eyes. Many Jewish republican journalists were trolled and threatened during this election for the crime of express their free opinion in opposition to the White Supremacist platform. And then another code word emerged towards the end of the campaign when Trump and his surrogates started using the phrase “International Bankers.” This is another code word as dangerous and as anti-Semitic as America First.
International Bankers is code phrase for Jewish Bankers going back to at least the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and perhaps much longer. For those who may not know about the Protocols, it is a book written by the Russian Czarist secret police to explain how Jews control the international banking system to the detriment of Christians worldwide. It was part of the Nazi Party’s platform during Hitler’s rise to power. It was a front page headline in Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic Dearborn Independent newspaper. It is another phrase drenched in Jewish blood. Yet, Trump said in a speech on Oct. 13th in Miami Beach “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.” To the Jewish masses this attack went by with hardly a whisper even though some major publications did begin to take notice. To the Alt-Right the phase was greeted with cheers. Finally, someone important and powerful is going to get the Jews out of our nation’s finances! Finally someone was going to purge Jews from our nation’s economy.
So where does this leave us. We have a Jewish community unforgivably ignorant of its own past. And we have an old enemy reappearing in strength and enthusiasm. Are we doomed? No, but the time for complacency and community divide is long past. I believe the influence of White Supremacist ideology is still within a small group of highly motivated actors. Our job as a Jewish community must be to fight and prevent the Alt-Right stereotype of American Jews from becoming mainstream. The danger to us now is allowing Jews to become suspect in the United States as disloyal or working in opposition to American interests. We are not a fifth column. We are both Republicans and Democrats but most importantly we are all Jews. Please put aside our political differences and fight together as one Jewish people with a shared history and a shared enemy.