North America has long been cherished as a haven by those of many nations who have groaned under oppression in their native lands. Jewish people are high on the list of those who have benefited by the religious freedom and economic opportunity that have characterized North American society, particularly in the United States. They, in turn, have poured their energy and gifts into helping to shape the society and culture of North American life. It is a sad fact that the United States has had its fair share of antisemitic organizations and personalities. In the decade leading up to World War II, there were over 100 antisemitic organizations in America, including the German American Bund and others with such exotic names as the Silver Shirts, the White Knights of the Camellia, and the so-called Christian Front. The two figures described here, however, were especially well-known and, therefore particularly destructive.
The Shameful Side of Henry Ford’s Legacy
Henry Ford (1863-1947) was not only the man that revolutionized the automobile industry through mass production and the “$5 workday” for his factory workers. He was also a virulent antisemite. Shortly after World War I, he acquired the weekly newspaper The Dearborn Independent, in which he published regular antisemitic rants. Ford was deeply opposed to World War I, and he accused “German-Jewish bankers” of instigating the war for profit. Ford also perpetuated the fabricated antisemitic falsehood called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which outlined a Jewish plan for world domination. As noted Jewish historian Jonathan D. Sarna writes, “For ninety-one straight issues beginning on May 22, 1920, Ford’s weekly newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, purported to describe an international Jewish conspiracy based on the notorious antisemitic forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” One series of Ford’s articles entitled, “The International Jew” was collected and translated into several languages and widely circulated in South America and Europe. Adolf Hitler admired Ford greatly and praised him in Mein Kampf. Hitler also kept a picture of Ford on the wall of his office in Munich, and, on the occasion of Ford’s 75th birthday, he awarded Ford the highest honor Germany could bestow on a foreigner— the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Although Ford eventually apologized for his statements, his hateful depictions of “The International Jew” provided fuel for other Jew-haters that emerged during the years leading up to World War II and greatly hindered efforts to render aid to persecuted European Jewry.
Father Coughlin – The Poisonous Priest
The Great Depression was a time of struggle and increasing isolation. Antisemitism in America was on the rise in the 1930s amid the unfriendly influences of a prevailing antiimmigration sentiment, an increasing anxiety about the rise of Communism and the accompanying suspicion of Jews in general for their supposed Communist leanings. In that decade, another voice would travel over the radio waves with its message of unreasoning antisemitism. Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979), a Catholic priest based in Detroit who was among the first to see the vast possibilities of mass media, created a weekly radio program that reached an audience as large as twelve million. A staunch foe of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Coughlin took a page from Henry Ford and first railed against international financiers (code for Jews) and later openly denounced highly placed Jews in Roosevelt’s administration. Only ten days after Kristallnacht, the calamity of destruction levelled against the German Jews, their synagogues and businesses on November 9-10, 1938, Coughlin’s radio broadcast openly blamed the Jews. The outbreak of World War II finally shut off Father Coughlin’s stream of antisemitic poison. Widely seen by then as a firm Nazi sympathizer, it was behind-the-scenes pressure exerted by the Roosevelt Administration that finally forced him off the air.
Sources consulted: American Judaism: A History by Jonathan D. Sarna Antisemitism in America by Leonard Dinnerstein
Antisemitism Is Still with Us!
On April 11, 1944, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “ Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is God who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.” 1 The term “antisemitism” was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr, a German political activist who founded the League of Anti-Semites to counter the influence of Jewish people in German society. His hatred of Jews was founded primarily on racial, rather than religious, grounds. Today, antisemitism describes anyone who hates the Jewish people and seeks their harm on the basis of their Jewish identity. It has taken the form of religious persecution of the Jewish people (the Inquisitions, pogroms, etc.), as well as non-religious and more racially based oppression. It has resulted in the confinement of Jewish people in ghettos, and the imposition of limitations regarding education, jobs, the owning of personal property, and much more. Ultimately, this racial and government-based antisemitism resulted in the Holocaust. Antisemitism in America Today Antisemitism, unfortunately, also has a long history in the United States. In some instances, hatred of the Jewish people was a cultural value exported to the U.S. from Europe. Jewish people who immigrated to America were not immune from the well-developed European antisemitism that had begun to embed itself in American society, which took the form of discriminatory quotas for immigration, the workplace, and in academic institutions. In 1938, a Gallup poll determined that 50% of those responding to a broad survey admitted to having negative views of Jews.
In spite of this, America has, by and large, been friendly towards the Jewish people. Jews have flourished in America as nowhere else in what many Jewish people coined, “The Golden Land.” However, recent years have seen a slight, albeit alarming, rise in antisemitism. Political campaign slogans, such as “With Jews We Lose,” recently became the mantra for one candidate of the extremist and racist White Guard Party, which “seeks to show White people the facts regarding the Jewish role in America’s decline as well as highlight the destructive effects that multiculturalism, diversity, and political correctness have had on this country.” 2 According to surveys completed in 2013-14 by the Anti-Defamation League and reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 9-12% of Americans have expressed antisemitic views. There is also an alarming amount of anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist activity on American campuses. In a recent video on YouTube, an experiment showed students responding better to a man flying the ISIS flag than to another individual holding an Israeli flag.3 In some cases, antisemitism taints the rhetoric of those who oppose the modern state of Israel generally or with regard to a particular policy. This conflation of a specific disagreement with Israel with the racist generalizations of antisemitism has become all too common in secular society. It has even reared its ugly head within Christian circles, as Israelis and Jews have been characterized in a harsh and unfavorable light as a people. Abraham Foxman, national U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League claims that “bigotry is still with us, we haven’t won that battle. We have not found an antidote, a vaccine. Until we find that vaccine, it’s going to be with us.”
The Gospel and Antisemitism
What a great opportunity we have as followers of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus! By joining our Jewish friends and family in withstanding any encroachment of antisemitism in our society, we demonstrate through our actions that we love the Jewish people. Our efforts to stand with the Jewish people against antisemitism, whenever and wherever it rises, gives concrete expression to our belief that it was God’s choice to create a people for His glory and purposes. This can only lead to a deeper and more profound witness to the Jewish people. We encourage followers of Jesus the Messiah to speak out against antisemitism in all its forms. To quote Abraham Foxman once more, “The gas chambers in Auschwitz did not begin with bricks; they began with words, with ugly words. Because there was no one who stood up and said, ‘Don’t say that!’ I will not be silent….”4 As believers in Jesus, we must denounce antisemitism not only as racism, but also as sin and a great evil. Let’s not be silent—for the sake of the Jewish people and our Jewish Messiah.
3 https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=kCBINSWCiAE
4 http://www.jta.org/2014/02/18/ news-opinion/united-states/antisemitism-in-america-today-downbut-not-out
Article first published in Chosen People Newsletter “Antisemitism, A Threat to the Gospel”, February 2015 Volume XXI, Issue 1