What his­tory re­veals about surges in anti-semitism and anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL -

The shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion in Pitts­burgh is be­lieved to be the dead­li­est at­tack on Jews in Amer­i­can his­tory. Eleven peo­ple were killed when the gun­man burst in on the con­gre­ga­tion’s morn­ing wor­ship ser­vice car­ry­ing an as­sault ri­fle and three hand­guns.

The sus­pect, Robert Bow­ers, is re­ported to be a fre­quent user of Gab, a so­cial networking site that has be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among white na­tion­al­ists and other alt-right groups. He is al­leged to have reg­u­larly re­posted anti-semitic slurs, ex­pressed vir­u­lent anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments, called im­mi­grants “in­vaders,” and claimed that Jews are “the en­emy of white peo­ple.”

The mag­ni­tude of the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue mas­sacre may be un­prece­dented, but it is only the lat­est in the series of hate crimes against Jews. In Fe­bru­ary 2017, more than 100 grave­stones were van­dal­ized at a ceme­tery out­side of St. Louis, Mis­souri, and at an­other Jewish ceme­tery in Philadel­phia. In­deed, hate crimes have been on an in­crease against mi­nor­ity re­li­gions, peo­ple of color and im­mi­grants. In the 10 days fol­low­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, nearly 900 hate-mo­ti­vated in­ci­dents were re­ported, many on col­lege cam­puses. Many of these in­ci­dents tar­geted Mus­lims, peo­ple of color and im­mi­grants, along with Jews.

This out­pour­ing of anti-im­mi­grant and anti-semitic sen­ti­ment is rem­i­nis­cent in many ways of the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate dur­ing the years be­tween the first and sec­ond world wars in the U.S. or the in­ter­war pe­riod.

Amer­ica as the ‘melt­ing pot’

In its early years, the United States main­tained an “open door pol­icy” that drew mil­lions of im­mi­grants from all re­li­gions to en­ter the coun­try, in­clud­ing Jews. Be­tween 1820 and 1880, over 9 mil­lion im­mi­grants en­tered Amer­ica.

As a Jewish stud­ies scholar, I am all too aware that by the early 1880s, Amer­i­can na­tivists – peo­ple who be­lieved that the “ge­netic stock” of North­ern Europe was su­pe­rior to that of South­ern and East­ern Europe – be­gan push­ing for the ex­clu­sion of “for­eign­ers,” whom they “viewed with deep sus­pi­cion.”

In fact, as scholar Bar­bara Bailin writes, most of the im­mi­grants, who were from South­ern, Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, “were con­sid­ered so dif­fer­ent in com­po­si­tion, re­li­gion, and cul­ture from ear­lier im­mi­grants as to trig­ger a xeno­pho­bic re­ac­tion that served to gen­er­ate more re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion laws.”

In Au­gust 1882, Congress re­sponded to in­creas­ing con­cerns about Amer­ica’s “open door” pol­icy and passed the Im­mi­gra­tion Act of 1882, which in­cluded a pro­vi­sion deny­ing en­try to “any con­vict, lu­natic, id­iot or any per­son un­able to take care of him­self with­out be­com­ing a pub­lic charge.”

How­ever, en­force­ment was not strict, in part be­cause im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers work­ing at the points of en­try were ex­pected to im­ple­ment these re­stric­tions as they saw fit.

In fact, it was dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury that the Amer­i­can “melt­ing pot” was born: Nearly 22 mil­lion im­mi­grants from all over the world en­tered the U.S. be­tween 1881 and 1914.

They in­cluded ap­prox­i­mately 1,500,000 mil­lion Euro­pean Jews hop­ing to es­cape the long­stand­ing legally en­forced an­tisemitism of many parts of the Euro­pean con­ti­nent, which lim­ited where Jews could live, what kinds of uni­ver­si­ties they could at­tend and what kinds of pro­fes­sions they could hold.

Fear of Jews and im­mi­grants

Na­tivists con­tin­ued to rail against the de­mo­graphic shifts and in par­tic­u­lar took is­sue with the high num­bers of Jews and South­ern Ital­ians en­ter­ing the coun­try.

These fears were even­tu­ally re­flected in the makeup of Congress, since the elec­torate voted in­creas­ing num­bers of na­tivist con­gress­peo­ple into of­fice who vowed to change im­mi­gra­tion laws with their con­stituent’s anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments in mind.

Na­tivist and iso­la­tion­ist sen­ti­ment in Amer­ica only in­creased, as Europe fell head­long into World War I, “the war to end all wars.” On Feb. 4, 1917, Congress passed the Im­mi­gra­tion Act of 1917, which re­v­ersed Amer­ica’s open door pol­icy and de­nied en­try to the ma­jor­ity of im­mi­grants seek­ing en­try. As a re­sult, be­tween 1918 and 1921, only 20,019 Jews were ad­mit­ted into the U.S.

The 1924 Im­mi­gra­tion Act tight­ened the bor­ders fur­ther. It trans­ferred the de­ci­sion to ad­mit or deny im­mi­grants from the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers at the port of en­try to the For­eign Ser­vices Of­fice, which is­sued visas af­ter the com­ple­tion of a lengthy ap­pli­ca­tion with sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion.

The quo­tas es­tab­lished by the act also set strict lim­its on the num­ber of new im­mi­grants al­lowed af­ter 1924. The num­ber of Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­peans al­lowed to en­ter the U.S. was dra­mat­i­cally re­duced.

The 1924 quo­tas pro­vided visas to a mere 2 per­cent of each na­tion­al­ity al­ready in the U.S by 1890. They ex­cluded im­mi­grants from Asia com­pletely, ex­cept for im­mi­grants from Ja­pan and the Philip­pines. The stated fun­da­men­tal pur­pose of this im­mi­gra­tion act was to pre­serve the ideal of U.S. “ho­mo­gene­ity.”

Congress did not re­vise the act un­til 1952.

Why does this his­tory mat­ter?

The po­lit­i­cal cli­mate of the in­ter­war pe­riod has many sim­i­lar­i­ties with the an­ti­im­mi­grant and anti-semitic en­vi­ron­ment to­day.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s plat­form is com­prised in large part of strongly anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric. A Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trust sur­vey shows that as many as 66 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers who sup­ported Trump con­sider im­mi­gra­tion a “very big prob­lem,” while only 17 per­cent of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sup­port­ers said the same.

More­over, 59 per­cent of Trump sup­port­ers ac­tively as­so­ciate “unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants with se­ri­ous crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.”

Pres­i­dent Trump’s claims about the dan­gers posed by im­mi­grants are not be sup­ported by facts; but they do in­di­cate in­creased iso­la­tion­ism, na­tivism and rightwing na­tion­al­ism within the U.S. All over again, we see anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment and anti-semitism, go­ing hand in hand. In­grid Anderson does not work for, con­sult, own shares in or re­ceive fund­ing from any com­pany or or­gan­i­sa­tion that would ben­e­fit from this ar­ti­cle, and has dis­closed no rel­e­vant af­fil­i­a­tions be­yond their aca­demic ap­point­ment.

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