Can an­ti­semitism flour­ish in Amer­ica?

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - •• By AMOTZ ASA--EL

‘The good news is that Je­sus is back,” said once Bob Hope, “and the bad news is that he is mad as hell.”

And who would not be mad to learn that, while he was away, his mem­ory was used to li­bel his own na­tion as God’s mur­der­ers, and to un­leash on them law­mak­ers, literati, armies and mobs?

Je­sus would surely be mad to learn that anti-Jewish ca­nards trav­eled be­tween his era’s three con­ti­nents as freely as Satan jour­neyed to the Land of Oz.

In Asia Bishop Melito of Sardis shouted in 137 CE “the king of Is­rael has been slain by an Is­raelite hand” in a ser­mon known as “Peri Pascha,” or “On Passover”; in Africa, Bishop Au­gus­tine of Hippo Regius wrote that the Jews must be kept land­less and wan­der­ing in or­der to vin­di­cate his own faith; and in Europe Martin Luther wrote that the Jews were “a base, whor­ing peo­ple” des­tined to be their Chris­tian neigh­bors’ “mis­er­able cap­tives.”

Now, hav­ing buried the vic­tims of the first-ever mas­sacre of Jews in the US, one must won­der: has the fourth con­ti­nent swal­lowed the an­tisemitic germ?

BACK IN 1649, there was rea­son to sus­pect an­ti­semitism had smoothly crossed the At­lantic, when the Mex­i­can In­qui­si­tion burned at the stake a se­cretly Jewish mer­chant named Tomás Tre­viño de So­bre­montes for hav­ing re­fused to aban­don his faith. There were oth­ers.

Still, sub­se­quent events made it plain that what mat­tered in the New World – in terms of an­ti­semitism – was North Amer­ica, and what evolved out there was a haven of a sort the Wan­der­ing Jew had never vis­ited, or in­deed imag­ined.

Yes, even in the US, things were not al­ways fully smooth.

In 1862 Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, out to fight the black mar­ket in south­ern cot­ton, or­dered Jewish mer­chants ex­pelled from Ten­nessee, Mis­sis­sippi and Ken­tucky; in 1915 Jewish en­gi­neer Leo Frank was lynched in Ge­or­gia, af­ter hav­ing been con­victed – prob­a­bly wrongly – of mur­der­ing a 13-year-old girl; in 1908, the New York Po­lice Depart­ment was ac­cused of in­flat­ing in a re­port the num­ber of Jews in jail; in the 1920s Henry Ford pub­lished The Pro­to­cols of the El­ders of Zion and The In­ter­na­tional Jew; and through­out the in­ter­war years elite uni­ver­si­ties im­posed quo­tas on Jewish stu­dents’ ad­mis­sions, while high-end ho­tels, coun­try clubs and golf cour­ses al­to­gether barred them.

Even so, Amer­i­can churches never heard the kind of anti-Jewish vit­ri­ols that Europe’s churches heard for a lot more than a thou­sand years; Amer­i­can fa­cades did not dis­play stat­ues por­tray­ing Ju­daism as a blind­folded woman with a bro­ken staff, as the Stras­bourg Cathe­dral’s does to this day; Amer­i­can build­ings did not dis­play Jews suck­ling pigs, as ones in Wit­ten­berg, Heils­bronn and Wimpfen still do.

And when an­ti­semitism sec­u­lar­ized, its new prophets – from an­ti­cler­i­cal cru­sader Voltaire (16941778, “the Jewish na­tion” is “the most con­temptible in the world”), philoso­pher Jo­hann Got­tlieb Fichte (1762-1814, the “dread­ful” Jewish na­tion in­hab­ited “a state within a state” and “in­fil­trated al­most ev­ery coun­try in Europe”) and his­to­rian Hein­rich von Tre­itschke (18341896, the Jews are “an alien el­e­ment which has usurped too much space in our life”), to politi­cian Edouard Dru­mont (1844-1917, “the Jews” waged war on France), ro­man­ti­cist Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885, au­thor of The Jews: Kings of the Epoch, 1845, which claimed that the Jews gov­ern France) and mu­si­cian Richard Wag­ner (1813-1883, “only go­ing un­der” can re­deem the Jews of their curse) – were never Amer­i­can.

AMER­ICA’S BENEV­O­LENCE to the Jews was not about ex­pe­di­ency. It was gen­uine, fu­eled by a re­li­gious ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Jews’ bib­li­cal ori­gins, and by re­vul­sion with the Old World’s prej­u­dices, which an­ti­semitism epit­o­mized.

When Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton wrote to the Jews of Newport “May the chil­dren of the stock of Abra­ham who dwell in this land con­tinue to merit and en­joy the good will of the other in­hab­i­tants,” and when he wished that all “shall sit in safety un­der his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wasn’t think­ing of pri­maries, midterms or pop­u­lar­ity polls. He meant ev­ery word.

That spirit, which both pre­ceded and sur­vived Wash­ing­ton, is why Amer­ica pro­duced so much Jewish mo­bil­ity, ex­cel­lence and vis­i­bil­ity, from Emma Lazarus, Louis Bran­deis, Saul Bel­low, Bob Dy­lan, Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan to Allen Gins­berg, Steven Spiel­berg, Mil­ton Fried­man, Jonas Salk, Sandy Ko­ufax, Mark Spitz, and the list of sci­en­tists, philoso­phers, his­to­ri­ans, states­men, en­trepreneurs, nov­el­ists, po­ets, ac­tors, play­wrights, pro­duc­ers and ath­letes goes on and on.

Faced with so much hap­pily em­braced Jewish merit, one must ac­cept his­to­rian Ben Halpern’s th­e­sis in his es­say “Amer­ica is Dif­fer­ent” (Mid­stream, 1955) that an­ti­semitism never se­ri­ously gath­ered in Amer­ica, be­cause its Jews were cit­i­zens from the in­cep­tion of the Amer­i­can na­tion, and be­cause Amer­i­can so­ci­ety was re­li­giously plu­ral­is­tic and so­cially class­less from the on­set.

That is all true – with one caveat: It’s true for the mid­dle class, for the elites, and even for the work­ing class, pro­vided all are gain­fully em­ployed and so­cially se­cure, and the Jews’ suc­cess causes ad­mi­ra­tion rather than envy.

Con­versely, when peo­ple feel eco­nom­i­cally in­se­cure and so­cially dis­en­fran­chised, while the Jews are per­ceived as part of the rul­ing class and mon­eyed elite – Jews be­come wrath’s po­ten­tial tar­gets.

This is what hap­pened in in­ter­war Cen­tral Europe, when thou­sands of Jews were suc­cess­ful lawyers, doc­tors, busi­ness­men and literati, while mil­lions hun­gered for bread be­cause of the De­pres­sion, and this is what hap­pened be­fore the 1648-49 massacres in Ukraine, where Jewish en­trepreneurs work­ing for Pol­ish landown­ers be­came iden­ti­fied by Ukraini­ans with the hated alien no­bil­ity.

This kind of dy­namic is now at play in Amer­ica. Will it pro­duce pogroms of the sort Phillip Roth imag­ined in The Plot Against Amer­ica? It won’t. Amer­ica is dif­fer­ent. But the size of its emo­tion­ally alien­ated and eco­nom­i­cally dis­pos­sessed class, and the in­ten­sity of its fears, anger and de­spair, are grow­ing from year to year.

Oth­er­wise, there would be no Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.


(Go Nakamura/Reuters)

SUP­PORT­ERS OF THE Na­tional So­cial­ist Move­ment give Nazi salutes while tak­ing part in a swastika-burn­ing in Ge­or­gia in April.

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