The October 27, 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, PA, was an egregious reminder that since the early 17th century, anti-Semitism has been a systematic feature of – yet an abhorrent aberration in – the US. At the same time, the US society has demonstrated 400 years of respect for Judaism, Judeo-Christian values and the Jewish State.
For instance, Peter Stuyvesant, the first Dutch Governor of New York/New Netherland (1647-1664), failed in his attempt to block the immigration of Jews to the colony, but prohibited them from constructing a synagogue and serving in the local militia. Moreover, he confiscated Jewish property and levied a special tax solely on Jews, claiming that they were “deceitful and enemies of Jesus Christ.”
The state of the Jewish community improved in the aftermath of the 1664 British conquest of New York and the introduction of a series of civil covenants in the various colonies (e.g., the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties). It was further improved as a result of the 1789 ratification of the US Constitution, which enhanced civil liberties – in a drastic departure from the state of mind of the European Churches and monarchies – also inspired by the Five Books of Moses, and especially by the concept of the Jubilee (Leviticus, 25:10).
Still, European-imported anti-Semitism established itself in the US, although as a significantly lower profile in the newly-created society and governance. The latter have expanded liberty over and beyond the European standards, while severely restricting the playing field of potential anti-Semitism.
For example, in December 1862, General Ulysses Grant issued the infamous General Order No. 11, ordering the expulsion of all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, stating: “The Jews, as a class, violate every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department….” However, in January 1863, President Lincoln – known for his deep respect of Judaism – ordered Grant to revoke the Order. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Civil War, General Grant contended that he signed the Order without studying it….
In the early 1920s, Henry Ford – the only American mentioned favorably in Hitler’s Mein Kampf and praised by Heinrich Himmler – wrote: “If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball, they have it in three words – too much Jew.” However, in January, 1921, 119 distinguished Americans, such as President Woodrow Wilson, former President William Taft and the poet Robert Frost, signed a petition, denouncing Ford’s anti-Semitism, including his dissemination of the 1903 anti-Semitic Russian-fabricated “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In 1927, Ford apologized for his anti-Semitic conduct.
During the 1920s and the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin leveraged his weekly anti-Semitic radio program to praise Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. However, upon the 1939 outbreak of the Second World War, he lost most of his listeners and followers.
An accurate depiction of most Americans’ stance on anti-Semitism was exposed, in December 1993, by the reaction of most of the 80,000 residents of Billings, Montana to a paving stone hurled – by a white supremacist – through a window of a Jewish home displaying a Chanukah candelabra and a Star of David. The hate-crime was followed by the Billings Gazette’s full-page color image of a Chanukah candelabra, along with the recommendation to display it on home windows in solidarity with the Jewish community. In addition, some residents took to the street, holding Chanukah candelabras, demonstrating a city-wide determination to stand up against the bullying tactics of white supremacists. Furthermore, solidarity with the Jewish community has become, almost, an annual event attended by top Billings and Montana officials.
The most authentic representation of the American state of mind is the 435 members of the House of Representatives – along with the 100 Senators – who are elected directly by US constituents, in order to represent them faithfully, or else (“we shall remember in November”)…. Therefore, most legislators – just like their constituents – have been systematic and determined allies of Judeo-Christian values, the Jewish people and the Jewish State.
While the destructive and lethal potential of anti-Semitism must not be underestimated, countries should not be judged by the eruption of such an abomination, but by the way they prosecute it. The 400-year-old Judeo-Christian foundations – and the track record – of the US assure that anti-Semitism shall be constrained, prosecuted and punished most decisively.