Anti-Semitism Has a Long History in America—and Trump Is Making it Worse | Opinion

Jews have always felt they had a special relationship with the United States. President George Washington wrote to the Jewish community of Newport, saying: “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; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The Jewish community did not get off to a great start in the colonies, as Peter Stuyvesant tried to stop the first group of Jews from settling in New Amsterdam. He failed and New Amsterdam (i.e., New York) became the largest Jewish community in the world.

While the Jewish community expanded with America, its growth was not without problems. During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered all Jewish merchants out of the area under his control, an order which President Abraham Lincoln overturned.

In the 1870s, the very wealthy American Jewry was shocked when one of its leaders, Joseph Seligman, was denied a reservation at a hotel. The manager added: “No Israelite shall be permitted in the future to stop at this hotel.” Wealthy Jews soon opened up their own hotels and resorts.

Between 1880 and 1920, two million Jews (as well as tens of millions of others) immigrated to the U.S. This massive immigration wave resulted in a rebirth of the Ku Klux and similar nativist groups. In 1915, a Klan linked group lynched Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner from New York then living in Atlanta. The governor had blocked his execution after he had been wrongly convicted of killing a white factory worker. As a result of the lynching half of Georgia 3,000 Jews left and many of those who remained try to hide their Judaism.

Efforts by the KKK, together with kindred organizations, were successful in getting Congress to pass restrictive laws responsible for closing the door to further Jewish and other immigration.

The 1920s and 30s were periods of growing anti-Semitism in the United States. Henry Ford used his newspaper, The Dearborn Express to print the virulently anti-Semitic The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Charles Coughlin, a Catholic Priest during the depression, had a weekly radio broadcast heard by 30 million people, in which he blamed the plight to Americans on “Jewish bankers.” When a Roper survey of Americans was taken in 1939, 51 percent of respondents had negative opinions of Jews. As a result, there was no public support to allow even child refugees fleeing the Nazis to enter into the United States.

GettyImages-1054772900 People stand in front of a memorial on October 28, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

During the period following World War II, in the shadow of the Holocaust and after the creation of the State of Israel, blatant anti-Semitism all but disappeared from the American public square. Only the quiet anti-Semitism that limited Jewish opportunities to live and work in certain areas remained.

In the 1950s and early 60s, Jewish synagogues in the South were attacked for their support of African-American rights. However, by the late 60s, there was friction between Jewish and African Americans around the emergence of Black Power, as some leaders in the movement expounded anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a New York Review of Books article in 1966, Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) wrote: "It was the exploitation by Jewish landlords and merchants which first created black resentment towards Jews not Judaism.”

After Israel won a decisive victory in the Six Day War, Israel went from being an embattled state to the oppressor of the Palestinians. With that shift, a new anti-Semitism seemed to develop among leftist critics of Israel, who demanded from Israel what no one demanded from any other nation.

As America emerged from the turbulent Sixties, Jews were fully integrated into the American elites, running for office and achieving unheard of political and economic success. That did not stop many attacks against Jews in the following decades, including a white supremacist opening fire as people left a synagogue in St. Louis in 1977, killing a congregant, and a neo-Nazi attacking the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center in 1999.

Yet, in 2000, a religious American Jew, Senator Joel Lieberman, was the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic Presidential ticket—and no one questioned whether it was possible for a Jew to become President of the United States. Some even wondered why there was still a need to have a Jewish organization whose mission was to fight anti-Semitism.  

The 21st century, however, has turned out to be a more challenging time for Jews throughout the world, as well as in the United States, with more attacks - including a white supremacist killing a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum and in 2014, another white supremacist opening fire at Jewish institutions in Overland Park (KS) and killing three.

It is, however, the underlying forces that are becoming darker. The extreme left has adopted classic anti-Semitic language and views. The second intifada in Israel and the American invasion of Iraq both contributed to the radicalization of the left. On the right,  the election of Barack Obama resulted in the creation of the Tea Party, who elected a series of candidates whose prime goal was to stop Obama’s policies. There are those who argue that the far right was further radicalized by their unwillingness to accept the idea that a Black man could be president; thus the multiple year efforts to prove that he was not born in the US and thus not a legitimate president. The fringes soon fell back into their traditional conspiracy theories (e.g., Jews control the banks, or that some other secret Jewish cabal works against them).

In his run for office, President Donald J. Trump fueled some of the darkest views of the far-right. While not an anti-Semite himself, Trump has played to his supporters’ greatest fears and awakened a century-old hatred of Jews among some. His closing ad in the 2016 campaign featured four identifiable villains: Hillary Clinton (his opponent), George Soros (a Jewish financier), Janet Yellen (a Jewish Federation Chair) and Lloyd Blankfein (Jewish CEO of Goldman-Sachs). Trump’s ad claimed the aforementioned were all tied to global interests that were hurting the American people.

As President, Trump has never once pulled back (in fact he has only intensified) his attacks on Soros and other global interests. Trump has relentlessly attacked the press, where many prominent reporters are Jewish, and gives no quarter to those he considers as enemies, i.e., the elites. 

Trump's personal attacks are not happening in a vacuum.  NBC News released a report just hours before the Pittsburg shooting detailing the rise in anti-semitic posts on Instagram and Twitter, with the largest number of posts relating to conspiracies surrounding George Soros. According to Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents rose 60 percent in 2017. 

It can thus come as no surprise that a crazed supporter of the president allegedly sent pipe bombs to his prominent opponents. 

Another individual became irrationally incensed at the alleged role Jews and HIAS are playing in bringing an imaginary invading army of immigrants to the U.S., falsely rumored to be paid for by George Soros. The murderer's solution was to gun down old defenseless Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The founding President of the United States proclaimed that in American a Jew should “live in safety under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” It is time the 45th President work to keep the promise made by the 1st, instead of suggesting Jews defend themselves in their own synagogues.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​

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