Antisemitism: America’s Past and Present Sin


Street art that says Fight Antisemitism | Photo Credit: “fight antisemitism” by aestheticsofcrisis is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Prejudice is a poison to any just and decent society. Whether it is hatred of African Americans, Asian Americans, or any other group of people, prejudice is rightfully seen with disgust. Despite this, antisemitism remains one of the ficklest and most ignored forms of racial and ethnic hatred in the United States. After the recent attack on the Beth Israel synagogue in Texas, it is high time that this dismissive attitude towards anti-Jewish hatred comes to an end. History and human dignity demand it.

Anti-Semitism is one the oldest forms of prejudice in the world. Throughout history, Jewish people have been the subject of attacks on their character, being blamed for events such as the Black Death. America is no exception to this dark, cruel history. President Richard Nixon was infamous for his repeated rants about Jewish people in the media and consistently lamented their entrance into news and reporting. He also dabbled in the conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the economy. Before him, figures such as Father Charles Coughlin, whose presence in 1930s radio boasted an audience of over 10 million listeners, raged about the dangers of Jewish influence on the media and went so far as to ignore the overwhelming destruction of Jewish lives and property on Kristallnacht, one of the most horrid memories of Nazi violence against Jewish people. He would continue his anti-Semitic broadcasts until 1942, four years after his infamous defense of Nazi violence.

Far from being solely an expression of personal hatred, antisemitism has also had a presence in American policymaking. As early as the Civil War, anti-Jewish policies have appeared to the detriment of our fellow citizens. In 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11, which expelled American Jews from the Treasury Department. Though then-President Lincoln would revoke the order, the tone for antisemitic policymaking was set. During the rise of the Nazis and the subsequent escape of Jewish refugees, Franklin Delano Roosevelt rejected thousands of Jews fleeing from the genocidal Nazi regime, only for many of them to fall into the hands of that murderous regime. Isolationist organizations such as the America First Committee wielded anti-Jewish hatred to oppose the U.S.’ entry into World War II, with figures like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh promoting the idea that Jewish journalists were attempting to drag the country into war. While Ford was not directly associated with the American First movement, his paper, which reached 700,000 Americans, certainly helped promote their propaganda and was readily used by them. Ford was such an antisemite that he received the German Eagle from the Nazi government in 1938.

Marjorie Taylor Green by Gage Skidmore via Wiki Commons

Fast-forward into the present, and antisemitism remains a resistant and long-lasting fixture of American life. American Jews have been the number one target of religious-based hate crimes every year since 1991. In 2018 alone, the FBI reported that anti-Semitic attacks were 60 percent of the 7,120 incidents of hate. Since then, the use of the Great Replacement Theory, which argues that Jews are manipulating immigration policy to replace white people, has gained prominent attention among right-wing figures and has seen renewed interest in the public, with Representatives Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene contributing to the theory’s spread. The rise of QAnon and other conspiracies also contributes to a thinly-veiled idea of a secret cabal controlling everything. Louis Farrakhan, the deeply prejudiced leader of the Nation of Islam, has also been criticized for previous comments about “satanic Jews” and a litany of other anti-Jewish comments. Despite this, Farrakhan remains on Twitter.

Joe Biden by Michael Stokes via Wiki Commons

The Biden administration and government officials across the United States must come forward to end this torrent of violence and hatred. Instead, efforts to address antisemitism have remained nothing more than a passing headline in the eyes of the public, with few policy changes made to deal with the reality of this unending desolation. Further adding to the misery is the Senate’s failure to confirm famed Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt to the State Department’s office for combatting antisemitism. Republicans, guided by a petty feud with Lipstadt over Twitter, have refused to confirm her because she criticized him for making comments about Black Lives Matter protesters being more dangerous than the January Sixth insurrectionists. Instead, they have held up her nomination in the hope of extracting a public apology from Lipstadt. As America’s Jewish population is faced with rising conspiracism, violence and hatred, our government remains obstinate and apathetic to their right to live with dignity.