by Tom Rose
The United States is experiencing the most explosive and dangerous eruption of antisemitism in its 250-year history. Indeed, it is absolutely unprecedented in American life. Never before have thousands of people gathered to support the mass murder of Jews with open calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
Worst of all, perhaps, this is the first and only form of any organized hatred in the U.S. that has been exterminationist in intent. Not even the most abhorrent Confederate supporters of slavery assembled to call for the extermination of all black people.
Certainly, there have been elements of anti-Jewish bigotry in America since colonial times, but they would barely register compared to today. A cursory look at history reveals as much.
Until the middle of the 19th century, mainstream Protestants were more anti-Catholic than anti-Jewish. Since there were so few Jews in America back then, it’s not surprising that this was the case.
The most infamous official act of American antisemitism in the 19th century was General Ulysses S. Grant’s Order No. 11, issued during the Civil War, to expel Jews from the border states. President Abraham Lincoln immediately revoked it and chastised Grant. The order never went into effect. No Jew was ever expelled. Grant later called it the most regrettable act of his life. He went on to become one of the most pro-Jewish presidents in American history.
In 1881, Russia’s Tsar issued the “May Decrees,” which were designed to expel Russia’s Jews by making life there impossible for them. It triggered a wave of emigration that saw 2.5 million mostly penniless Jews arrive in America by 1914.
The still small and well-established native-born American Jews feared such huge numbers would spark a dangerous antisemitic backlash. For the most part, it didn’t. The worst recorded act of violent antisemitism was the widely publicized 1919 Georgia lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew falsely accused of murder. There were no acts of mass violence against Jews.
Henry Ford is well known to this day as one of the most powerful antisemites in American history. What is less known is that Ford ultimately repudiated his loathsome views and closed down the Dearborn Independent newspaper he used to espouse them. Ford denounced Hitler early on for his persecution of Jews and was later a leading donor to Jewish organizations.
Not even Father Charles Coughlin, whose popular radio broadcasts blamed the Jews for every ill under the sun, came close to being an exterminationist antisemite. When the Catholic Church finally censured him for his bigotry, he quickly fell into oblivion.
The most frequent expressions of what we insulated Americans used to consider “antisemitism” were the fancy hotels that banned Jews, the “numerus clausus” that limited the number of Jews at top universities and the country clubs that denied membership to Jews.
Today, this seems quaint compared to the outpouring of support for Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage of antisemitic mass murder and crimes against humanity.
What makes this celebration of the slaughter of Jews still more terrifying is that it’s led by some of the best-credentialed elites in our society and has attracted many young people.