Recently, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump came under fire for Tweeting a cheap shot at his rival, Hillary Clinton, that had originated on white supremacist internet forums and had the anti-Semitic imagery of a Star of David juxtaposed with a pile of money.
However, this monstrosity is nothing new.
Prejudice against Jews is probably as old as Judaism itself, and inevitably, it spread to North America. During the middle 17th century, Peter Stuyvesant, the last Director-General of the New Netherland colony of New Amsterdam, issued propaganda that declared Jews to be “deceitful,” “very repugnant,” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ” in the interest of maintaining the hegemony of the Dutch Reformed Church. However, he was overruled both socially and institutionally, as religious tolerance was a common practice in Dutch culture even back then, both in the Netherlands and in North America.
Though there were only about a dozen Jews living in North America during the 1600s, they were prohibited from practicing law, medicine, art, and other professions. Toward the end of the following century, shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, several states required religious tests for holding public office, and Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and South Carolina still maintained official churches. Although Delaware, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia would lift bans on Jews casting ballots in elections shortly after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights, this practice would still be in place in Rhode Island until 1842, North Carolina until 1868 and New Hampshire until 1877.
In the United States, anti-Semitism has generally coincided with increased immigration and economic insecurity. In 1840, there were 17 million people living in the United States, and the 15,000 Jews in the U.S. at that time made up less than a tenth of a percent of the population. However, at this time, there was an increase in immigration from Europe, and by 1848, the Jewish demographic in the U.S. had more than tripled from its size at the start of the decade. As a result, with the country still in the shadow of the Panic of 1837, physical attacks on Jewish U.S. citizens increased, and anti-Semitic stereotypes in the media and in the popular culture at that time became de rigeur. During this time, conspiracy theories about Jewish bankers were widespread.
On December 17, 1862, Union Major General Ulysses Simpson Grant, later to serve as the 18th President of the United States, responded to rumors that Jews in his military district, comprising areas of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi had set up a black-market cotton trade to profit from the Civil War by issuing his General Order No. 11:
“1. The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
“2. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
“3. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.”
However, much outrage ensued among the Jewish community in Grant’s military district. Abraham Lincoln deemed General Order No. 11 unconstitutional and ordered it revoked on January 3, 1863. However, the gesture became problematic for Grant during his election campaign on the Republican ticket in 1868, as he suffered accusations of anti-Semitism. Fortunately, he apologized for the order, asserting that he signed the document without reading it under the duress of war, and won the election, including the majority of the Jewish vote.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitic sentiment lingered, particularly in the South, coming to a head in 1913, when Leo Frank, a Jew who served as the superintendent of the National Pencil Company’s factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was characterized as a sexual deviant who preyed on his female employees and wrongly sentenced to death for the killing of Mary Phagan, despite flimsy evidence, the judge doubting the verdict and glowing testimony from Frank’s employees. Governor John Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment, but much local public outrage ensued, and on the morning of August 17, 1915, a mob broke into the prison where Leo Frank was being held, drove him to the countryside, and hanged him from a tree. Afterward, photographs were taken of the hanging and sold as postcards.
The chain of events involving Leo Frank were pivotal in that they catalyzed the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist terrorist organization, and the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization with a special focus on protecting the Jewish people. However, anti-Semitism continued in the U.S., particularly, in the form of Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton using a legacy system to give preference to family members of alumni in the interest of keeping Jews from being admitted. Jews were also scapegoated for having ties to anarchist and Marxist political groups. For example, Emma Goldman, a Russian Jewish anarcho-communist opposed the order made by President Woodrow Wilson for all males aged 21–30 to register for the military draft. As a result, she was jailed in 1917 and deported two years later during the First Red Scare.
During the 1930s and 1940s, demagogues blamed the Jews for the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and U.S. involvement in World War II. To this day, conspiracy theories declaring that Jews control the banking and media industries and were responsible for the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, continue to circulate, being spread by anti-government “patriot groups.” Anti-Semitism also lingers in mainstream American politics, despite the Republican party continuing to fawn over the most nefarious political elements in Israel. Since 1964, the Ku Klux Klan has furnished the Republican Party with votes, appealing to Dixiecrats who felt betrayed by President John F. Kennedy getting on board with civil rights.
In 1999, tapes were discovered containing audio of Richard Nixon hurling anti-Semitic tirades during his Presidency. That same year Reverend Jerry Falwell, the televangelist who helped Ronald Reagan win the 1980 Presidential Election by smearing Jimmy Carter, calling his religious conviction into question, once declared:
“When [the Antichrist] appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course he’ll be Jewish.”
From the George W. Bush administration, Republican candidates have been primarily funded by the Koch Brothers, wealthy businessmen, who in addition to owning a multi-tiered energy and finance concern, bankrolled the publication of Holocaust denial propaganda throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Republican politicians such as House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Senator Ron Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, have all been associated with anti-Semitic organizations. Donald Trump has also been endorsed by a number of anti-Semitic organizations and individuals, including but not limited to former Klansman David Duke, who publicly asked Donald Trump to pick him as his running mate; The Daily Stormer, a prominent neo-Nazi news site; the League of the South, a white supremacist group based in Alabama and Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance, a white nationalist magazine.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) May 12, 2016
#TrumpDuke2016 It'd be Trump's best LIFE INSURANCE.The Zio NeoCon Mossad boys would not dare touch him if I was heartbeat from Presidency.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) May 12, 2016
There has been much anti-Semitism surrounding Donald Trump’s campaign. In addition to the infamous Tweet he made about Hillary Clinton, his supporters volleyed a great deal of prejudicial flak at former Hawai’i Governor Laura Lingle after she spoke at the Republican National Convention.
After Julia Ioffe, a Russian Jewish journalist wrote an unflattering article for GQ about The Donald’s wife, Melania Trump in the spring of 2016, she was bombarded with anti-Semitic Tweets and death threats. Worse yet, Melania Trump asserted that Ioffe had brought the prejudicial abuse upon herself. Of course, none of this is surprising, given this quote from Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump — His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall, a tell-all written by former Trump Plaza executive John O’Donnell in which Donald Trump invokes the age-old stereotype of the financially shrewd Jew:
“I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Considering that and the Republican Party directly appealing to racist voters for over half a century, it is inevitable that Donald Trump’s Presidential candidacy would infect mainstream American politics with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
All images public domain.