Jew-Baiting in America
THE present Jewish outcry against anti-Semitism in America, though easily explicable, is, nevertheless, an outcry against something that exists in the minds of so few men, that to fight it as Jews have done and are doing is to insult the intelligence of sensible Christians and to lower the self-respect of all Jews. A foolish book charging Jews with a conspiracy to dominate the world in divers and contradictory ways, a series of articles in a single insignificant journal — these are the only reasons for an unparalleled outburst of resentment and denial by Jewish leaders. Similarly foolish charges against other groups, creeds, organizations, and principles are published every week, and meet with the complete neglect which they deserve. But Jews, in every publication, from every pulpit, in every society which they control, discuss the revival of anti-Semitism as if life were tumbling about their ears.
And yet the whole matter has no basis in experience; the most violent denouncers of anti-Semitic propaganda have no evidences of actual race-hatred to adduce. Jews go about their business in the same way as before these articles were printed, and their Christian neighbors are aware of anti-Semitism only by the violent Jewish attacks upon it. The outcry is nothing but a case of overwrought nerves on the part of a sensitive and excitable racial group, which has been subjected to persecution, dreaded persecution, and dreamed persecution until dreams have assumed the shape of reality. Centuries of humiliating, debasing terror of racial hatred have left their mark in a morbid sensitiveness.
And yet, in spite of the manifest absurdity of the whole discussion, one can find reason enough for the pathological state of the American Jewish mind. The American Jew has learned from the lips of immigrants and returned travelers the bitterness of Jewish life in Europe since 1914. He realizes that the Poles and Roumanians have regarded their Jewish countrymen as the conservative Southerner regards the rural negro; that crippled, starving little victims of pogroms hide like hunted animals in rubbish heaps in Ukrainian villages; that American emissaries who went to their relief were murdered. He hears of the cruelties of Poles and Cossacks, and, w ith the cries of helpless folk trapped in narrow ghettos ringing in his ears, looks upon his children, all unconscious of racial hatreds, and thinks, ‘So, but for the grace of God, might these have been.’ When, therefore, the old charges of a world-wide conspiracy once more appear, he feels his security in America getting shaky; he dwells upon the real or fancied slights that every sensitive person must experience; he magnifies the statements of a few men into the voice of a nation; and he is certain that the age-long fate of the Jew has at last sought him out in the land which he believed to be immune to the poison of racial prejudice.
Though anti-Semitism docs not exist in America, it is indubitable that in Europe it is having a flourishing and threatening revival. Where Jews are regarded as an inferior race, they are treated as an inferior race is treated everywhere: are looked on with suspicion, slandered, and, above all, feared.
At the root of European anti-Semitism undoubtedly lies the shuddering hatred that men always feel for that which they cannot kill. The amazing vitality of the Jew is sufficient reason for believing any tale that is whispered of him; his survival smells of the devil.
Yet, powerful as inherited connotations are, they are but a part of modern anti-Semitism. Jewish religious persecution died with the Inquisition. The modern anti-Semite dreads the Jew as a hostile economic force or as a bar to nationalistic individualism. Give the Jews freedom of action and equality of opportunity, he argues, and they will inevitably, by sheer persistence and intellectual ability, dominate their surroundings. Such domination, he is perhaps willing to admit, might lead to t heir assimilation, but he is hardly likely to look quietly upon such an experiment.
Though the jealousy of modern nationalism and the dread of economic rivalry are the most important part of anti-Semitism, there are undoubtedly many contributing causes. Ordinary men do not philosophize their hatreds. To them the matter is far more simple. Since the war dozens of new hatreds have arisen, and the Jewr has his share in all of them. There has been no group more hated than those who became rich during the war. That this group contains many Jews is inevitable, since merchants, stock-brokers, real-estate dealers, and bankers number many Jews among them in every country in the world. And since whatever the Jew docs he does vividly and with all his might, it is an easy matter to brand all Jews as profiteers; to see them in Germany, battening on the misery of a defeated people; in England, pushing into the places of those who impoverished themselves that the Empire might live; in America, running off with the spoils of a short-lived national extravagance.
But all Jews did not grow rich during the war. The revolutionary Radical has become as obvious as the profiteer, and seems infinitely more dangerous. And it is plain that there are enough conspicuous Radicals among Jews to give the popular impression that Jews and Bolsheviki have something in common. The popular mind is not interested in scientific statistics; it seizes upon Trotsky, Liebknecht, the New York Socialists, and a sprinkling of radical journalists. Add these to the Jewish Socialist vote in the great cities, and the popular idea of Jews as revolutionists is complete. It has at least this much truth: that many Jews are by nature rebels — individualistic, impatient of restraint, eager for social progress, lacking in a sense of expediency, and daringly Utopian in thought. This is enough to cause every frightened man to see, behind every movement that he hates, the face of a Jewish plotter.
The bitter injustice of anti-Semitism does not lie in its hatred of evil Jews — nobody cares to defend evil: it lies in the hatred of Jews because they are Jews. Anti-Semites are not interested in moral qualities. They will continue their agitation just as long as Jews remain — to the outsider — a separate group. They will continue wherever these separate groups grow in wealth, power, and self-assertion. It is not generally recognized that race-hatred exists only where there is fear of the subordinate race’s attaining power. When the negro is docile, subservient, mindful of his place, there is no negro problem. When the South European immigrant dumbly toiled in mine and mill, turning a deaf ear to organizer and agitator, there was no immigrant problem. If the European Jew would remain in a ghetto and uncomplainingly starve, he might receive contempt for his dirt and his lowliness, but there would be no Jewish problem. Trouble begins with the first sign of Jewish self-assertion.
When, therefore, one considers the origin of anti-Semitism, and its real nature in places where it is most at home, one realizes that the remedy is not simple. It does not lie in the moral improvement of the Jew. Alleged Jewish wickedness is not the issue. If all Jews were angels, anti-Semitism would still flourish. Jewish angels are not wanted in countries where one-hundred-per-cent uniformity is the ideal. Nor does the remedy lie in the pathetic protests of many Jews, that they are like their fellow citizens in everything but religion. They are, as everyone knows, different in heritage, tradition, manner, and blood. All the protests in the world are not sufficient to explain away the fact that, while many blood-Jews are non-religious, the Jewish religion exists — except in a few negligible cases — only among blood-Jews. Nor does the remedy for anti-Semitism lie in appeals to fair-mindedness, justice, and reason. The anti-Semite is beyond fair-mindedness, justice, and reason. He is obsessed by the necessity for the preservation of his national individuality, untainted by alien influence. The Jew may protest with all his might that he is not an alien: he may show that Jews died in bat - tle for their country; he may compile long lists of Jews who have done commendable public service, but he will not convince the anti-Semite. The premises upon which anti-Semitism rests are beyond the reach of evidence.
But the fact that anti-Semitism is a wicked thing, involving the abnegation of reason, justice, and fair play, does not justify American Jews in losing all sense of proportion. Anti-Semitism is not an American movement. Jews have, on the whole, always been treated in this country with good-will and kindliness. Blind racial persecution is contrary to the American spirit. Americans have traditionally befriended Jews as persecuted people, and have welcomed them with other groups who have fled from oppression. Moreover, it is not in the American nature to take much stock in theories of racial purity. The American theory of nationality is one of realistic union rather than of romantic unity. Besides, the Jew has been, to the great mass of people, neither obvious nor threatening. Yankee shrewdness and business tact have had nothing to fear from the Jew’s famous business ability. Finally, — and this is perhaps cardinal,— until the Russian Jewish immigration of recent years, American Jews were rapidly assimilating in manners, blood, and practically in religion. Even to-day, though the Jew has become obvious, though he sits in the seats of power, though he dominates certain fields, and in the great cities has formed foreign-speaking groups with social and economic ideas that reflect Europe rather than America, the charges of the few American anti-Semites have fallen flat.
All this, however, is not to say that Jews have no problems of social adjustment to face, or that both individually and in groups they have not met with social discrimination. There has always been much harsh criticism of Jews and bitterness over some of their failings. Many Americans resent with special bitterness the intrusion of Jews into circles where they are not wanted. But it cannot be said too often that social discrimination is not anti-Semitism. It is rather a form of social protection. It is directed against Jews only as Jews happen to be the one strongly marked group that challenges it. The chamber of commerce of a Connecticut town is banding together all property-owners in an agreement not to sell or rent any real estate in that town to Jews. In a North Carolina winter resort, every lease and every deed transferring property contain a covenant designed to prevent Jews from settling in the community. Were any other group, with the marks of their ancestry strongly upon them, to begin in large numbers the settlement of desirable suburbs and resorts, the same discrimination would be applied to them.
The majority of the Jews of the great cities of the East are marked men, instantly noted as different in manner, bearing, and social customs. These differences are distasteful, even shocking, to many Americans of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. The old inhabitant sees his accustomed environment threatened by an annoying invasion. His habits will be changed, his way of life altered, and sooner or later he will be driven away by these vigorous upstarts. Is not his attitude of self-protection comprehensible? The average man distrusts a foreigner; and to him foreigner means, not one of different political allegiance, but one of different appearance, manner, habits. And Jews in groups, at least, are likely to be distinctive.
Indeed, it is safe to say that the question of Jewish social adjustment in the United States is not a matter of morals, but of manners. The day when all Jews were regarded as swindlers, thieves, and firebugs has passed. Shylock and Fagin are anachronisms. It is rather the abnormal self-conceit and obtrusiveness of some successful Jews that arouse antagonism. Men will forgive an infraction of the law, because a law-breaker is adequately punished, if he is proved guilty, by the sentence that the law provides. But there is no legal punishment for the vulgarity of new riches, no solitary confinement for shameless aggressiveness, no adequate fine for flaunting and tasteless luxury. Too many Jews have no sense of proportion in the ostentatious display of their wealth or their talents. As a result, non-Jews often feel an irritation against Jews, which, because it can have no legitimate outlet, expresses itself in an unreasoned dislike of all Jews, whatever their manners. It is well for Jews to remember that the effect of one man’s wrongdoing upon the reputation of a race is in direct proportion to the distinctiveness of the race in the country in which it lives.
And of all non-Saxon groups Jews are the most obvious, because of their temperament, their appearance, their ability, and, above all, their fatal gift of complete absorption in the game of life. They have never acquired the habit of nonchalance. Every Jew has in him the making of a thoroughgoing fanatic. It is his greatness and his doom. It has placed him in the front rank of greatness and it has made him a marked man, the prey of a complex of repressions and of fears. He cannot hide himself if he would; and wherever he is, he must live with the eyes of the world upon him.
Jews are not accustomed to take stock of their own shortcomings. Persecution has saved them the trouble. To be alive at all after twenty centuries is in itself a triumph, which can excuse a few faults. Moreover, Judaism as a religion has been but little given to spiritual introspection. The consciousness of a guilty soul, the dread of eternal punishment, the longing to be one with God, the search for salvation, all the yearning mysticism which, to the Christian, is the very life and essence of religion, means comparatively little to the religious Jew. The Jewish religion is a stately monotheism, with a dignified and noble system of ethics and a theology and code of laws which lie at the basis of modern civilization. But this religion is an intellectual possession — it is not a haven for perturbed spirits, a beacon for the troubled wayfarer, a life-giving draught for parched souls. Jews, when attacked, do not rally to the defense of their religion: they rally to the defense of their good name as a social group. It is but rarely that Jews talk of religion: they take it for granted. But they talk vehemently of their rights as an oppressed people, or of social justice, or of their contributions to civilization. The triumph of prophetic Judaism over the Judaism of the Psalmist explains the shortcomings of Jews in the very points that are made most of by their critics. The greatest Orthodox rabbis are interpreters of the law; the greatest Reform rabbis are prophets of social righteousness. There are few to preach that teaching which Jews most need — personal consecration to righteousness, humility in success, a gentleman’s regard for the sensitiveness of others, a willingness to yield one’s legal rights before the quality of mercy. And yet it is this very preaching that thoughtful Jews the country over are craving, hardly conscious of what they crave. The time is ripe for the coming of a personality who will interpret in his life and his teaching the spirit that is dimly conscious in the hearts of many Jews.
These shortcomings of the Jews explain the concrete criticisms that Americans constantly make, not as conscious anti-Semites, but in all friendliness and good-will. They see that Jews form large settlements in our great cities. Are the cities better for their presence? They see that Jews virtually control certain businesses — for example, the clothing trade, the theatre, and the department store. They ask themselves if these businesses are the better because of Jewish control. Has Jewish domination of the theatre improved theatrical art and morals? Has Jewish domination of the clothing trade shown an example of the progress that can be made toward industrial peace? And these questions are asked, not by foolish theorists, who shrink at the spectacle of Jewish worlddomination, not by anti-Semites, who are impervious to ideas of justice and fair play, but by thoughtful and fairminded Americans, whose memories are long enough to recall a day when Jews were refugees from persecution, craving sanctuary in a land of freedom.
And it is these questions which Jews proud of their heritage and jealous of their good name would gladly avoid answering; for the truth is painful and disillusioning. There is but one answer. Theatres and clothing trade alike are controlled by two passions: a passion for wealth and a passion for power. Thoughtful Jews have no defense for the condition in which the theatre finds itself to-day: the drama gone, driven out by salacious and gaudy spectacle; the moving picture keeping just within the law, seemingly ignorant of any artistic responsibility, and as carefully devised for the extraction of dollars as a window-display of women’s finery. It is the bald commercialism of the whole business that is so discouraging — its utter lack of moral and artistic altruism, its cultivation of a background of triviality and immorality. That the American public has allowed itself to be artistically debauched is no excuse for the men who have served up the poisonous fare. They have betrayed their heritage and their race; they have been worse than a wilderness of anti-Semites. For they have created a condition in which their success has furnished a fuel for racial attack that no amount of regulation anti-Semitic propaganda could have furnished; they have made the great refusal. A chance that no theatrical producers in the world have ever had was theirs, and they have, with deliberate cynicism, thrown it away. Their argument that they were merely giving the public what it wanted is worthless, for they have created their public. Nor is their other defense any better. What they have done, it is maintained, they have done, not as Jews, but as other Americans. Yet they remain Jews to themselves and to the world. And they are not as other Americans. They are marked men, heirs of the noble ideals of a race which gave Western civilization religion and morals. And they have betrayed their race for twenty pieces of silver.
In a lesser degree, the same is true of the clothing trade. Sweating of labor, cutthroat competition, an utter inability to coöperate and compromise, chicanery, pettiness, reaction — all these have characterized this industry. And although, fortunately, some of the great clothing manufacturers have shown a wisely progressive spirit in their relations with their employees, and have set a standard that others would do well to follow, yet it is certainly true that in one of the greatest sections of the clothing-trade, obstinacy, an exaggerated individualism, and stubborn reaction characterize the employers; fanaticism and doctrinaire social theories characterize the employees. The sobering fact for the Jewish apologist is that, in too many cases, when Jews control an industry, they do not improve it: they merely make it more lucrative.
All this is, of course, only to say that Jews, being highly imitative and adaptable, have thoroughly mastered one kind of American business method, the method of driving and selfish efficiency. What the Steel Corporation has done on a large scale, the clothing manufacturers have done on a small scale. Jews have learned well the lesson of American industrial exploitation. But the defense, true as it is, will bear little weight with the public; for the Jews have the misfortune to control enterprises that are constantly before the public. Christian control of steel mills and copper mines may be even worse than Jewish control of clothing shops and motionpicture theatres, but the steel mills and the mines are beyond the view of the great American public, while everyone comes in daily contact with the theatre and the clothing shop. Jews in their business life have a fatal obviousness — all the world reads their names on the signs of Fifth Avenue and Broadway; who visits the steel mills of Bethlehem, or the mines of Anaconda?
Moreover, the fact is that, rightly or wrongly, more is demanded of a marked group than mere conformity to the minimum of national virtue. Just so long as Jews maintain even a semblance of racial individuality, the nation will demand of them a higher standard of social and personal morality than it demands of its non-conspicuous members. This is the fundamental fact of Jewish life — a fact which may be just or unjust, but which persists with the inexorable logic of existence. What is forgiven to others will not be forgiven to Jews. All the protest in the world will not argue away reality. And it is well that life should be so. For the Jew has power beyond that of common men, intensity of purpose, keenness of intellect, strength of analysis, imagination, and artistic skill. All Jewish history shows that these qualities are ever ready to merge into the commonplace, that adversity is the only begetter of strength. Ironically enough, when the Jew merges with those about him, his strength disappears. His chief enemy is prosperity.
But after all, though there is much for which Jews in America must be apologetic, there is also much of which Jews may be proud. It is a heartening fact that the great majority of Americans do more than tolerate their Jewish fellow citizens: they accept them with few reserves and with friendliness and confidence. The reason is that ordinary Jewish folk have the same likable qualities that ordinary folk have everywhere. This is a fact that professional Jewish apologists will, seemingly, never learn. When they defend their race, they always point out the exceptions — the great lawyers, the great artists, the great journalists, the great philanthropists, and the great scientists. Will they never realize that the contribution which a few exceptional men make to a nation is not the contribution which, in the end, is most valuable? Indeed, the method of apology by the citation of exceptions is positively dangerous, for every great man can be balanced by a scoundrel. Neither the philanthropist nor the gunman is truly representative of American Jews: the real type is the humble workaday man who goes quietly about his business, a good citizen, a good father, peaceful, productive, generous, and kindly, grateful to the country that gives him a free chance to earn an honest living, to educate his children, and to walk in the ways in which his fathers walked.
If all the Jews who are so obvious in our great cities were to disappear in a moment, there would still remain the great mass of quiet, God-fearing men and women who, possessed of no great genius, are afflicted with no great vices. Few non-Jews know the hard-working Jewish masses; few Jews who speak in their name pay much attention to them. The Jewish spokesman has so long shone in his own light and in the brilliance of a few great names, that he forgets that the Jewish contribution to American life is going to be made by the common run of men and women, of whose existence most people are unaware because they attract no attention.
Few people know their quiet, affectionate home-life, their courtesy and hospitality, their eagerness to do well by the country in which they live, their interest in the education of their children and in the welfare of those of their race who are unfortunate. It is becoming the fashion nowadays to say that the proverbial sanctity of the Jewish home is being broken down by the distracting influence of a new environment; but every careful observer will testify that the exceptions, glaring as they are, are vastly outnumbered by the homes that retain a beautiful and touching solidarity. Heine’s ‘ Princess Sabbath’ is, even now, not altogether a curiosity.
The Jew who emigrates to America expects to work hard and to do his best for his new country. The charge so often made against Jews of lack of patriotism is nonsense; on the contrary, they are starved for an opportunity to be patriotic. They want a country which they can love and serve. But they want to serve it dynamically; they want to add something to it. No people are more docile, more grateful for opportunity, than they. Every teacher in Americanization classes has a genuine respect and affection for his Jewish immigrant pupils. Their friendliness, their perseverance, their gratitude to the public interest that supplies the funds for their teaching, far outweigh their faults. Unfortunately, however, they live only in Jewish sections, see only the Jewish point of view, and have their opinions formed for them by Jewish leaders whose interests are best served by keeping them a group apart. They are exploited by Jews who are Americans only in that they have absorbed the most obvious and the cheapest aspects of Americanism; and becoming resentful at their exploitation, they charge it to the American spirit.
New York is the curse of American Jewish life. Its meretricious glitter, its premium upon material success, however acquired, its boastfulness, its suspicious and sophisticated isolation, degrade and cheapen the good qualities of immigrants into a flashy imitation of Americanism, or else drive men into a disillusioned radicalism, which must needs create Utopia to escape despair.
The solution of the problem of Jewish social adjustment lies, not in illadvised denunciation of an imaginary anti-Semitism, not in a glorification of Jewish virtues, not in plaintive appeals for justice. It lies rather in a new conception by Jews of Americanism. Jews have tried to be good Americans; but their conception of Americanism has, in too many cases, been merely the acquirement of wealth and the attainment of power. Having these, they have wondered why more should be demanded of them; not realizing that Americans measure all new groups by ideal standards, and not necessarily by standards to which the mass of older Americans have attained. Jews have come to America to merge their lives and the lives of their children into the nation. They cannot be satisfied with a mere mechanical and unconscious contribution; they must know what they are doing and whither they are going. Conscious and deliberate choice of road may be impossible for a large group, but it is possible for such a relatively small group as the American Jews. What is needed is an end of constant defense and apology, and a fixing of the mind upon a genuinely creative group spirit. Nobody objects to Jewish cohesion and unity, if such cohesion has as its aim better living, wiser thinking, and nobler acting, than can be secured by individual action; but people do object to Jewish cohesion if it means merely the perpetuation of all Jewish characteristics, good and bad alike.
There is enough good in American Jews to make their name one of dignity and honor, but the good can overcome flamboyant and obvious evil only by steadfast and perhaps heartbreaking effort. For centuries the Jew has managed to survive persecution; can he with equal success compass the infinitely harder task of surviving ease and free opportunity?