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May 2: McCarthyism and the Jews

May 2, 2011

Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) died on this date in 1957. In 1950, McCarthy gained overnight fame by accusing the U.S. State Department, on national television, of harboring large numbers of communists as employees. He then became a leading anti-communist crusader until his death. While McCarthy carefully avoided any anti-Semitic innuendo linking Jews and communism (and hired two Jews, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, as visible staffers), mainstream Jewish organizations, most notably the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, responded to “McCarthyism” with a panicky effort to create a firewall between their own liberal stances and communist views in such areas as civil rights, immigration, and the social safety net. In fact, a 1948 survey by the American Jewish Committee found that 21 percent of Americans did believe that “most Jews are Communists,” and that more than half associated Jews with atomic spying. Moreover, according to Aviva Weingarten’s 2008 study, of 124 people questioned by McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in 1952, 79 were Jews. McCarthy’s investigations led to the destruction of the 50,000-member leftwing Jewish People’s Fraternal Order. When the Senator began calling for court-martial of Dr. Irving Peress, a leftwing army dentist, and held hearings to claim that the army was “soft on communism,” he was censured by the Senate and tumbled from power.

“McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” —Joseph McCarthy