GUILTY (AND PROUD) AS CHARGED
An Editorial from the Autumn 2017 issue of Jewish Currents
ON THE DAY after Christmas, 1919, baseball slugger Babe Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. The deal was sealed for $100,000 by a theater impresario, Harry Frazee, who had owned the Red Sox for only three years.
A year and a half later, auto mogul Henry Ford published in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, a cover article, “How Jews Degraded Baseball,” denouncing Frazee and various Jewish sports bigwigs. The game had been “diseased,” said the paper, by “the Jewish characteristic that spoils everything by ruthless commercial exploitation. . . . Baseball was about as much of a sport to Frazee as selling tickets to a merry-go-round would be. ”
No matter that Harry Frazee hailed from a long line of Presbyterians!
Ford was deeply committed to denouncing the “International Jew,” whom he defined in a four-volume set of his Dearborn Independent columns in as “the world’s foremost problem.” If his century-old rhetoric resembles that of the white supremacists who have stormed Portland, OR, Charlottesville, VA, and various other American cities since Donald Trump’s inauguration, that is no coincidence: There is a direct line of transmission between Ford (and the truly fake news document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that inspired him) and today’s white supremacist movement. In their shared view, Jews are a polluting influence, a powerful toxin that is weakening America by distracting it from pursuing its rightful destiny. How? The “Jewish plan,” according to Ford, was “to split society with ideas.”
Certain mistaken ideas of liberalism, certain flabby ideas of tolerance, all of them originating at European sources which the Protocolists had completely polluted, were transported to America … under cover of the blindness and innocence of a false liberalism and tolerance …
Industrial problems for their mental food and light amusement for their leisure hours, these are the Protocols’ method with regard to the Gentile mind, and under cover of these the work is to be done . . . best expressed by the motto, ‘Divide and Rule.’” —Henry Ford, Volume 1, Chapter 13, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem
Listen now to Andrew Joyce, editor of Radix, a website founded by Richard Spencer, the rising star of the white supremacist movement today. The forces in America that today oppose white nationalism, Joyce writes (January 16, 2017),
act as a giant knife, cutting into the heart of the nation. The coterie of Leftists, anarchists, degenerates, homosexuals, self-interested elites, and others of our race make up the bulk of the blade. But with what preponderance are Jews found at the razor’s edge! It is almost always Jewish radicals that are found with the most cutting, most offensive, and most devastating theories and activism; theories and activism that appear designed only to divide, to separate, to tear apart. It is because of what occurs at the “razor’s edge” that “anti-Semitism” finds both its cold logic and shattering power.
Then there’s Kevin MacDonald, a retired academic whose antisemitic writings are widely published at white supremacist websites, analyzing the scope of progressive Jewish influence as follows (in a 2004 book):
Jewish populations have always had enormous effects on the societies in which they reside because . . . four background traits of ethnocentrism, intelligence, psychological intensity, and aggressiveness result in Jews being able to produce formidable, effective groups — groups able to have powerful, transformative effects on the peoples they live among . . . It is remarkable that Jews, usually as a tiny minority, have been central to a long list of historical events.
And history’s most monstrous antisemite, Adolf Hitler, saw Jewish authorship behind “any idea,” according to the estimable scholar of World War II, Timothy Snyder (in the Atlantic, September 9, 2015) “which allows us to see each other as human beings, whether it’s a social contract; whether it’s a legal contract; whether it’s working-class solidarity; whether it’s Christianity — all these ideas come from Jews,” in Hitler’s view, and subvert the natural order by which white people dominate others. “And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews.”
THESE VARIATIONS on the “International Jew” theme hold us responsible for being cultivators of schemes that promote interracial, interreligious, international solidarity. Our tools range from democratizing social movements to civilizing ethics to anti-racist science and philosophy to avant-garde art.
To which we proudly plead: guilty as charged! From our participation in the invention of monotheism to our participation in the invention of socialism, Jews have been extraordinary cultivators of ideas and social movements that stress the fundamental unity of humankind and the fundamental imperative to oppose “Pharaoh” and work together for liberation. Instructed by our religious texts to conduct ourselves as “a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5) while living internationally for nearly two thousand years and frequently suffering at the hands of the traditional hierarchies, Jews have been consistently drawn to visions of a transformed world.
We were guilty of disrupting feudalism by helping to invent capitalism; we were guilty of disrupting capitalism by helping to invent socialism; we were guilty of disrupting linguistic purity by inventing hybrid tongues; we were guilty of disrupting Big Businesses by supporting Big Government; we were guilty of disrupting polite society by helping to develop psychological insight; we were guilty of disrupting traditional morality by supporting birth control, reproductive rights, and free speech; we were guilty of disrupting racism and sexism by helping to support the civil rights and feminist movements . . .
It’s only a committed sector of the tiny Jewish minority that has led these disruptions, of course — and we are rife, like any people, with individuals who are conservative, self-interested, greedy, fundamentalist, prejudiced, ignorant, and so on. As Morris U. Schappes, the long-time editor of this magazine, used to say, “Among the Jews there have always been the prophets and those who threw stones at the prophets.” (“But who today,” he liked to add, “doesn’t remember at least some of the names of those prophets? And who remembers the names of those who stoned the prophets?”)
Nevertheless, white nationalists have it basically right when they complain about deep Jewish involvement with movements and ideas that they despise. And with a renewed anti-racist spirit sweeping America — Barack Obama’s two-term presidency, the Black Lives Matter movement, the rising public consciousness about the mass incarceration of people of color, the broadening discussion of diversity, the widening movement to tear down monuments to racism, both South and North — white nationalist hatreds are sure to be stoked. As Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a participant in the counter-demonstrations that were attacked in Charlottesville, observed afterwards in the Forward: “White supremacy is not only racist — it is deeply anti-Semitic and homophobic. In Charlottesville, we heard no chants mentioning people of color, but homophobia and anti-Semitism were loudly vocalized. This is a struggle that the Jewish community cannot avoid. Not only are we targeted as Jews, many of us are LGBTQ and, increasingly, we are people of color as well.”
IT NEEDS TO BE acknowledged here that the “long list of historical events” that Kevin MacDonald ruefully traces to Jewish influence have not all resulted in positive transformation — not even for Jews. The Russian Revolution, for example, which both Ford and Hitler considered to be a Jewish grab for power one century ago, is a clear example of an internationalist undertaking that did not yield liberation for the populations that endured it. Indeed, the disproportionate presence of Jews in the communist movement united antisemites in killing squads during the Holocaust, and continues to be used as the excuse for antisemitism among European fascists and nationalists today.
How should Jews reckon, then, with the latest model of internationalism, which the white nationalist movement is very specifically targetting: corporate internationalism, known as globalism, which has been advanced with enormous speed by free trade, military coercion, austerity within many nations, and the penetration of Western culture throughout the world?
Under corporate internationalism, goods and services flow freely through the ports and cities of the planet — but a whole lot of people, and a whole countries, have fallen victim to the constantly changing efficiencies of the global market, while the social safety net, worldwide, springs gaping holes.
Corporate internationalism has produced a wealth gap so appalling that it seems to be “fake news,” yet is widely acknowledged as true even by the world’s elites: that the eight richest human beings on the planet, according to Oxfam, today control as much wealth as 3.5 billion of us. (Just last year, it took sixty-two billionaires to match the lower half of the human race in wealth — but then poverty in China and India was reevaluated as worse than previously measured.)
Corporate internationalism demands a United Nations’ annual budget that is only $5 billion while the United States’ annual military budget is upwards of $550 billion. Guess whether it’s peacemaking or warmaking that determines events in our globalized world today!
Such “internationalism” is hardly an “idea which allows us to see each other as human beings,” as Timothy Snyder puts it, but rather as potential customers — or drone targets.
Yet populist resentment of globalism has been deeply marred, worldwide, by racism, sexism, and the threat of violence — and, as mobilized by Donald Trump, it has frighteningly fascistic overtones. So what should we “International Jews” in America do? Should we seek shelter from the elite institutions of globalization, the way Jews of centuries ago sought protection from peasant uprisings in the courts of kings?
It would be truer to our heritage for Jews to join forces with those who are seeking to democratize globalization and its technologies, to preserve the planet from the relentless use of fossil fuels, to keep war at bay, to empower women, to give shelter to refugees, and to share the wealth far, far more equitably than it is now being shared around the Earth. This progressive globalization movement has, as yet, no name and barely a unified identity — and Jews, with only a few exceptions, are not yet highly visible within its ranks.
Perhaps, indeed, the “International Jew” is a fading breed, as Jews consolidate more and more in two lands, Israel and the U.S., and as the “normalization” of Jewish identity that the Zionist movement once proclaimed as its nation-building goal is more and more defining of the Jewish reality. We hope otherwise. The Jewish Exile may have run its course — and it ended in a massive slaughter that made the State of Israel’s raison d’etre very clear — but “our teacher is the Exile,” wrote the great Yiddish humanist writer Y.L. Peretz. The internationalist consciousness bred by that long “exile” deserves to be preserved in our identities — preserved so that we can again enrage the antisemites by, in Kevin MacDonald’s words, “being able to produce formidable, effective groups — groups able to have powerful, transformative effects on the peoples [we] live among.”