Anti-Semitism From Peter Stuyvesant to Pittsburgh


The Early Years

Jews did not have an easy start when they arrived in the New World. The first group of Jews arrived in New Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil, in 1654. The Dutch governor of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant, objected to their arrival. However, he was overruled by the management of the Dutch West India Company.

During the colonial period, a small number of Jews continued to arrive in the New World. It's estimated that they numbered approximately 2,000 by the time of the Revolution. By the start of the Revolution, there were five synagogues in the United States. Jews played an active role in the Revolution, with one individual being crucial in financing the war. When Washington became President, he wrote a remarkable letter to the Jewish community of Rhode Island, stating, “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Between 1820 and 1860, 100,000 Jews arrived in the United States. The Jewish population grew from an estimated 6,000 to over 150,000. These new arrivals created a significant communal infrastructure, founding over 200 new synagogues.

However, as Jews began to advance, they faced barriers. In 1861, Congress established the office of Chaplaincy for the Union army. The enabling legislation stated that to become a chaplain, one must be a regularly ordained minister of a Christian Church. The Board of Rabbis sent Rabbi Arnold Fischel of New York to meet with President Lincoln. Rabbi Fischel argued that the decree was unconstitutional, as it set religious qualifications for an office in the United States. Lincoln promised to intervene, and in July of 1862, Congress amended the law to read "some religious denomination."

The most severe case of official antisemitism occurred during the Civil War on December 12, 1862. Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union troops in Tennessee, issued General Order No. 11, accusing the Jews of Tennessee of smuggling activities and formally ordering their expulsion from his territory. The Board of Delegates and the broader Jewish community immediately protested this action, marking it as the most severe case of official antisemitism in U.S. history. President Lincoln promptly rescinded the order. He explained to Grant that he could expel any trader he deemed necessary, but he couldn't order the expulsion of a group based solely on religion.

In the post-Civil War era, American Jews prospered economically and felt well-integrated. However, this sentiment was shattered in 1877 when Joseph Seligman, a prominent Jew of his time, was denied a reservation at a hotel in Saratoga. The hotel's manager stated unabashedly that "No Israelite shall be permitted in the future to stop at this hotel." This incident marked the beginning of several establishments denying entry to Jews. For the German Jews of that era, this was a shocking revelation of American antisemitism. Many responded by creating their own facilities. For instance, when Nathan Straus, the head of Macy's, was denied entry to a resort in Lakewood, New Jersey, he bought land nearby and built a superior resort. This phenomenon became euphemistically known as "separate but superior."


Mass Immigration

In the years that followed, the American Jewish community experienced a significant expansion. Approximately two million Jews were among the 35 million immigrants who arrived between 1865 and 1915. This surge of newcomers led to a nativist reaction, with calls to curtail immigration. This period also witnessed the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had a brief existence during Reconstruction. The rejuvenated Klan targeted not only African Americans but also Jews and, to a lesser degree, Italians, given their prominence among immigrant groups of the era.

In 1915, a group with ties to the Klan lynched Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager. This occurred after the governor intervened to prevent his execution when he was wrongly convicted of the murder of a white factory worker. Following the lynching, nearly half of Georgia's Jewish population of 3,000 left the state.

Due to the efforts of the Klan and other similar groups, there was a concerted push to limit immigration to preserve the established character of America. This sentiment culminated in the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924, which drastically curbed immigration. The 1924 act effectively halted Jewish immigration to the U.S.

Although these immigration restrictions lessened some nativist fervor, the 1920s saw an uptick in other manifestations of antisemitism. American universities, which had begun to admit students based on standardized test scores and academic performance, noted a significant Jewish presence in their incoming classes. For instance, in 1920, Columbia University found that Jews constituted 40% of its admitted students. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton reported comparable figures. Consequently, these institutions introduced quotas on Jewish enrollees. These discriminatory measures persisted until the 1960s.

The 1920s witnessed the emergence of a new form of antisemitism, characterized by attacks on the notion of the "globalist Jew." Henry Ford, an influential figure of the time, became a vocal antisemite. Through his newspaper, The Dearborn Express, he serialized the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." During the Depression, Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest, delivered weekly radio broadcasts that reached an audience of 30 million. He attributed much of the public's suffering to "Jewish bankers." Consequently, a 1939 Roper survey revealed that 51% of respondents held unfavorable opinions of Jews. Additionally, there was a distinct lack of public support for permitting even child refugees, escaping the Nazis, to enter the United States. While Jews rallied against the ascent of Nazism, efforts to amend U.S. immigration laws were destined to falter. President Roosevelt even hesitated to allow the St. Louis, a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Germany, to dock in the U.S. due to potential public backlash.

The aftermath of World War II and the founding of the State of Israel led to a sharp decline in anti-Semitic sentiments. However, Jews still faced discrimination. Certain areas remained inaccessible to them. For example, in Greenwich, Connecticut, until the mid-1960s, Jews were restricted to living downtown, above commercial establishments, rather than in residential zones with the broader populace. Over time, these restrictive barriers began to crumble. In the South, where many Jews actively supported the civil rights movement, several synagogues and Jewish civil rights activists were targeted and attacked during the 1950s and 60s.

The Sixties and Beyond

During the 1960s, two distinct forms of antisemitism emerged: Black antisemitism and left-wing antisemitism. Historically, Jews and African Americans had been allies. However, the rise of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s led to tensions. During this era, many businesses in African American neighborhoods were Jewish-owned, which resulted in significant friction. Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) articulated this tension, stating, "It was the exploitation by Jewish landlords and merchants which first created black resentment towards Jews, not Judaism.”

The Six Day War marked another turning point. Following Israel's decisive victory, the nation's image shifted from that of an underdog to an oppressor. This transformation led many left-wing groups to become vocal critics of Israel, with their critiques sometimes verging on antisemitism. The left's post-war stance on Israel spurred the NeoConservative movement's formation, as numerous Jewish liberals sought a new political affiliation after feeling alienated from the left. The Six Day War also influenced Jewish-Black relations. While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had always been a staunch supporter of Israel, some more radical Black leaders began to sympathize with the Palestinians. After King's assassination, these alternative perspectives gained prominence.

However, it's worth noting that, for the majority of the American public, the Six Day War elicited a different response. Many Americans admired Israel's triumph, and this sentiment positively impacted perceptions of American Jewry. This widespread admiration played a role in further integrating Jews into American society.

As America emerged from the turbulent Sixties, Jews were fully integrated into the American elites, running for office and achieving unheard of political and economic success. On the personal level to the great chagrin of Jewish leaders who were worried about assimilation Jews became fully accepted in social circles. Non-Jewish parents had no problem with their children marrying Jewish spouses. That did not stop the attacks against Jews. In 1977, a white supremacist killed a congregant leaving a synagogue in St. Louis. In 1985, another white supremacist killed a Jewish family in Seattle In 1986; a white supremacist killed a Rabbinical student in the same neighborhood as this past Saturday’s killing. In 1991, African Americans killed a rabbinic student in Brooklyn and in 1994, a Muslim American fired on a van carrying Jewish students on the Brooklyn Bridge. (). In 1999, a neo-Nazi attacked the Los Angles Jewish Community Center, shooting five people, none of whom died but then killed a postal worker outside.

In 2000, a religious American Jew, Senator Joel Lieberman, was the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic Presidential ticket—and no one questioned whether it was possible for a Jew to become President of the United States. Some even wondered why there was still a need to have Jewish organizations whose mission was to fight anti-Semitism.


21st Century

The 21st century, however, has turned out to be a more challenging time for Jews throughout the world, as well as in the United States. In 2006, a Pakistani American attacked the Jewish Federation in Seattle shooting six women killing one

In 2009, a white supremacist fatally shot a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum. In 2014, another white supremacist attacked Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas, taking the lives of three individuals.

Yet, more alarming are the underlying shifts in societal currents. The extreme left has increasingly adopted age-old anti-Semitic rhetoric and beliefs. The second intifada in Israel and the U.S. invasion of Iraq played roles in the radicalization of the left. On the political right, the election of President Barack Obama led to the rise of the Tea Party, a movement that backed candidates primarily focused on opposing Obama's policies. Some contend that the far right's refusal to accept a Black president further intensified their extremist views, prompting them to question his U.S. citizenship and, consequently, his presidential legitimacy. Fringe elements within this group revived longstanding conspiracy theories, such as the notion of Jews dominating global banking or secretive Jewish plots against them.

During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump echoed some of the most extreme sentiments of the far right. While he isn't personally anti-Semitic, Trump's rhetoric resonated with his supporters' deepest fears, reviving longstanding prejudices against Jews. His closing ad for the 2016 campaign highlighted four notable figures: his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and three individuals of Jewish descent—George Soros, a financier; Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair; and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman-Sachs. The ad suggested that these individuals were part of global conspiracies that harmed Americans.

On October 27th, 2018, a fervent white nationalist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven congregants.

Today, while the far-left perceives Jews as part of the white elite, the left has adopted a position that the weaker side is alway correct. Thus, they support the Palestinians, because they are the weaker side and therefore, deserve to be supported. The left has developed the concept of “Intersectionality,” a concept that describes how various forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, and classism, intersect and overlap, affecting individuals in multiple and layered ways— and the Palestinians are part of that. The term “Intersectionality” emphasizes the idea that social justice movements should recognize and address all interconnected forms of oppression to be truly inclusive and effective.

At the same, the far right views Jews as outsiders and as outsiders the enemy. Theories have been advanced how the Jews are financing the replacement of white Americans. Billionaire George Soros has become the target of countless campaigns and accusations that have nothing to do with him. Rich Jews seems to be the target to both left and right.

Thankfully, in the U.S., these view are not mainstream either on the right or the left. However, they are significant enough to exert a disproportionate influence on public opinion.