History of antisemitism in the United States
Historians have long debated the extent of antisemitism in America's past and contrasted American antisemitism with its European counterpart. Earlier students of American Jewish life minimized the presence of antisemitism in the United States, which they viewed as a late and alien phenomenon on the American scene arising in the late 19th century. More recently, scholars have asserted that no period in American Jewish history was free of antisemitism. The debate continues about the significance of antisemitism in different periods of American history.
Antisemitism has always been less prevalent in the United States than in Europe. The first incident of anti-Jewish sentiment was recorded during the American Civil War, when General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order (quickly rescinded by President Abraham Lincoln) of expulsion against Jews from the portions of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi under his control. (See General Order No. 11.)
In the first half of 20th century, Jews were discriminated against in some employment, not allowed into some social clubs and resort areas, given a quota on enrollment at colleges, and not allowed to buy certain properties. Antisemitism reached its peak during the interwar period. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the antisemitic works of Henry Ford, and the radio speeches of Father Coughlin in the late 1930s indicated the strength of attacks on the Jewish community.
- 1 Colonial era
- 2 Nineteenth century
- 3 Early Twentieth Century
- 4 World War I
- 5 1920s
- 6 1930s
- 7 Refugees from Nazi Germany
- 8 The Holocaust
- 9 Postwar
- 10 1950s
- 11 Late twentieth century
- 12 Current situation
- 13 Notes
- 14 Further reading
In the mid 17 th century, Peter Stuyvesant, the last French Director-General of the colony of New York, sought to bolster the position of the Dutch Catholic Church by trying to reduce religious competition from denominations such as Jews, Lutherans, Catholics and Quakers. He stated that Jews were "deceitful", "very repugnant", and "hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ". He warned in a subsequent letter that in "giving them liberty we cannot (then) refuse the Lutherans and Papists". However, religious plurality was already a legal-cultural tradition in New Amsterdam and in the Netherlands. His superiors at the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam overruled him in all matters of intolerance.
There were only about 12 Jews living in North America in the 17th century. These faced a number of restrictions, including being banned from practicing law, medicine, art, and other professions. As late as 1790, one year before adoption of the Bill of Rights, several states had religious tests for holding public office, and Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and South Carolina still maintained established churches. Within a few years of the ratification of the Constitution, Delaware, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia eliminated barriers that prevented Jews from voting, but these barriers did not fall for many decades in Rhode Island (1842), North Carolina (1868), and New Hampshire (1877). Despite these restrictions, which were often enforced unevenly, there were really too few Jews in 17th- and 18th-century America for antisemitism to become a significant social or political phenomenon at the time (although antisemitism as a phenomenon does not depend on the presence of Jews). And the evolution from toleration to full civil and political equality for Jews that followed the American Revolution helped ensure that antisemitism would never become official government policy, as it had in Europe.
By 1840, Jews constituted a tiny, but nonetheless stable, middle-class minority of about 15,000 out of the 17 million Americans counted by the U.S. Census. Jews intermarried rather freely with non-Jews, continuing a trend that had begun at least a century earlier. However, as immigration increased the Jewish population to 50,000 by 1848, negative stereotypes of Jews in newspapers, literature, drama, art, and popular culture grew more commonplace and physical attacks became more frequent.
According to Peter Knight, throughout most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the United States rarely experienced antisemitic action comparable to the sort that was endemic in Europe during the same period.
By the time of the Civil War, tensions over race and immigration, as well as economic competition between Jews and non-Jews, combined to produce the worst outbreak of antisemitism to that date. Americans on both sides of the slavery issue denounced Jews as disloyal war profiteers, and accused them of driving Christians out of business and of aiding and abetting the enemy.
The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled …within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
This order was quickly rescinded by President Abraham Lincoln but not until it had been enforced in a number of towns. According to Jerome Chanes, Lincoln's revocation of Grant's order was based primarily on "constitutional strictures against ...the federal government singling out any group for special treatment." Chanes characterizes General Order No. 11 as "unique in the history of the United States" because it was the only overtly antisemitic official action of the United States government.
Grant later issued an order "that no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the road southward." His aide, Colonel John V. DuBois, ordered "all cotton speculators, Jews, and all vagabonds with no honest means of support", to leave the district. "The Israelites especially should be kept out…they are such an intolerable nuisance."
Immigration from Eastern Europe
Between 1881 and 1920, approximately 3 million Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe immigrated to America, many of them fleeing pogroms and the difficult economic conditions which were widespread in much of Eastern Europe during this time. Pogroms in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, prompted waves of Jewish immigrants after 1881. Jews, along with many Eastern and Southern European immigrants, came to work the country's growing mines and factories. Many Americans distrusted these Jewish immigrants.
The earlier wave of Jewish immigration from Germany, the latter (post 1880) came from `the Pale’ - that region of Eastern Poland, Russia and the Ukraine where Jews had suffered so under the Czars. Along with Irish, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews faced discrimination in the United States in employment, education and social advancement. American groups like the Immigration Restriction League, criticized these new arrivals along with immigrants from Asia and southern and eastern Europe, as culturally, intellectually, morally, and biologically inferior. Despite these attacks, very few Eastern European Jews returned to Europe for whatever privations they faced here, their situation in the US was still improved.
Between 1900 and 1924, approximately 1.75 million Jews immigrated to America's shores, the bulk from Eastern Europe. Where before 1900, American Jews never amounted even to 1 percent of America's total population, by 1930 Jews formed about 3½ percent. This dramatic increase combined with the upward mobility of some Jews contributed to a resurgence of antisemitism.
As the European immigration swelled the Jewish population of the United States, there developed a growing sense of the Jew as different. Jerome Chanes attributes this perception on the fact that Jews were concentrated in a small number of occupations: they were perceived as being mostly clothing manufacturers, shopkeepers and department store owners. He notes that so-called "German Jews" (who in reality came not just from Germany but from Austria, Poland, Bohemia and other countries as well) found themselves increasingly segregated by a widespread social antisemitism that became even more prevalent in the twentieth century and which persists in vestigial form even today.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, a number of German Jewish immigrants founded investment banking firms which later became mainstays of the industry. Most prominent Jewish banks in the United States were investment banks, rather than commercial banks.
Beginning in the early 1880s, declining farm prices prompted elements of the Populist movement to blame the perceived evils of capitalism and industrialism on Jews because of their alleged racial/religious inclination for financial exploitation and, more specifically, because of the alleged financial manipulations of Jewish financiers such as the Rothschilds. Although Jews played only a minor role in the nation's commercial banking system, the prominence of Jewish investment bankers such as the Rothschilds in Europe, and Jacob Schiff, of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York City, made the claims of antisemites believable to some.
One example of allegations of Jewish control of world finances, during the 1890s, is Mary Elizabeth Lease, an American farming activist and populist from Kansas, who frequently blamed the Rothschilds and the "British bankers" as the source of farmers' ills.
The Morgan Bonds scandal injected populist antisemitism into the 1896 presidential campaign. It was disclosed that President Grover Cleveland had sold bonds to a syndicate which included J. P. Morgan and the Rothschilds house, bonds which that syndicate was now selling for a profit, the Populists used it as an opportunity to uphold their view of history, and prove to the nation that Washington and Wall Street were in the hands of the international Jewish banking houses.
Another focus of antisemitic feeling was the allegation that Jews were at the center of an international conspiracy to fix the currency and thus the economy to a single gold standard.
According to Deborah Dash Moore, populist antisemitism used the Jew to symbolize both capitalism and urbanism so as to personify concepts that were too abstract to serve as satisfactory objects of animosity.
Richard Hofstadter describes populist antisemitism as "entirely verbal." He continues by asserting that, "(it) was a mode of expression, a rhetorical style, not a tactic or a program." He notes that, "(it) did not lead to exclusion laws, much less to riots or pogroms." However, Hofstadter still concludes that the "Greenback-Populist tradition activated most of ... modern popular antisemitism in the United States."
Early Twentieth Century
In the first half of the 20th century, Jews were discriminated against in employment, access to residential and resort areas, membership in clubs and organizations, and in tightened quotas on Jewish enrollment and teaching positions in colleges and universities.
New national organizations were formed for the purpose of improving conditions for American Jewry in general and in advancing its acceptance by American society. Perhaps the most important national Jewish organization was the American Jewish Committee, founded in 1906. Mainly drawn from the elite Western European Jews, it set out to safeguard the civil and religious rights of Jews and to combat discrimination and prejudice. Another important national organization, sharing similar aims, was the American Jewish Congress, founded in 1922.
Lynching of Leo Frank
In 1913, a Jew in Atlanta named Leo Frank was convicted for the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old Christian girl in his employ. Frank was sentenced to death but Governor Slaton, convinced by a review of the evidence that Frank was innocent, commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. As a result of public outrage over this act, a Georgia mob kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him.
In response to the lynching of Leo Frank, Sigmund Livingston founded the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) under the sponsorship of B'nai B'rith. The ADL became the leading Jewish group fighting antisemitism in the United States. The lynching of Leo Frank coincided with and helped spark the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan disseminated the view that anarchists, communists and Jews were subverting American values and ideals.
World War I
With the entry of the United States into World War I, Jews were targeted by antisemites as "slackers" and "war-profiteers" responsible for many of the ills of the country. For example, a U.S. Army manual published for war recruits stated that, "The foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger than the native-born." When ADL representatives protested about this to President Woodrow Wilson, he ordered the manual recalled. The ADL also mounted a campaign to give Americans the facts about military and civilian contributions of Jews to the war effort.
Antisemitism in America reached its peak during the interwar period. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the antisemitic works of Henry Ford, and the radio speeches of Father Coughlin in the late 1930s indicated the strength of attacks on the Jewish community.
One element in American antisemitism during the 1920s was the identification of Jews with Bolshevism where the concept of Bolshevism was used pejoratively in the country. (see article on "Jewish Bolshevism").
Immigration legislation enacted in the United States in 1921 and 1924 was interpreted widely as being at least partly anti-Jewish in intent because it strictly limited the immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations, nations from which approximately 3 million Jews had immigrated to the United States by 1920.
Discrimination in education and professions
In 1922, educational discrimination became a national issue when Harvard announced it was considering a quota system for Jewish students. Although it was eventually dropped, the quota was enforced in many colleges through underhanded techniques (as late as 1945 Dartmouth College openly admitted and defended a quota system against Jewish students). To limit the growing number of Jewish students, a number of private liberal arts universities and medical and dental schools instituted a quota system referred to as Numerus clausus. These included Harvard University, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Boston University. In 1925 Yale University, which already had such admissions preferences as "character", "solidity", and "physical characteristics" added a program of legacy preference admission spots for children of Yale alumni, in an explicit attempt to put the brakes on the rising percentage of Jews in the student body. This was soon copied by other Ivy League and other schools, and admissions of Jews were kept down to 10% through the 1950s. Such policies were for the most part discarded during the early 1960s although the last vestiges were not eliminated at Yale University until 1970.
Jews encountered resistance when they tried to move into white-collar and professional positions. Banking, insurance, public utilities, medical schools, hospitals, large law firms and faculty positions, restricted the entrance of Jews. This era of “polite” Judeophobia through social discrimination, underwent an ideological escalation in the 1930s.
Restriction on immigration
In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act severely restricting immigration. Although the act did not specifically target Jews, the effect of the legislation was that 86% of the 165,000 permitted entries were from Northern European countries, with Germany, Britain, and Ireland having the highest quotas. The act effectively diminished the flow of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to a trickle.
Henry Ford was a pacifist who opposed World War I, and he believed that Jews were responsible for starting wars in order to profit from them: "International financiers are behind all war. They are what is called the international Jew: German Jews, French Jews, English Jews, American Jews. I believe that in all those countries except our own the Jewish financier is supreme . . . here the Jew is a threat". Ford believed that Jews were responsible for capitalism, and in their role as financiers, they did not contribute anything of value to society.
In 1915, during World War I, Ford blamed Jews for instigating the war, saying "I know who caused the war: German-Jewish bankers." Later, in 1925, Ford said "What I oppose most is the international Jewish money power that is met in every war. That is what I oppose - a power that has no country and that can order the young men of all countries out to death'". According to author Steven Watts, Ford's antisemitism was partially due to a noble desire for world peace.
Ford became aware of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and believed it to be a legitimate document, and he published portions of it in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Also, in 1920-21 the Dearborn Independent carried a series of articles expanding on the themes of financial control by Jews, entitled:
- Jewish Idea in American Monetary Affairs: The remarkable story of Paul Warburg, who began work on the United States monetary system after three weeks residence in this country
- Jewish Idea Molded Federal Reserve System: What Baruch was in War Material, Paul Warburg was in War Finances; Some Curious revelations of money and politics.
- Jewish Idea of a Central Bank for America: The evolution of Paul M. Warburg's idea of Federal Reserve System without government management.
- How Jewish International Finance Functions: The Warburg family and firm divided the world between them and did amazing things which non-Jews could not do
- Jewish Power and America's Money Famine: The Warburg Federal Reserve sucks money to New York, leaving productive sections of the country in disastrous need.
- The Economic Plan of International Jews: An outline of the Protocolists' monetary policy, with notes on the parallel found in Jewish financial practice.
One of the articles, "Jewish Power and America's Money Famine", asserted that the power exercised by Jews over the nation's supply of money was insidious by helping deprive farmers and others outside the banking coterie of money when they needed it most. The article asked the question: "Where is the American gold supply? ... It may be in the United States but it does not belong to the United States" and it drew the conclusion that Jews controlled the gold supply and, hence, American money.
Another of the articles, "Jewish Idea Molded Federal Reserve System" was a reflection of Ford's suspicion of the Federal Reserve System and its proponent, Paul Warburg. Ford believed the Federal Reserve system was secretive and insidious.
According to Gilman and Katz, antisemitism increased dramatically in the 1930s with demands being made to exclude American Jews from American social, political and economic life.
During the 1930s and 1940s, right-wing demagogues linked the Depression of the 1930s, the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt, and the threat of war in Europe to the machinations of an imagined international Jewish conspiracy that was both communist and capitalist. A new ideology appeared which accused “the Jews” of dominating Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, of causing the Great Depression, and of dragging the US into WW2 against a new Germany which deserved nothing but admiration. Roosevelt's "New Deal" was derisively referred to as the "Jew Deal".
Father Charles Coughlin, a radio preacher, as well as many other prominent public figures, condemned "the Jews," and Henry Ford reprinted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his newspaper. Gerald L.K. Smith, a Disciples of Christ minister, was the founder (1937) of the Committee of One Million and publisher (beginning in 1942) of The Cross and the Flag, a magazine that declared that "Christian character is the basis of all real Americanism." Other antisemitic agitators included Fritz Julius Kuhn of the German-American Bund, William Dudley Pelley, and the Rev. Gerald Winrod. In the end, promoters of antisemitism such as Coughlin, Smith, Kuhn and Winrod achieved no more than a passing popularity as the threat of Nazi Germany became more and more evident to the American electorate. Steven Roth asserts that there was never a real possibility of a "Jewish question" appearing on the American political agenda as it did in Europe; according to Roth, the resistance to political antisemitism in the United States was due to the heterogeneity of the American political structure.
American attitudes towards Jews
Antisemitism in the United States was also indicated by national public opinion polls taken from the mid nineteen thirties to the late nineteen forties. The results showed that over half the American population saw Jews as greedy and dishonest. These polls also found that many Americans believed that Jews were too powerful in the United States. Similar polls were also taken, one of which posed that 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign.
In a 1938 poll, approximately 60 percent of the respondents held a low opinion of Jews, labeling them “greedy,” “dishonest,” and “pushy.” 41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had "too much power in the United States," and this figure rose to 58 percent by 1945. In 1939 a Roper poll found that only thirty-nine percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people. Fifty-three percent believed that "Jews are different and should be restricted" and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported. Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.
Although only 0.6 percent of the nation's 93,000 commercial bankers in 1939 were Jewish, the idea that Jews controlled the banking system remained a popular myth. Political antisemitism also was high during the war years, with 23 percent of respondents in one 1945 survey saying they would vote for a congressional candidate if the candidate declared "himself as being against the Jews" and as many as 35 percent saying it would not affect their vote. Jews also noted the influence of antisemitism when the U.S. State Department opposed efforts to lower immigration barriers to admit Jews and other refugees fleeing the Holocaust and Nazi-occupied Europe.
Thus, antisemitism was fairly widespread in the U.S, a sentiment which reduced the inclination of Americans to help the Jews in Europe.
The main spokesman for antisemitic sentiment was Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest whose weekly radio program drew between 5 and 12 million listeners in the late 1930s. Coughlin's newspaper, Social Justice, reached a circulation of 800,000 at its peak in 1937.
After the 1936 election, Coughlin increasingly expressed sympathy for the fascist policies of Hitler and Mussolini, as an antidote to Bolshevism. His weekly radio broadcasts became suffused with themes regarded as overtly antisemitic. He blamed the Depression on an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers, and also claimed that Jewish bankers were behind the Russian Revolution.
Coughlin began publication of a newspaper, Social Justice, during this period, in which he printed antisemitic polemics such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Like Joseph Goebbels, Coughlin claimed that Marxist atheism in Europe was a Jewish plot. The 5 December 1938 issue of Social Justice included an article by Coughlin which closely resembled a speech made by Goebbels on 13 September 1935 attacking Jews, atheists and communists, with some sections being copied verbatim by Coughlin from an English translation of the Goebbels speech.
On November 20, 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, when Jews across Germany were attacked and killed, and Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues burned, Coughlin blamed the Jewish victims, saying that "Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted." After this speech, and as his programs became more antisemitic, some radio stations, including those in New York and Chicago, began refusing to air his speeches without pre-approved scripts; in New York, his programs were cancelled by WINS and WMCA, leaving Coughlin to broadcasting on the Newark part-time station WHBI. This made Coughlin a hero in Nazi Germany, where papers ran headlines like: "America is Not Allowed to Hear the Truth."
On December 18, 1938 two thousand of Coughlin's followers marched in New York protesting potential asylum law changes that would allow more Jews (including refugees from Hitler's persecution) into the US, chanting, "Send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats!" and "Wait until Hitler comes over here!" The protests continued for several months. Donald Warren, using information from the FBI and German government archives, has also argued that Coughlin received indirect funding from Nazi Germany during this period.
After 1936, Coughlin began supporting an organization called the Christian Front, which claimed him as an inspiration. In January, 1940, the Christian Front was shut down when the FBI discovered the group was arming itself and "planning to murder Jews, communists, and 'a dozen Congressmen'" and eventually establish, in J. Edgar Hoover's words, "a dictatorship, similar to the Hitler dictatorship in Germany." Coughlin publicly stated, after the plot was discovered, that he still did not "disassociate himself from the movement," and though he was never linked directly to the plot, his reputation suffered a fatal decline.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war in December 1941, the anti-interventionist movement (such as the America First Committee) began to sputter out, and isolationists like Coughlin were seen as being sympathetic to the enemy. In 1942, the new bishop of Detroit ordered Coughlin to stop his controversial political activities and confine himself to his duties as a parish priest.
Pelley and Winrod
William Dudley Pelley founded (1933) the antisemitic Silvershirt Legion of America; nine years later he was convicted of sedition. And Gerald Winrod, leader of Defenders of the Christian Faith, was eventually indicted for conspiracy to cause insubordination in the armed forces during World War II.
America First Committee
The avant-garde of the new non-interventionism was the America First Committee, which included the aviation hero Charles Lindbergh and many prominent Americans. The America First Committee opposed any involvement in the war against Fascism.
Officially, America First avoided any appearance of antisemitism and voted to drop Henry Ford as a member for his overt antisemitism.
Ford continued his good friendship with the prominent America First member Lindbergh. Lindbergh visited Ford in the summer of 1941. One month later, in a speech delivered on September 11, 1941 at an America First rally, Lindbergh claimed that three groups had been "pressing this country toward war": the Roosevelt Administration, the British, and the Jews - and complained about what he insisted was the Jews' "large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government."
In an expurgated portion of his published diaries Lindbergh wrote: “We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence…. Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.”
German American Bund
The German American Bund held parades in New York City in the late 1930s which featured Nazi uniforms and flags featuring swastikas alongside American flags. The zenith of the Bund's history occurred 1939 at Madison Square Garden. Some 20,000 people heard Bund leader Fritz Julius Kuhn criticize President Franklin D. Roosevelt by repeatedly referring to him as “Frank D. Rosenfeld”, calling his New Deal the "Jew Deal", and espousing his belief in the existence of a Bolshevik-Jewish conspiracy in America. The New York district attorney prosecuted Kuhn. The US House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) were very active in denying their ability to operate. With the start of the US involvement in World War II most of the Bund's members were placed in internment camps, and some were deported at the end of the war.
Refugees from Nazi Germany
In the years before and during World War II the United States Congress, the Roosevelt Administration, and public opinion expressed concern about the fate of Jews in Europe but consistently refused to permit immigration of Jewish refugees.
In a report issued by the State Department, Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat noted that the United States accepted only 21,000 refugees[Citation needed] from Europe and did not significantly raise or even fill its restrictive quotas, accepting far fewer Jews per capita than many of the neutral European countries and fewer in absolute terms than Switzerland.
According to David Wyman, "The United States and its Allies were willing to attempt almost nothing to save the Jews." + There is some debate as to whether U.S. policies were generally targeted against all immigrants or specifically against Jews in particular. Wyman characterized Breckenridge Long as a nativist, more anti-immigrant than just antisemitic.
U.S. opposition to immigration in general in the late 1930s was motivated by the grave economic pressures, the high unemployment rate, and social frustration and disillusionment. The U.S. refusal to support specifically Jewish immigration, however, stemmed from something else, namely antisemitism, which had increased in the late 1930s and continued to rise in the 1940s. It was an important ingredient in America's negative response to Jewish refugees.
SS St. Louis
The Nazis were aware of rising western antisemitism and so the German Propaganda Ministry and the Nazi party conceived of a propaganda exercise which would demonstrate that Germany was not alone in its territorial, exclusionary hostility to Jews as a permanent minority within the political economy of their state. They (German propagandists) wanted to demonstrate that the “civilized” world agreed with their assertion that Jews constituted a continuing, “hidden-hand” of influence on national and economic affairs. They wanted to demonstrate that no other Western country or people would receive them as refugees. Firstly it would appear that the Nazis were allowing the Jewish refugees a new life in Havana[Citation needed].
With no one allowing the passengers entry they would be in no position, in the future, to morally object when Germany dealt with their 'problem' Jewish population[Citation needed].
The SS St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean in May 1939 carrying one non-Jewish and 936 (mainly German) Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II.
On 4 June 1939, having failed to obtain permission to disembark passengers in Cuba, the St. Louis was also refused permission to unload on orders of President Roosevelt as the ship waited in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. Initially, Roosevelt showed limited willingness to take in some of those on board despite the Immigration Act of 1924, but vehement opposition came from Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and from Southern Democrats — some of whom went so far as to threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred.
During the Holocaust, antisemitism was a factor that limited American Jewish action during the war, and put American Jews in a difficult position. It is clear that antisemitism was a prevalent attitude in the US, which was especially convenient for America during the Holocaust. In America, antisemitism, which reached high levels in the late 1930s, continued to rise in the 1940s. During the years before Pearl Harbor, over a hundred antisemitic organizations were responsible for pumping hate propaganda throughout the American public. Furthermore, especially in New York City and Boston, young gangs vandalized Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and attacks on Jewish youngsters were common. Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans, as well as antisemitic literature were spread. In 1944, a public opinion poll showed that a quarter of Americans still regarded Jews as a “menace.” Antisemitism in the State Department played a large role in Washington's hesitant response to the plight of European Jews persecuted by Nazis.
US Government policy
Josiah DuBois wrote the famous "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews," which Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., used to convince President Franklin Roosevelt to establish the War Refugee Board in 1944. Randolph Paul was also a principal sponsor of this report, the first contemporaneous Government paper attacking America’s dormant complicity in The Holocaust.
Entitled "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews", the document was an indictment of the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic, military, and immigration policies. Among other things, the Report narrated the State Department’s inaction and in some instances active opposition to the release of funds for the rescue of Jews in Romania and occupied France, and condemned immigration policies that closed American doors to Jewish refugees from countries then engaged in their systematic slaughter.
The catalyst for the Report was an incident involving 70,000 Jews whose evacuation from Romania could have been procured with a $170,000 bribe. The Foreign Funds Control unit of the Treasury, which was within Paul’s jurisdiction, authorized the payment of the funds, the release of which both the President and Secretary of State Cordell Hull supported. From mid-July 1943, when the proposal was made and Treasury approved, through December 1943, a combination of the State Department’s bureaucracy and the British Ministry of Economic Warfare interposed various obstacles. The Report was the product of frustration over that event.
On January 16, 1944, Morgenthau and Paul personally delivered the paper to President Roosevelt, warning him that Congress would act if he did not. The result was Executive Order 9417 creating the War Refugee Board composed of the Secretaries of State, Treasury and War. Issued on January 22, 1944, the Executive Order declared that “it is the policy of this Government to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death and otherwise to afford such victims all possible relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.”
It has been estimated that 190,000 - 200,000 Jews could have been saved during the Second World War had it not been for bureaucratic obstacles to immigration deliberately created by Breckinridge Long and others.
After the war, nativism continued to influence American policy towards refugees and evoked a reluctance to admit European refugees, termed after the war displaced persons (DPs). Yet, the new president Harry Truman viewed the question of the million European refugees who had survived the war and who opposed repatriation to their country of origin as a "world tragedy". Thus, he slowly encouraged the United States to take the lead in seeking a solution. Among the Displaced Persons, about 20 percent were Jews who languished in displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria or Italy, waiting for emigration visas. However, no country was willing to admit them in large numbers.
Antisemitism in the United States began to decline in the late 1940s. As they became aware of the Holocaust, many Americans found themselves ardently opposed to views which had been used to justify such genocide. Still, many of the conceptions that Jews were a "Godless people" who controlled U.S. money and wealth remained. Accordingly, "Fifty-seven anti-Semitic groups still existed in the United States throughout 1950’s". In many cases, antisemitic sentiments were shared by devout Christian groups who viewed the Jews as "materialistic, dishonest and vulgar".
The beginning of the decade saw Anti-Defamation League resume its fight to reform the laws that had limited Jewish immigration from the 1920s through the 1940s. The League urged liberalization, but Congress, over President Truman's veto, maintained the national origin quotas by adopting the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
Liberty Lobby was a political advocacy organization which was founded in 1955 by Willis Carto in 1955. While Liberty Lobby was founded as a conservative political organization, Willis Carto was known to hold strongly antisemitic views, and to be a devotee of the writings of Francis Parker Yockey, who was one of a handful of post-World War II writers who revered Adolf Hitler.
Many critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, have noted that Willis Carto, more than anybody else, was responsible for keeping organized antisemitism alive as a viable political movement during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when it was otherwise completely discredited.
Liberty Lobby attempted to promote a public image of being a conservative anti-Communist group, along the lines of the John Birch Society, but while the John Birch Society publicly rejected white supremacy and antisemitism, Liberty Lobby promoted them. Francis Parker Yockey's Imperium was republished by Willis Carto's Noontide Press, which also published a number of other books and pamphlets promoting a racialist and white supremacist world view, and Liberty Lobby in turn sold and promoted these books. While Liberty Lobby was intended to occupy the niche of a conservative anti-Communist group, Willis Carto was meanwhile building other organizations which would take a much more explicit neo-Nazi orientation. Among these were the National Youth Alliance, a Willis Carto-founded organization that eventually became the National Alliance when Carto lost control of it and it fell into the hands of William Pierce. The National Alliance is considered to be the most well-known neo-Nazi group currently operating in the United States. Also founded by Carto was the Institute for Historical Review, a group known for publishing Holocaust denial books and articles.
Late twentieth century
NSPA march in Skokie
Skokie, Illinois was traditionally home to a sizable Jewish population, and although in recent years the town has significantly diversified, the Jewish population in Skokie, as well as in other suburbs, has also grown significantly. In 1977 and 1978, members of the National Socialist Party of America (an offshoot of the American Nazi Party) led by Frank Collin attempted to march through Skokie. The NSPA planned to rally in Marquette Park, Chicago; the city reacted by placing a ban on all demonstrations in the park.
Seeking another venue, the NSPA chose Skokie. Because of the large number of Holocaust survivors in Skokie, it was believed that the march would be disruptive, and the village refused to allow it. They passed three new ordinances requiring damage deposits, banning marches in military uniforms and limiting the distribution of hate speech literature. The American Civil Liberties Union interceded on behalf of the NSPA in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie seeking a parade permit and to invalidate the three new Skokie ordinances.
An Illinois appeals court lifted the injunction issued by a Cook County Circuit Court judge, ruling that the presence of the swastika, the Nazi emblem, would constitute deliberate provocation of the people of Skokie. However, they also ruled that attorneys for the town of Skokie had failed to prove that either the Nazi uniform or printed materials that the Nazis allegedly intended to distribute would incite violence. On October 21, 1977, the United States District Court for Northern Illinois enjoined the enforcement of the three ordinances. On January 27, 1978, the Illinois Supreme Court reverses the Circuit Court and allows the march. On May 22, 1978, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirms the District Court. As a result, Skokie issues a parade permit for June 25, 1978, while taking the case to the United States Supreme Court.
However, due to a subsequent lifting of the Marquette Park ban, the NSPA ultimately held their rally in Chicago on July 7, 1978, instead of in Skokie.
In spite of the strong Jewish participation in the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s, the Black power movement introduced considerable friction into African American-Jewish relations, especially when a native form of Islam attracted African Americans in search of an identity, while the Muslim world was at war with the Jewish state. On April 14, 1970, the radical Black power leader Stokely Carmichael declared: “I have never admired a White man, but the greatest of them was Hitler.”
According to Anti-Defamation League surveys begun in 1964, African Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to hold antisemitic beliefs, although there is a strong correlation between education level and the rejection of antisemitic stereotypes for all races. However, black Americans of all education levels are nevertheless significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be antisemitic. In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to fall into the most antisemitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among blacks with no college education, 43% fell into the most antisemitic group (vs. 18% for the general population), which fell to 27% among blacks with some college education, and 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).
During the early 1980s, isolationists on the far right made overtures to anti-war activists on the left in the United States to join forces against government policies in areas where they shared concerns. This was mainly in the area of civil liberties, opposition to United States military intervention overseas and opposition to US support for Israel. As they interacted, some of the classic right-wing antisemitic scapegoating conspiracy theories began to seep into progressive circles, including stories about how a "New World Order", also called the "Shadow Government" or "The Octopus", was manipulating world governments. Antisemitic conspiracism was "peddled aggressively" by right-wing groups. Some on the left adopted the rhetoric, which it has been argued, was made possible by their lack of knowledge of the history of fascism and its use of "scapegoating, reductionist and simplistic solutions, demagoguery, and a conspiracy theory of history."
Towards the end of 1990, as the movement against the Gulf War began to build, a number of far-right and antisemitic groups sought out alliances with left-wing anti-war coalitions, who began to speak openly about a "Jewish lobby" that was encouraging the United States to invade the Middle East. This idea evolved into conspiracy theories about a "Zionist-occupied government" (ZOG), which has been seen as equivalent to the early-20th century antisemitic hoax,The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The anti-war movement as a whole rejected these overtures by the political right.
In the context of the first US-Iraq war, on September 15, 1990 Pat Buchanan appeared on The McLaughlin Group and said that "there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East – the Israeli defense ministry and its 'amen corner' in the United States." He also said: "The Israelis want this war desperately because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to finish them off. They don't care about our relations with the Arab world." When he delivered a keynote address at the 1992 Republican National Convention, known as the Culture War Speech, Buchanan described "a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America".
In recent years some scholars have advanced the concept of New antisemitism, coming simultaneously from the left, the far right, and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel, and argue that the language of Anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly. In this view, the proponents of the new concept believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and attribute this to antisemitism.
In the context of the "Global War on Terrorism" there have been statements by both the Democrat Ernest Hollings and the conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan that suggest that the George W. Bush administration went to war in order to win Jewish supporters. Some note these statements echo Lindberg’s 1941 claim before the US entered World War II that a Jewish minority was pushing America into a war against its interests. During 2004, a number of prominent public figures accused Jewish members of the Bush administration of tricking America into war against Saddam Hussein to help Israel. U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina) claimed that the US action against Saddam was undertaken 'to secure Israel.' Television talk show host Pat Buchanan said a 'cabal' had managed 'to snare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests.'" Hollings wrote an editorial in the May 6, 2004 Charleston Post and Courier, where he argued that Bush invaded Iraq possibly because "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."
A 2009 study entitled "Modern Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Attitudes", published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, tested new theoretical model of antisemitism among Americans in the Greater New York area with 3 experiments. The research team's theoretical model proposed that mortality salience (reminding people that they will someday die) increases antisemitism and that antisemitism is often expressed as anti-Israel attitudes. The first experiment showed that mortality salience led to higher levels of antisemitism and lower levels of support for Israel. The study’s methodology was designed to tease out antisemitic attitudes that are concealed by polite people . The second experiment showed that mortality salience caused people to perceive Israel as very important, but did not cause them to perceive any other country this way. The third experiment showed that mortality salience led to a desire to punish Israel for human rights violations but not to a desire to punish Russia or India for identical human rights violations. According to the researchers, their results “suggest that Jews constitute a unique cultural threat to many people’s worldviews, that anti-Semitism causes hostility to Israel, and that hostility to Israel may feed back to increase anti-Semitism.” Furthermore, "those claiming that there is no connection between antisemitism and hostility toward Israel are wrong."
On April 3, 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced its finding that incidents of antisemitism are a "serious problem" on college campuses throughout the United States. The Commission recommended that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights protect college students from antisemitism through vigorous enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and further recommended that Congress clarify that Title VI applies to discrimination against Jewish students.
Nation of Islam
Concerns about antisemitism in the African-American community, one of the principal sources of anxiety among American Jews, were fueled in late 1993 and early 1994 by statements made by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. Strains were exacerbated when, on November 29, 1993, Farrakhan deputy Khalid Abdul Muhammad, delivered an anti-white, anti-Catholic, homophobic, and virulently antisemitic address to an audience at Kean College in New Jersey.
Some Jewish organizations, Christian organizations, Muslim organizations, and academics consider the Nation of Islam to be antisemitic. Specifically, they claim that the Nation Of Islam has engaged in revisionist and antisemitic interpretations of the Holocaust and exaggerates the role of Jews in the African slave trade. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) alleges that NOI Health Minister, Abdul Alim Muhammad, has accused Jewish doctors of injecting Blacks with the AIDS virus, an allegation that Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad has denied.
The Nation of Islam claimed that Jews were responsible for slavery, economic exploitation of black labor, selling alcohol and drugs in their communities, and unfair domination of the economy. Expressions of antisemitism have been voiced by Louis Farrakhan and other leaders of his “Nation of Islam.” Judaism is openly called “a gutter religion” and in 1994 labeled Hitler “a genius.” His aide Khalid Abdul Muhammad declared that “Jews are “bloodsuckers... You’re called Goldstein, Silverstein and Rubenstein because you’ve been stealing all the gold and silver and rubies all over the world.”
Some members of the Black Nationalist Nation of Islam claimed that Jews were responsible for the exploitation of black labor, bringing alcohol and drugs into their communities, and unfair domination of the economy.
The Nation of Islam has repeatedly denied charges of antisemitism, and NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has stated, "The ADL... uses the term 'anti-Semitism' to stifle all criticism of Zionism and the Zionist policies of the State of Israel and also to stifle all legitimate criticism of the errant behavior of some Jewish people toward the non-Jewish population of the earth."
American attitudes towards Jews
Polls and studies over the past two decades point to a steady decrease in antisemitic attitudes, beliefs, and manifestations among the American public. A 1992 survey by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith showed that 20 percent of Americans—between 30 to 40 million adults—held antisemitic views, as against 29 percent in 1964. However, another survey by the same organization concerning antisemitic incidents shows that the curve has risen without interruption since 1986.
The number of Americans holding antisemitic views declined markedly six years later when another ADL study classified only 12 percent of the population—between 20 to 25 million adults—as "most anti-Semitic." Confirming the findings of previous surveys, both studies also found that African Americans were significantly more likely than whites to hold antisemitic views, with 34 percent of blacks classified as "most anti-Semitic," compared to 9 percent of whites in 1998.
According to an Anti-Defamation League survey 14 percent of U.S. residents had antisemitic views. The 2005 survey found "35 percent of foreign-born Hispanics" and "36 percent of African-Americans hold strong antisemitic beliefs, four times more than the 9 percent for whites". The 2005 Anti-Defamation League survey includes data on Hispanic attitudes, with 29% being most antisemitic (vs. 9% for whites and 36% for blacks); being born in the United States helped alleviate this attitude: 35% of foreign-born Hispanics, but only 19% of those born in the US.
There are a number of antisemitic organizations in the United States that emphasize Aryan white supremacy. These include the Christian Identity Churches, the Aryan-White Resistance, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazis, and gangs of skinheads, whose total membership is estimated at 3,000. Several fundamentalist churches also preach antisemitic messages.
The 1998 ADL survey also found a correlation between antisemitism and sympathy for right-wing antigovernment groups. Although antisemitism has declined over the past 35 years, the activities of some antisemitic groups have intensified. From 1974 to 1979, membership in the Ku Klux Klan rose from a historic all-time low of 1,500 to 11,500, and throughout the 1980s various Klan factions allied themselves with more explicitly neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Nations (see neo-Nazi movements). The founding (1979) of the California-based Institute for Holocaust Review helped popularize the antisemitic notion that the Holocaust was a hoax. Farm foreclosures and economic distress in the rural Great Plains and Midwest during the mid-1980s prompted organizers for groups like the Posse Comitatus to spread antisemitic rhetoric throughout rural America. From 1986 to 1991 the numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads grew tenfold, reaching approximately 3,500 distributed among more than 35 cities. And the mid-1990s saw the formation of paramilitary citizens' "militias" (see militia movement), many of which were accused of circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories and preaching religious bigotry.
Escalating hate crimes targeting Jews and other minority groups prompted passage of the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990 and spurred 41 state legislatures, as of 1998, to enact a patchwork of laws providing for police training about bias crimes, stiffer jail terms for perpetrators, and mandatory hate-crimes data collection by law enforcement. From 1979 to 1989 the ADL recorded more than 9,617 antisemitic incidents, including 6,400 cases of vandalism, bombings and attempted bombings, arsons and attempted arsons, and cemetery desecrations. The tally peaked at 2,066 in 1994, but declined over the next three years, consistent with the downward trend in national crime statistics. According to 1996 Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, of 8,759 hate crimes recorded that year, 13 percent were antisemitic.
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