The Protocols are Hostile to Democracy
“The message of the ‘Protocols’ is quite hostile to democracy,” asserted Charles Reznikoff. It endorses privilege and autocracy, disparages education, denounces religious liberty and argues that political freedom is an abstract concept rather than a tangible reality. Yet Jews recognize that liberty and equality are critical to their survival as a people and have long prayed for these blessings. It would be difficult to find something more antithetical to Jewish peoplehood than the Protocols’ anti-democratic rhetoric.
Louis Marshal concluded that the purpose of initiating this new wave of antisemitism was to seek a scapegoat that would enable the government to “hide their own sins” by manufacturing a false issue to dupe the public. Marshall had an abiding belief that Americans’ character, their sense of justice and fairness, were strong enough not to allow the campaign of vilification and libel to go unanswered.
After the publication of Marshall’s statement, a similar protest letter entitled, “The Perils of Racial Prejudice: A Statement to the Public,” was signed by a significant number of leading Americans who were “citizens of Gentile birth and Christian faith.” They included, President Woodrow Wilson, former president William Howard Taft, Cardinal Willam Henry O’Connell, archbishop of Boston, Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, Robert Lansing, US secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, John Haynes Holmes, renowned Unitarian minister who helped found the ACLU and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Lindsey M. Garrison, secretary of war under Woodrow Wilson, Patrick J Hayes, archbishop of New York, the poet Robert Frost, Clarence Darrow and the presidents of Princeton and Brown universities.
They profoundly regretted and disapproved of the organized antisemitic campaign that was inconsistent with American traditions and ideals and “subversive of our system of government. American citizenship and American democracy are thus challenged and menaced…. Antisemitism is almost invariably associated with lawlessness and with brutality and injustice. It also invariably found closely intertwined with other sinister forces, particularly those which are corrupt, reactionary and oppressive.” These leading Americans were not prepared to allow Ford’s articles to divide the public along racial and religious lines.
Henry Ford Apologizes
On June 30, 1927, Henry Ford publicly apologized to the Jewish people for having maligned them with articles published in the “Dearborn Independent” and for having some of the editorials reprinted in the “International Jew.” His letter was formally presented to Louis Marshall, who had drafted it for Ford with the “understanding” that the statement be signed exactly as it had been written.
Neil Baldwin, who wrote “Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate” said that in the communiqué, Ford wrote that it was to his “great regret,” to learn that “Jews generally, and particularly in this country, resent these publications as promoting antisemitism, but regard me as the enemy.” He acknowledged that Jews were justified in their “righteous indignation” against him “because of the mental anguish” he had caused “by the unprovoked reflections made upon them.” Incredibly, Ford claimed he had not previously appreciated the harmful nature of these articles. Had he known what they contained, he would have “forbidden their circulation without a moment’s hesitation.”
His statement was published worldwide on Friday July 8, 1927, but historian Arthur Hertzberg concluded the damage had already been done. More than ever before, Jews were viewed not as individuals, but as a clannish group with a propensity for radical anti-democratic politics. Ford’s work had provided the justification in the 20s for red-baiting and nativism even among Americans who did not consider themselves to be Jew-haters.
No Means to Counter False Accusations
There was no vehicle to stop or counter the torrent of false accusations against the Jews, observed historians Oscar and Mary Handlin. American courts had ruled that individuals could not be harmed by defaming a group. Acts of contrition did not stem the “irrational” suspicions of the antisemites; it might have even fueled them. Any sort of intervention was futile in dealing with mass movements since emotions ran so high.
Preventing this enmity from becoming law or affecting government behavior, they said, was the most that could be expected. This approach succeeded thanks to the traditional constitutional guarantees protecting the freedom of religious groups. It helped that antisemitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and others were unclear about their own political goals. Though the KKK was instrumental in helping enact the 1921-1924 legislation restricting immigration to the US, they did not influence any other legislation in other political areas, except what was inherent in the quota system.
A liberal American immigration policy was the only option for many Jews of Europe. Had the entire quota of 30,244 for Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia been used between 1939 and 1941, a substantial number of Jews in these countries could have been saved, historian Yehuda Bauer asserted. In the fiscal year (July 1939 to June1940), he said 21,000 people succeeded in emigrating from Germany to the US; in fiscal 1941, when the unpublicized guidelines were in force, only 4,000 managed to enter the US.
Jews recognized that Ford’s recanting was not the result of having recognized that Jews were not as he had claimed, Hertzberg said, but because of the power they had brought to bear against him. Jews and some liberal Christians boycotted Ford cars in protest. The experience demonstrated that in the United States of America, political power was more effective than benevolence.
Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.