The organizations of Jewry are numerous and widespread, all of them being international in tone whether so chartered or not. The Alliance Israelite Universelle is, perhaps, the world clearing house of Jewish policy, with which every national aggregation of Jewish societies has affiliation.
The Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, which is now hopeful of reaching the 1,000,000 membership mark, is frankly international. It has divided the world into 11 districts, seven of which are in the United States. Its lodges at last report numbered 426. The four members of its executive committee who do not reside in the United States, reside in Berlin, Vienna, Bucharest and Constantinople, respectively. Its lodges have been set up in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. Henry Morgenthau’s name appears in the 1919-1920 Jewish year book as a member of this executive committee. Mr. Morgenthau will be remembered as the American Minister to Turkey, later talked of as Ambassador to Mexico, then chosen by President Wilson to mediate between the Turks and the Armenians. Mr. Morgenthau also investigated for the President the reports of Polish pogroms.
In studying the executive committees of Jewish societies it is strikingly evident that the same minds guide all the important ones. A few names recur again and again. They are the names one meets at all Senate hearings, at various strategic places in the War Government of the United States, and at every stage of Jewish interference with American foreign policy. Everything centers at last, apparently, in the American Jewish Committee and the executive committee of the New York Kehillah. Judge Mack, Judge Brandeis, the Warburgs, the Schiffs, Morgenthau, Wolf, Kraus, Elkus, Straus, Louis Marshall—these names appear over and over again, in offensive and defensive action, in all big affairs.
There are now in the United States 6,100 reported Jewish organizations. Of these, 3,637 are in New York City. This figure is offered from the 1919-1920 year book, although the statement was recently made that the New York Kehillah is the clearing house of 4,000 organizations.
Enough is shown to indicate how fully organized the Jews are, how they are linked together by every conceivable bond; the material of every bond being their racial likeness.
The organization about which the public has heard most is the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith. Its headquarters are not in New York, strange to say, but in Chicago. Its origin, however, as might be expected, was in New York.
This interesting order, without a reference to which no survey of Jewry is complete, came into existence in the back room of an Essex street saloon in 1843. Strangely enough, its most moving spirit at the beginning was a Henry Jones, although his colleagues retained their Hebraic names.
Because most of the founders were from Germany the name was given in German, Bundes Bruder, which is in Hebrew, B’nai B’rith (Brothers of the Covenant). The executive committee was known as The Elders. The order spread first to Cincinnati, apparently taking the course of German immigration through the country, and it is recorded that the second lodge in that city is the first where the English language was used in discussing lodge affairs. The first leap of the order abroad, was to Berlin where in 1885 Grand Lodge No. 8 was installed, followed soon after by Grand Lodges in Rumania and Austria. The order’s literature lays stress on the work of inculcating patriotism, which is said to be one of B’nai B’rith’s special interests. It is perhaps not meant, however, that the head office at Chicago could undertake, especially during recent years, to guide the patriotism of all the districts throughout the world. It would have been rather awkward for District No. 6, which includes Illinois, to encourage District No. 8 to loyalty, seeing that District No. 8 embraced Germany.
The Order has not avoided the political field. The diplomatic history of the United States in the last 70 years is dotted all over with indications of B’nai B’rith activities. Oscar Straus, writing from the Legation of the United States at Constantinople in 1889, tells Secretary of State Blaine that the Jerushalaim Lodge of B’nai B’rith at Jerusalem was quite satisfied with the way in which the State Department had attended to a certain matter at the lodge’s request. Mr. Morgenthau in the midst of his investigation of the false pogrom rumors on Poland, goes to a B’nai B’rith lodge. In 1870 Brother Benjamin F. Piexotto was appointed “as United States consul at Bucharest for the express purpose of securing an amelioration of the condition of the shockingly persecuted Jews in Rumania.” The “persecution” in Rumania was the protest of the Rumanian peasantry against the two greatest menaces to the peasant farmers—the Jew-controlled liquor and mortgage traffics.
But this special appointment was made “in pursuance of suggestions made by the Order, and the negotiations were carried on chiefly by Brother Simon Wolf.”
Simon Wolf has been the official Jewish lobbyist at Washington, on fixed post, for fifty years. He could write an informative story of the relation of B’nai B’rith to diplomatic appointments, if he would. It was he who suggested to William Jennings Bryan, when the latter was Secretary of State, that a Jew be appointed Minister to Spain to show Spain that the United States did not approve Spain’s act of expulsion back in the fifteenth century. Jews are also suggesting to President Harding that a Jew be appointed Ambassador to Germany to rebuke the Germans’ resentment against Jewish control of finance, industry and politics. This conception of the United States Diplomatic Service as a convenient agency for the transaction of Jewish world affairs has been in existence a long time, and has accounted for some of the strange appointments which have puzzled the people.
It is worth noting that while American Jews are crowding the eastern diplomatic posts with as many Jews as possible, British Jews are doing the same thing in the Judaization of the Persia, India and Palestine governments, so that the whole mid-Orient is now under Jewish control, and the Mohammedan World is given to understand that the Jews are merely coming back from their conquest of the white races. To those who have observed the Jewish attempt to seek a rapprochement between the followers of Moses and Mohammed, the situation is one of the keenest interest.
The B’nai B’rith is made up mostly of the more liberal Jews, religiously speaking, and doubtless includes a large number who are also liberal, racially speaking. The time when it stood as spokesman of Jewish ideals is now long past; it stands today the center of certain Jewish activities. It does not supersede the American Jewish Committee by any means, but it is the encircling arm, with fingers everywhere, through which the committee can get its will carried out. When there is anything to be done, the B’nai B’rith is the organization which takes the lead in putting it over. It may be described as a freemasonry exclusively for Jews. This brings up another characteristic that people have noticed and discussed: the Jew demands as his right entrance into other Orders; into his own he admits none but Jews. This one-sided policy is found everywhere.
Chief among the B’nai B’rith’s activities in so far as they directly relate to the rest of the people, is the work of the Anti-Defamation League. This inside committee in every lodge attends to the espionage work necessary to keep the Grand Lodges informed as to what is going on with reference to Jewry in the United States. In its work, the Anti-Defamation League always takes the offensive and works along pretty well defined lines.
Ordinarily the head of the Anti-Defamation League in each city is a man competent to bring pressure to bear on the public press. Sometimes he is the head of an advertising agency which, as a rule, pools the Jewish department store advertising of that city, so that the newspapers may be controlled from that angle. Sometimes he is himself a heavy advertiser, pledged the cooperation of other advertisers in whatever he undertakes to do. The Anti-Defamation League is the instrument through which all boycotting tactics make their appearance. This league not only makes its protest from without, but directs reprisals from within. It is an exceedingly militant body and does not always depend upon “the rule of reason” in its activities.
Many quaint tales could be told of the operations of the Anti-Defamation League in various American cities, but as the present articles attempt to give no more than a bird’s-eye view of widespread Jewish activities, mere story-telling will have to wait.
But perhaps the most notable accomplishment of the league has been the suppression of the word “Jew” in the public prints in any but the most laudatory connections. For a long time in the United States the people did not know how to refer to the Jews, whether as Hebrews or Israelites or what, because the fear of giving offense had been so diligently cultivated in all quarters.
The result was that other nationalities were laden with all the undesirable publicity which the Jews had evaded through the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League. Recently a Jew was on trial for the murder of his wife. The newspapers referred to him as “a pert little Englishman.” The Russians in the United States, and the Poles also, have been filled with indignation by the extent to which their national names have been used in police and newspaper reports to conceal the identity of Jews. The Russians resident in this country have several times been compelled to remonstrate with the press for its misrepresentative practice in this matter.
For this state of affairs, the Anti-Defamation League receives the credit. Whenever a newspaper printed the word “Jew” as an identifying noun after the name of anyone who had been discredited, the Anti-Defamation League was instantly on the job in protest. The stock argument is, “If he had been a Baptist or an Episcopalian you would not have told it, and why should you say that he is a Jew—‘Jew’ being a mere religious denomination.” City editors are obliging and the rule became established. In principle it is right, although it is urged on wrong grounds; but in practice it has turned out to be a great injustice to other nationalities and, more than all, it has curtailed the freedom of American speech. It has concealed the Jew where he wishes to be concealed, and it cannot be said that he has made the best use of this privilege.
It is this fixed policy of the B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League which imperils the hope that the B’nai B’rith might have come to the front as one of the most useful influences in the solution of the Jewish Question. It includes a body of men sufficiently acquainted with the general point of view to be able to see where corrections and concessions are necessary as a ground, not to mere polite tolerance, but to reconciliation. There is no country more propitious for the settlement of the world’s Jewish Problem than is the United States, but it cannot be settled along the old line of the Judaization of the United States, nor by its de-Christianization either. The work of the Anti-Defamation League is positive to Judaization and negative to settlement.
There is nothing that Jewry, acting through the B’nai B’rith, does so well as to hold Mass Meetings and attack “The Merchant of Venice.”
Mass Meetings may be described as the Jews’ great American pastime. The New York Kehillah, that is, The American Jewish Committee, can on one day’s notice organize Mass Meetings in every city in the United States. They are mechanical devices, of course; they are not so much expressions of the Jewish mind as they are attempts to impress the non-Jewish mind. There is a great deal of theatrical calculation in them. This column could be filled with the dates and places of Mass Meetings held within any seven days on any question in which the Jews had decided to coerce or accelerate public or, as it usually is, official opinion. The Mass Meeting, it appears, can still be made to seem real to the political official whose vote is sought.
It was by Mass Meetings that Congress was coerced into breaking off our commercial treaty with Russia.
It was by Mass Meetings that the literacy test was defeated.
It was by Mass Meetings that every attempt to restrict immigration has been defeated.
In 100 important cities a Mass Meeting could be held tomorrow night if President Harding should attempt to remove a Jewish official, or if the census bureau should attempt to record Jews under their proper racial name.
It is a very perfect system, even if a little antiquated. Doubtless its main purpose is to let the Jewish masses believe that they too have something to say in Jewish affairs. Jewish leadership of the Jews is never quite what the Jews think it is, and its weakness was never more apparent than today. There has not been any “persecution” of the Jews in the United States and never will be any, but all that the Jews have had to carry in the way of misunderstanding has been the result of the leadership which has misled them into paths of bloated ambition, instead of substantial human achievement. At this moment there is trembling, not among the Jewish masses, but among their leaders. The Jewish people will presently take their own affairs in their own hands, and then their affairs will go better. There are too many “committees,” too many “prophets,” too many “wise men,” who think that two minutes with a President constitutes greatness, and that a busy bustling overseas and back constitutes statesmanship. The Jews have suffered from the personal ambitions and pathetic incapacity of some of their most advertised men.
The B’nai B’rith has this much in its favor: its leadership has always been progressive. Only when it has lent itself as local agent for the “leaders” of the New York Kehillah has it set up in its neighborhoods those influences which tend toward division instead of a better understanding.
Under whose inspiration it was that the B’nai B’rith undertook to bring its great power to bear against one of Shakespeare’s plays, cannot now be said; but it has been most unfortunate for Jewish influence in all directions. Successful—oh yes; but such a success as serious people could well do without.
Merely to glance over the record is interesting:
1907—Jews force “The Merchant of Venice” to be dropped from public schools in Galveston, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; Youngstown, Ohio.
1908—Jews have “The Merchant of Venice” eliminated from the English course in the high school at El Paso, Texas.
1910—Apparently the “Merchant” slipped back into Cleveland schools, for in April the superintendent of public schools issued an order that it was not to be used again.
1911—Rabbi Harry W. Ettleson and Solomon Elsner request the Hartford, Connecticut, school board to have “The Merchant of Venice” dropped from the reading list of schools. The board complies.
1912—Jewish residents of Minneapolis, Minnesota, inaugurate a movement to have “The Merchant of Venice” dropped from the public schools.—In Boston, Massachusetts, the superintendent of schools refuses to withdraw “The Merchant of Venice” as a textbook, on the demand of Rabbi Phineas Israeli.
1916—On demand of Jews the New Haven, Connecticut, board of education votes to prevent the reading of “The Merchant of Venice,” and extends the prohibition to “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare” until an edition is published which omits the play.
And so on down the list of cities. A diversion was created by the Jewish attack on Sargent’s painting entitled “The Synagogue” in the art scheme of the Boston Public Library. Many denunciatory resolutions were adopted throughout the country with regard to that, but the painting is still there.
It is all part of one mistaken program, to prohibit free speech, with reference to the Jew. It is utterly at one side of all that American principles mean. Shut him up! Boycott him! Tear down his painting! Bar his words from the mails and public library!—what a waste of energy and what a self-judgement such an attitude is!
And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards. And even in this business one comes upon that same policy of declaring Anti-Semitic everything that is Christian. If Rabbi Coffey says the New Testament is the most Anti-Semitic book ever written, what must be the judgement on an Easter card that is truly an Easter card?
In November, 1919, the Anti-Defamation Committee claimed that 150 American cities had excluded “The Merchant of Venice” from the public schools. The newspapers at this writing are announcing that David Warfield, the great Jewish actor, is going to play “Shylock” in the manner which, as he believes, represents the true Shakespeare conception. The Anti-Defamation League may yet find itself to have expended much energy beating the wind, especially as the best Shakespearean critics declare that “The Merchant of Venice” is not about a Jew at all, but about Usury as a vicious practice which gripped both Jew and non-Jew and brought division.
There was, however, a certain finesse in the manner of the Anti-Defamation League in approaching the matter of the exclusion of the “Merchant.” It was not an incapacity to appreciate the fine work of Shakespeare. Oh, no, anything but that. Nor was it a confession of thin-skinned sensibility on the part of Jews. Not at all. No, it was really for the benefit of the Gentile children that the Anti-Defamation League wanted them kept from that play in their reading lessons.
Here are excerpts from one of the letters sent out from the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago to the superintendent of public schools in an important city. The italics are ours:
“We have just been advised that the * * * * high schools still retain “The Merchant of Venice” in the list of required readings * * * *
“We do not base our request because of the embarrassment which may be caused to the Jewish students in class, nor is our attitude in this regard based on thin-skinned sensitiveness. It is the result of mature consideration and investigation. Our objection is made because of its effect upon the non-Jewish children who subconsciously will associate in their own minds the Jew as Shakespeare portrayed him with the Jew of today. Children are not analysts. A character in the past vividly portrayed exists for them in the present. The Jew of Shakespeare lives in the mind of the child as the Jew of New York, or the Jew of Chicago, or the Jew of Newark. Your teachers of literature might say much in favor of Shylock’s good qualities, but our experience has been that only very seldom are Shylock’s good qualities brought out strongly before children. Those traits of his character which are brought out most vividly in the study of the play are Shylock’s greed, hatred, revenge and cruelty.
“The fact that the College Entrance Requirements Board realized the justice of our stand and struck the play off from the list as required reading for entrance to our universities and colleges indicates clearly that it is a most serious problem * * * *
“* * * * We believe that when you realize the great harm which might be caused to hundreds and thousands of law-abiding Jewish citizens of this country, you will grant our request that the reading of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ be discontinued from your schools.”
And in this case it was. Notwithstanding the fact that the play was used in the high school, and the argument of the letter was addressed to the effect of the play on children, it was discontinued. A study of the schedule of just what occurred showed that everything had been made ready even before the letter was written.
Does this frittering away of Jewish influence strike the Jewish leaders as a wise policy?
Is there any hope whatever of doing away with “The Merchant of Venice”?
Do they not know that it is the observation of teachers of literature that even if non-Jewish children are forbidden to read the play, Jewish children are going to read it anyway, since it is the Jewish children who most heartily enjoy it because they more clearly understand it?
Do not the Jewish leaders know that non-Jews do not read the “Merchant” for Shylock, except perhaps his noble defense of the Jew as a human being? Whoever hears Shylock quoted in anything but this, which numerous Jewish writers delight to quote?—
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?”
To effect its purpose the Anti-Defamation League will have to perform an excision on our common English tongue. The wise and witty sayings of this Shakespearean play have passed into the permanent coinage of daily speech.
“I hold the world a stage where every man must play his part; and mine a sad one.”
“* * * * I am Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!”
“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces.”
“The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
“A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
“Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long.”
“All that glitters is not gold.”
“A harmless necessary cat.”
“The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
When mercy seasons justice.”
This is beyond the power of the Anti-Defamation League to destroy. Shylock may be forgotten, but not these living lines. It is true, however, that in 150 American cities, according to the league’s claim, school children are prevented reading and hearing these words in school.
But is it worth it? Is it a part of “Jewish Rights” that an admittedly great play, taught in all the English courses of all the universities, should be prohibited to the children of the people in the public schools?
From the prohibition of the Bible to the prohibition of Shakespeare, the whole Jewish course has been a colossal mistake, the reaction from which will be to belittle Jewish public judgement in the future.
It was all very well said by a correspondent to the Newark Evening News, January 13, 1920:
“To the Editor of the News:
“Sir—Protests have been made by the representatives of the Jewish, Scotch and colored races against Shakespeare’s being used in the public schools, the former because of the portrayal of Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Some Scotch folk have protested, as I understand it, to the Newark Board of Education, on account of the character given Macbeth. The colored folks, judging from the letter printed in the News from Washington, do not like the character Othello, owing to his despicable treatment of Desdemona. As a descendant of the Welsh race, I enter my protest in behalf of that ancient people in regard to Shakespeare’s ridicule of Henry V, of the Welshman, Captain Fluellen, who is made to look as if he did not know anything about war.
“I have no doubt that others could find fault with Shakespeare’s penchant for holding up the weak side of some of his characters, so I think that Shakespeare and the Bible might well be kept out of the public schools because both books are rough on certain people whose identity is clearly shown. The board of education is to be congratulated for taking action in the matter, which promises at this late date to place the Newark educational system in a class all by itself.”
[THE DEARBORN INDEPENDENT, issue of 19 March 1921]