Arnold Forster, Edwin J. Lukas, Will Maslow

Anti-Semitism, Part I

VTR Date: December 14, 1958


The Open Mind, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, anti-Semitism. Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner, historian, teacher, and author of “A Documentary History of the United States.”

MR. HEFFNER: I don’t think we have to spend much time talking today about the importance of our subject. I think that without any preliminary introduction by me I ought to indicate only that my three guests today are respectively the directors of the civil rights programs of three of the major Jewish agencies in our country today. Let me introduce them to you.

My first guest is Mr. Edwin J. Lukas of the American Jewish Committee.

My second guest is Mr. Arnold Forster of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

And my third guest is Mr. Will Maslow of the American Jewish Congress.

Gentlemen, we’ve agreed before we went on the air that I’d begin with the question of definition, or if that’s not quite the right way to put I, by asking Mr. Lukas what he would say anti-Semitism is in our time.

MR. LUKAS: Well, Mr. Heffner, I think that anti-Semitism is one form of prejudice. Prejudice takes many forms. I’d like to deal, if I may, with the general or larger topic of prejudice itself first.

We regard prejudice as a pattern of hostility, directed primarily against groups or individuals in those groups. The important thing, it seems to me, in the context in which we are to discuss anti-Semitism is that prejudice fulfills a very specific, irrational, personal need. And it does this for the prejudiced person.

Now anti-Semitism in that context is an expression of hostility against Jews. This may be either verbal or it may be behavior; it may be mild or it may be violent. And in recent months it has been rather violent in certain sections of the country. But prejudice in this instance is being expressed against a group of Jews or individual members of that group, namely, Jews; and only because he belongs to that group. I repeat, this fulfills a certain internal need, and that internal need is very frequently expressed in the midst of some group pressures, and it is in that context that I should prefer to discuss anti-Semitism.

MR. HEFFNER: All right, gentlemen, do you accept the definition?

MR. MASLOW: Not completely, Mr. Heffner. What Mr. Lukas has given us is what might be described as the psychological interpretation of prejudice, but I would say that there are at least two other factors equally if not more important. Under Mr. Lukas’ theory only diseased minds would be anti-Semitic or only persons in whom something salient in the personality is eschewed are those who are anti-Semitic. But I would say the other two factors are these: A hatred or fear of a competitor – economic, social, et cetera – always is an important element in anti-Semitism. And secondly there are perfectly normal persons who have no economic or other competition, who have no psychological need for a scapegoat, but who nevertheless have inherited a cultural stereotype. Anti-Semitism may play a less important part in their lives, but nevertheless this cultural stereotype also creates anti-Semitic prejudice.

MR. HEFFNER: But the question of definition here is what it is rather than what is at the roots of it, and I wonder if you accept this notion that it is (a) something expressed, or (b) something not expressed in an attitude towards Jews which can either be expressed hostiley or kept as an incipient thing?

MR. FORSTER: Dick, I think the question is a very tricky one and I’m afraid always to try to particularize an answer, and I think some variance which appears between Ed and Will at this point proves that you can’t try to particularize the definition. I think you must stick to a generic definition of anti-Semitism.

MR. HEFFNER: Which is what?

MR. FORSTER: Well, I would frame it this way: anti-Semitism is an attitude which impels non-Jews to treat Jews differently – in a hostile way of course – from the way he treats all other people.

MR. HEFFNER: You say an attitude, meaning that the attitude that is not accompanied by the act is still anti-Semitism.

MR. FORSTER: I would say yes, but I would say normally when I talk in terms of treating Jews differently I mean treating them passively and actively in terms of reactions to them, in terms of attitudes toward them, you see.

MR. HEFFNER: Yes, but the question I’m asking is whether we can assume for our discussion today that anti-Semitism is an attitude towards a hostile attitude, or a negative attitude towards a certain group of people, namely Jews, that is either expressed or not expressed, but that the attitude is still there. Can we accept that?

MR. LUKAS: To narrow the difference between Mr. Maslow and myself – an apparent but not a real difference – I would go along with his other two classifications. I’d have no difficulty in accepting what might be called the social anti-Semitism, which is an expression of a temporary need and which is what I really meant to say earlier when I spoke of group pressure.

MR. HEFFNER: I gather that you gentlemen want to distinguish between types of anti-Semitism because when we get to the question of what do you do about it you do different things about different types. Is that correct?

MR. LUKAS: Yes, but I want to make this clear, Mr. Heffner, that it is in the context of hatred, of bigotry, that we are discussing anti-Semitism. There are such things, as you know, as anti-Protestantism and anti-Catholicism; and it is in that same context that those two phenomena occur.

MR. MASLOW: All I was about to say was that it doesn’t make any difference whether you define it as a set of subjective beliefs or attitudes, or you define it in terms of observed and measured behavior; either way of defining it is correct. But we ought to know always are we talking about mental attitudes or discriminatory behavior?

MR. HEFFNER: Well, could we agree for the purposes of our discussion today to talk about the attitude, whether it is reflected in behavior or not, and then if we get around to talking about what to do about it you can then distinguish between what you do about the behavior and what you do about the attitude that’s not expressed in behavior. Mr. Forster, you look skeptical.

MR. FORSTER: Well from where I sit a man who has an attitude which impels him to distinguish Jews from other people adversely is an anti-Semite, and this is anti-Semitism. It doesn’t matter to me whether he expresses it overly or covertly, or whether or not he just feels that way; he’s an anti-Semite. You may not know it; he knows it, if he’s conscious of his attitude.

MR. HEFFNER: All right, now in terms of that let me ask the next question. Let me ask you, Mr. Forster, how extensive do you think anti-Semitism, within the terms of what you just said, is in this country today?

MR. FORSTER: I don’t think I can answer that question, and I wonder who can accurately.

MR. HEFFNER: Well I assume that no one can answer it accurately.

MR. MASLOW: I can give an answer, and my answer would be based upon the findings of the attitude polls which by now would be taken as scientific and as representative. Every one of those polls in recent years shows that anti-Semitic feelings and beliefs are at their lowest ebb in the United States.

MR. HEFFNER: What does that mean, lowest? That’s a comparative term.

MR. MASLOW: It means since the time when they began to measure this, which was about twenty years ago, no matter what question was used, the percentage of those who spontaneously make anti-Semitic responses grows smaller and smaller.

MR. HEFFNER: Yes, but now you’re defining yourself into an interesting position. You’re saying the percentage of those who spontaneously make anti-Semitic responses to the questionnaires…but that isn’t quite fair, it seems to me, because within the context of a society that claims to believe that prejudice is bad I wonder how we can attribute scientific results to these polls?

MR. MASLOW: Well, if you’re willing to trust an attitude poll to determine a million dollar expenditure by a corporation you might also be willing to entrust it to determine whether particular feelings of hostility are diminishing.

MR. HEFFNER: May I ask you whether you in a particular community would be willing to place yourself on the block in terms of what a poll group said about whether they were or were not anti-Semitic, or even in depth questions about anti-Semitism?

MR. MASLOW: Yes. I would be willing to shape a program on the basis of an attitude poll scientifically administered. The United States census, for example, has just made a sample survey and they have found that their results in a sample of some two or three thousand persons are almost as accurate as when they count 160 million.

MR. LUKAS: I’d like to, if I may, offer another approach to this question of whether anti-Semitism has abated or not. I’m sorry, did I interrupt you?

MR. HEFFNER: No, no; I think you’re again going to get to the question of how extensive it is.

MR. LUKAS: Well, I’d rather not deal with it statistically. I go along with Will Maslow that the opinion polls have indicated an abatement of anti-Semitism. But why don’t we take some of the other industries, some of the important industries?

MR. FORSTER: I wouldn’t go along with the polls.

MR. LUKAS: Well, let me give you something else not to go along with.

MR. FORSTER: Which is not to say that anti-Semitism hasn’t abated. Which is to say only that I’m not prepared to accept them except as vague criteria.

MR. LUKAS: The vast majority of young Jews, boys and girls, are getting into the colleges of their choice. They didn’t 25 years ago. I’m not suggesting now they’re getting into any college or every college, but I am suggesting to you that in many, many places the bars are down. Quota systems are not entirely abandoned but they are for the most part abandoned, at least so far as our investigation shows.

The employment situation has improved enormously over 25 years ago. Men and women are getting jobs that they couldn’t have gotten 25 years ago. I’m not suggesting that even there the bars are down. I am saying to you that situation has improved. These are just two of the many indices.

MR. HEFFNER: But now we’re talking about something on which you can put your finger. You’re talking about overt actions that are no longer taken. Let’s go back again to the definition that I assumed we would all accept that was more or less Mr. Forster’s, that we are talking about an attitude; if a man distinguishes in terms of his likes or dislikes automatically between a Jew and a non-Jew then I suppose we can say that this is anti-Semitism; and in terms of that how do you feel about it?

MR. LUKAS: I have no way of measuring these processes, these attitudes. I can only measure them in terms of their expression. In other words, I have no machine, I have no mechanism by which I can determine attitude except in terms of behavior.

MR. FORSTER: Ed, suppose you pass a law which outlaws discrimination against Jews in the field of education and therefore you’ll find as a matter of investigation less discrimination against Jews. Would you say that this means a lessening in anti-Semitism in this area?

MR. LUKAS: I didn’t say that; no, of course not. I don’t mean that.

MR. FORSTER: What would you say?

MR. LUKAS: I wouldn’t say that the fact that a sanction had been imposed which requires an employer to employ a Jew where prior to the statute he would not have so employed him –

MR. FORSTER: There is no such statue, incidentally.

MR. LUKAS: No. The fact of requiring him to employ him regardless of his race or color, but requiring him not to use race or color as a criterion; I wouldn’t say that the employer who complies with the statute – that is to say, does not any longer discriminate because of race or color – is any less anti-Semitic than he was before the statute. And that’s why I have no way of determining what his attitude is. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to continue to work on that attitude. I am.

MR. HEFFNER: All right. I assume that this question is becoming as hazy as I’m sure this picture is with all this smoke. But don’t stop smoking.

Would you as a leader of the civil rights – I’d ask each one of you – group, or the civil rights action section of each of your Jewish organizations, would you if asked the question whether there is more anti-Semitism or less anti-Semitism, or the extent of it, would you be unwilling to say that there was extensive anti-Semitism if you thought there were, as a representative of this organization? I think the question really comes down to, would a Jewish organization actually say what it thinks about the extent?

MR. LUKAS: Speaking for the American Jewish Committee of course we would.

MR. HEFFNER: So that you really think that there is, what? Less, more? And I’m not asking statistics now.

MR. LUKAS: If you want me to deal with it impressionistically and also in terms of behavior, using both indices – as I have to, I can’t separate the one from the other – I would say there has been an enormous improvement in the last 25 or 50 years.

MR. HEFFNER: OK. Now you’re willing to talk about improvement. Where does the improvement bring us to, to what point?

MR. MASLOW: In other words, you’re asking what is the state of anti-Semitism today?

MR. HEFFNER: Yes, correct.

MR. MASLOW: We have a country in which the Jews perhaps enjoy more freedom and more opportunity that they have enjoyed in any other country in their entire history, outside of Israel of course. Unquestionably there are still barriers and discrimination in economic fields, in political fields, in the academic fields, in the social fields. They are susceptible of measurements.

We also find that the anti-Semitism today is completely unrespectable. There is no anti-Semitic movement of any kind that has economic backing, that has political backing, that has social standing of any consequence in this country as compared with the historic anti-Semitic parities of Germany and Rumania and Russia, et cetera.

MR. HEFFNER: All right, now, but again there are two questions. I’ll ask Mr. Forster in a moment whether he agrees with that. But again we’re talking about – I thought we had again accepted this definition of anti-Semitism not necessarily as organized activity – talking about attitude.

MR. MASLOW: Let me just bring you something. If anti-Semitism isn’t part of something that I pick up from your culture, if anti-Semitism is frowned upon by your culture, if it’s not taught in the classrooms, if it’s not depicted on the stage or the screen and in your books, unquestionably the springs of anti-Semitism will itself dry up. It isn’t something that’s biologic, that a person inherits; it doesn’t come in his blood. If he has never been taught to be anti-Semitic he never will be anti-Semitic.

MR. HEFFNER: You think our society does teach the average young person, or the average old person in this country to be anti-Semitic?

MR. MASLOW: I say the formal instruments in our society are definitely trying to teach tolerance, trying to teach against racism; but parallel with these formal instruments, schools, churches, governments, newspapers, the media of communication, et cetera, there is what the average person picks up in the streets; and a child particularly, so that these two currents must be weighed.

MR. HEFFNER: Picks up in the streets from whom?

MR. MASLOW: From his associates. Studies, for example, of the attitude of young children in Philadelphia show that by the age of six, seven, and eight, they already were conscious of differences, racial and religious differences, and already displaying racial and religious prejudices at the age of six.

MR. HEFFNER: All right. Well let me turn to Mr. Forster and ask him this same question and then come back to the other matter of organized activity. What about the extent of it?

MR. FORSTER: Dick, to come back to the original question, I agree probably with Ed and with Will that there’s far less anti-Semitism generally in the United States than there was in previous years. But I didn’t frankly understand your question about whether or not we would speak up if we found that it were worse. The whole secret of the Anti-Defamation League’s approach in this field is that the facts must be presented to the American people in order that they can deal with them properly, and so we have made it a traditional practice to put the facts on the table.

Within recent months we have spoken up and said to the American people that in our judgment organized anti-Semitism in the southern part of our country is on the increase.

MR. HEFFNER: Which would contradict in part what Mr. Maslow just said.

MR. FORSTER: Yes, it would, and contradict basically what Will is saying about the meaning of this organized anti-Semitism today. We have the notion that important anti-Semitism, politically speaking, only occurs when the issue is attached to a larger issue, a more fundamental issue and one which cleaves the American people. Today in the South the issue of segregation – integration is dividing the Southerner. The professional bigot has attempted to attach the issue of anti-Semitism to that larger issue. If they succeed you will see, in my judgment, an important rise in anti-Semitic activity. I don’t think that yet there is any evidence that they’re going to succeed. As a matter of fact, I see it to the contrary. I think the Southerners generally have firmed up against this kind of anti-Semitism, but it will be important if organizations like the White Citizens Councils and all their counterparts in the South form together in a mass, South-wide single movement.

MR. HEFFNER: All right, now I’m going to take off on the beginning of your answer to this question. You asked me what I meant by that, asking whether Jewish groups would indicate the extent of anti-Semitism, and I come back to this recent report of just a few weeks ago by the American Jewish Congress on anti-Semitic defamation and violence in which, and I quote: “Whatever may be the motives of those who exaggerate the extent of these anti-Semitism outrages” – talking about what has been happening in the South recently – “and whether or not they are acting in good faith, such exaggerations do not contribute toward a sound approach to the solution of the problem.” I think we all grant that. Nothing new is being said there. Exaggerate anything and you’re not approaching anything in a sound manner.

“Moreover, they are self-defeating” – those who would exaggerate, but I would also assume that those who would stress, not exaggerate, but stress, what has been happening – “it must be recognized that much if not most of the violence and bigotry can be explained only in terms of mental illness, and publicizing accounts of anti-Semitic defamation and vandalism are likely to stimulate similar reactions on the part of psychologically diseased persons.”

Which leads me to the question of whether you would not emphasize or exaggerate but indicate the extent.

MR. LUKAS: An agency doesn’t have to indicate what the newspaper has already indicated. If the newspaper reports such an act I think it is our function to put it in its proper context. Someone once said, and I think quite aptly in this context, that the bleeding lamb excites the tiger. And what we are saying when we say that is that we don’t either emphasize or exaggerate the significance of an event but we try to evaluate it against the backdrop on which it is occurring. We think that what we are now speaking of as anti-Semitic activity rather than anti-Semitism is really an American problem, Mr. Heffner. Not a problem for Jewish agencies alone but a problem for all the agencies in the intergroup field, and a problem for Americans themselves.

We were heartened by the fact that when these few outrages occurred in the South, the South spontaneously manifested a spirit of revulsion against them. And I say spontaneous and I mean precisely that, which is an indication of its American nature; an indication also of the American antagonism to this kind of hostility. This is what I meant earlier when I said that I think the atmosphere, the environment, has changed and has improved enormously. I don’t think this could have occurred 25 years ago.

MR. FORSTER: I think that the bombing of a house of Jewish worship is very much a problem for Jews. It may also, and obviously is a problem for all Americans, and as someone said only a few days ago, so long as any Jewish house of worship can be bombed no American can sleep. But I think it’s hiding from the fact to suggest that it is not a Jewish concern when a house of Jewish worship is bombed.

MR. MASLOW: No Jewish organization obviously is unconcerned about a wave of bombings which has now resulted in the bombings of some eight or nine synagogues during the past year. I think the point, however, is how this problem shall be attacked, and there may be some differences among us, I’m not sure.

We believe that these bombings are a spillover of racial tensions which arose primarily from a lawlessness that was engendered on high. Once that lawlessness starts it can’t be contained, and at that point it excites what Ed called the tiger, or what we might describe as the lunatic fringe.

MR. HEFFNER: Yes, but the bleeding lamb that excites the tiger also excites the conscience and the sense of morality of the whole community, and how are you going to rouse the wrath of that community, of this American community unless you make very well known what is going on? Aren’t you assuming with this notion that the bleeding lamb excites the tiger, that there is an overabundance of sickness amongst the American people? That’s why I come back to the question of the extent of anti-Semitism.

MR. LUKAS: On the very contrary, Mr. Heffner. I think I’m indicating – at least I intended to indicate – that there’s a great deal of health in the American community.

MR. HEFFNER: But if there is health why not indicate what is going on so that the moral indignation of the whole community can be aroused?

MR. LUKAS: That’s why I was encouraged by the spontaneity of that revolt.

MR. MASLOW: What makes you think, Sir, it’s not being broadcast by every agency, by every organ of opinion? Is there any effort to keep quiet about the bombings in the South? Is any agency urging that there be quiet about it?

MR. HEFFNER: Mr. Maslow, one thing about a moderator, he doesn’t think. Sometimes he just talks.

MR. LUKAS: You’re an exception to that.

MR. HEFFNER: This time I just quoted from your own –

MR. MASLOW: I think perhaps what was meant –

MR. HEFFNER: Excuse me. May I interrupt and say that we have come to the end of the program.

As I said before, I’m going to ask you three gentlemen later on if you can come back because I think we have just touched it. And if we come back next week or the week after we’re not going to get terribly much further but at least further than we have today. Let me just say think you, Mr. Lukas, Mr. Forster, and Mr. Maslow, for today.

Next week I’m going to ask our three gentlemen here if they will come back with us and ask the people who are going to appear on the program, “Who Beat the Beat Generation?” to come the following week.

At any rate whether we continue anti-Semitism or discover who beat the beat generation, see you next week.