Arnold Forster, Marie Jahoda, Harold Taylor

Nature of Anti-Semitism

VTR Date: June 9, 1956

Guests: Forster, Arnold; Jahoda, Marie; Taylor, Harold




JUNE 9th, 1956

ANNCR: 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.

HEFFNER: (over film and other visuals) On this program we shan’t make any claims about being open-minded on the matter of bigotry itself, on religious and racial persecution. These are evils, obscenities, and we consider them such. But, their extent, their cause and their cure, these are the questions that are open to challenge and discussion. Racial bigotry is, of course, very much in the news today, in the South and, we should admit, in our own midst as well. Of religious prejudice, however, we hear much less. Even though many of us remember how Catholic Al Smith was pilloried because of his religion when he ran for the presidency in nineteen-hundred and twenty-eight. And our own decade has produced bigoted charges that Roman Catholics have torn down the stars and the stripes. And that an un-American Catholic party is being formed with Cardinal Spellman as its boss. Actually, however, our subject today is religious bigotry of another variety, anti-Semitism. A disease ancient in its historical origin and yet as contemporary as the classified ad that reads “restricted” or “for gentiles only” in today’s newspapers.

This old woodcut dates back to fourteen-hundred and ninety-three. What it shows is the burning of Jews at Nuremberg in Germany, where more than four centuries later the world’s worst outbreak of anti-Semitism would begin with the simple boycotting and closing of stores owned by Jews. Unthinking Germans may not, at first, have bargained fully for the ultimate murder of six million innocent men, women and children. But, the brutalities of the concentration camps did begin with those early demands that Arian Germans boycott the Jews.

Anti-Semitism in the Twentieth Century hasn’t been limited to Nazi Germany, however, or to Russian where czar and communist dictator alike have used this scapegoat. Nor are we in the United States immune from anti-Semitism. It can happen here, it has happened here, though not in its most violent form. In our early history, to be sure, anti-Semitism was relatively unimportant. So much so that as late as eighteen-hundred and ninety-five Theodore Roosevelt, who was then New York City’s police commissioner, could practically laugh out of town a notorious foreign Jew-baiter by assigning Jewish policemen to guard an anti-Semitic rally. But World War I and the complexities of the Twentieth Century seemed to change all of this. During the war the loyalty of Jews of German extraction was seriously questioned. And after the war the tensions that accompanied America’s new responsibility, and that were generated by the enormous social and economic dislocations of the 1920s and 30s, these more and more frequently found an outlet in hate mongering and in anti-Semitism in particular.

So that Jew-baiting became something less than a laughing matter when a pamphlet put out some years ago seriously and viciously attacked what it called Jewish jazz. And in our own years when a Swastika and “down with Jews” are scrawled on a Jewish community center; when a monthly publication charges amongst other things that organized Jewry gives sanctuary to Red traitors. And when a throw-away comic strip urges Americans to buy gentile and to boycott Jew stores. Just as the Nazis did two decades ago. Anti-Semitism isn’t always so open, of course. There are the subtler restrictions. The gentleman’s agreement that no Jews are allowed in this country club, in that residential district. There are the college or medical school applications that ask for religion or mother’s maiden name, or parents’ nationality. And, to be sure, there is always the classified ad that says “for gentiles only” or something of that kind. And these aren’t the only means by which Americans have discriminated against Jews. There are those letters from hotels that read as these do. One in particular – “Our policy of catering exclusively to Christians prevails”. A telegram from one well-known hotel to two Jewish applicants – “Regret unable to accommodate. We call attention to our restricted policy. Would appreciate entertaining reservations for clients who comply with our policy”. Or a letter from an inn in a nearby state – “In recommending your clients to us it might be well to mention that we operate exclusively on a restricted basis. We do not accept reservations from those of the Hebrew faith, and only those of the Italian nationality of the higher caliber who are free from Jewish appearance”. These and many more are the means by which some of us have discriminated against Jews in the United States.

Now, let’s turn to our experts today to discuss the whole matter of anti-Semitism more fully. My guests today are a psychologist, Dr. Marie Jahoda, who has written a book on anti-Semitism and emotional disorder with Dr. Nathan Ackerman; another guest, educator Dr. Harold Taylor, president of Sarah Lawrence College; another guest is a lawyer, Mr. Arnold Forster, Chief Counsel of the Anti-Defamation Rights. You people have all been involved in one way or another in this problem, and I wonder if I could just open up our discussion by asking whether you have any comments on what I’ve said or on this whole problem in general.

FORSTER: Well, Dick, I might have a comment to begin with if I may. The political anti-Semitism of not choosing sides. I think you might have leaned just a little bit too heavily on the importance of the gutter digging; the fellow who gets out the outlandish, fantastic and ugly venomous anti-Semitism which you see in the cartoons that you showed. These fellows aren’t important in my judgment. You have to deal with them, you have to cauterize against them, but they don’t create the poison of prejudice which we’re concerned with. I think far more important than the so-called professional gutter digger is the anti-Semitism that comes from the disability Jews suffer as a result of the discriminations, polite and subtle, in the field of education, in the field of housing, in the field of employment and in the social field – the golf clubs and even the business clubs. I think here we get into the important area of anti-Semitism today in this country.

HEFFNER: Do you think I’ve exaggerated the importance of the political bigot?

DR. JAHODA: Well, I don’t really know, you know. I have a feeling that the very violent forms of anti-Semitism, as know it from the Nazis, for example, and the more polite forms that we feel they accomplish, aren’t psychologically so very different, as this strong distinction that the two of you are making seems to imply. I think that the polite anti-Semite of today, given the right circumstances, will become a violent anti-Semite and we know as a fact that some of the Nazis who, by one way or another came over to this country, didn’t all of a sudden forget their anti-Semitism but in the more moderate climate of our country here, they became relatively polite anti-Semites. So I really think that this distinction between violence and polite forms shouldn’t really be made. Psychologically it goes through the same fundamental basis and it depends very much on the situation, in what form it will ultimately come out.

FORSTER: Well, Doctor, I couldn’t agree with you more, but I think perhaps you miss my point. I don’t know that the professional bigot is the cause of the discrimination. I kind of think at times that the mores of the community which spell a second-class citizen for Jews in some areas, is the climate that gives the professional bigot the opportunity to spread his activity. In other words, I don’t think the professional bigot starts it at all. I think it begins by being part and parcel of our climate of opinion and there are cheap political opportunists who would take advantage of the climate of opinion and frequently they wind up in the gutter. That’s all I meant. Of course there’s a relationship between the two in the respect that you pointed to.

TAYLOR: I think that in terms of the social attitude which anybody takes to anybody else, with this negative hating of other groups which we need to think about. I’m not thinking about educators and what you can do through the public school system or through community work to make community living one in which people are treated as individuals and not as members of groups in general.

DR. JAHODA: Excuse me, Harold, but I think that’s an important point, because what you have just said really implies that prejudice against any group of people – Negroes, Jews, Catholics – whoever it happens to be, has a lot in common with each other. They aren’t really different forms of behavior, and I’m awfully glad you brought this out, because that’s what we know from our psychological studies.

HEFFNER: Mr. Forster, in your new book, “Cross Currents”, you’ve certainly indicated that the more violent forms of anti-Semitism goes hand-in-glove with the gentler type.

FORSTER: Well, in my book, frankly, I was concerned with the problems of political anti-Semitism on the higher level. The political anti-Semitism which you saw under Hitler, not the roughneck kind that you saw with the pipsqueak on a street in a small town in the United States.

HEFFNER: Well, how extensive is this anti-Semitism, whether it is a political kind which, I suppose, can best be represented by, well in Nazi Germany by the violence we saw, or the college application? How extensive is this problem?

FORSTER: Well, I think the suburban communities around our big cities where people have moved having become successful in the American social system, on the whole are discriminatory in their attitude toward Jews. I think that the extent to which Jews are excluded from ordinary social intercourse of the kind they are entitled to as citizens is hard to measure from community to community. But the studies I’ve seen indicate that you have large blocks, whether they’re apartment houses or communities in which separate residences are on one or two acres of ground you have blocks of homogeneous, non-Jewish, moderately well-off people who make it their business not to have Jews live nearby. Now, I guess that form of anti-Semitism is pretty general in the suburbs, according to the studies I’ve seen…

HEFFNER: (CUTS IN) Excuse me…

TAYLOR: …Turning for a minute to the colleges, I think that around the country, on a national basis, the attitude of educators has certainly been much more correct in terms of equality of applications over the past ten to fifteen years, because of the educational programs that have been run nationally against discrimination on the grounds of race, color, or creed. I think we’re much more conscious of the need for an individual to have his chance, no matter what his national origin or religion.

HEFFNER: I wonder if that…I’m sorry you wanted to say something.

DR. JAHODA: No, no…

HEFFNER: I have another question. I wonder how true that is. Recently there have been further statements made that medical schools still do, by various devices, discriminate against Jews. And I wonder whether we haven’t just changed from one form of just asking outright what religion you profess to other questions.

FORSTER: Dick, it didn’t seem to me that Harold said the problem had been resolved. What he indicated was that educators are now more conscious of the problem. There’s a large span between the consciousness on the part of those who control in the collegiate level and the accomplishment of the correction. And I think you’ll agree with me, Harold, that we still have a long way to go in higher education.

TAYLOR: Yes, we have a long way to go in higher education generally. And this is one of the problems that we’ve got a lot of work to do on. But I didn’t mean anything like that.

DR. JAHODA: Well, I really wanted to come back to another point, you know. you said, in talking about the suburbs, that you find occasionally gentile and Jewish communities, small communities, segregated, and I’d like to emphasize that segregation of people in different neighborhoods, we might like or dislike, but he should know he was being segregated…anti-Semitism…it’s very conceivable that a number of Jews want to stay with each other because they share Jewish celebrations or they have holidays in common or whatever else it is, and I have a feeling that particularly…Jews are, I guess, understandably so sensitive about anti-Semitism that we often tend to interpret as anti-Semitic…just the very fact of segregation. It only is anti-Semitism to the extent that the gentile group exclude the Jewish deliberately, but the fundamental psychological problem is really not to say everybody has to be friends with everybody, or has to be nice to everybody, but for all of us to learn to take a difference as an interesting, additional, exciting sect of life instead of getting so frightened at every difference in tradition, ideas or behavior as most people I know accomplish. And you know, to come back to your question, there’s no real scientific answer about how many people are anti-Semitic, but by a very good guess it’s assumed that about half the adult population in the country is, on some level, anti-Semitic and that’s a frightening percentage.

TAYLOR: Marie, I wanted to say this. I don’t think Jews are frightened. I can agree with you that Jews might be sensitive, but with respect to the reasons, the fact is behind Jews congregating in one area. How would you analyze the accumulation of Negroes in any small community in one compact area? Would you suggest that there too, it’s a cultural reason and that there they prefer to live only among themselves?

DR. JAHODA: No, but actually you know, there are these two principles that meet those segregational groups in residential neighborhoods. Either because the people themselves like it better, or because the others compel them. Now, with the Negroes it’s very obvious they just don’t have any decent houses, housing, and they get so discriminated against on the housing market. The Jews, by the way, the same thing happens…it’s done a little bit more politely but it’s shocking to think that even in New York there are lots of apartment houses where Jews are not welcome.

HEFFNER: It seems to me, Marie, if Jews find themselves segregated even in the cities, or in suburbia, that the primary factor is probably a hostility against them rather than a desire to live close to one another. I think there can be a Jewish cultural willingness to be close to one another. I don’t think it actually requires physical closeness at all. Certainly, toward the end of last century, historians have said that the Jews who came from Eastern Europe settled in the cities, in ghettos in the cities, instead of going out to the farms. And much of a point has been made about that, and the problems of the city, slums, etc., have been attributed to these people. And yet, I don’t think they gathered together, and certainly a number of historian shave indicated recently, they didn’t gather together because they wanted to. It was because they had no place else to go. And if people then said…”but you gathered together in ghettos”, this was the result of meeting what you call hostility, rather than a matter of choice.

TAYLOR: Well, I would think that if you take over the past fifty years, with the newcomers to the country coming in forming minority groups, Italians, Greeks, Africans, any number, naturally one would come over to a given family of one’s own nationality. So that Brooklyn, for example, has nationality minorities as well as religious minorities and you cite them with closed in situations, out of which you then have to emerge. Now, I think we’re in a transitional period in this country in which having started with a whole variety of national minorities and religious minorities, we are in the process of trying to break through to a more equalitarian attitude since the immigration has stopped and things, of course, may be just as before. And you said second generations of children coming into schools and colleges where before they weren’t going to colleges as much. So, we have a number of these new problems which we’re in the process of solving, and I think there is a real question too for the Jew in this country, as well as for religious groups, generally, about the integrity of his own beliefs and his own traditions. I would hate to see the integrity of the Jewish tradition dissipate itself by a social ambition on his part or by a social solution on our part, who are not Jewish, which wiped away the difference in his culture and tradition as a Jew.

FORSTER: I can assure you, Harold, that the Jews will retain their culture, as they have since the beginning even if you eliminate all disabilities against them, in this sense.

DR. JAHODA: Excuse me, but actually, you know, the point is that anti-Semitism is not a question of whether the Jews believe in this way or that way, anti-Semitism is the question of personality, the outlook and behavior of the people who hate the Jews, and not what the Jews do.

HEFFNER: Well, Dr. Jahoda, that brings up a question – what is the cause? You say half the population is anti-Semitic. What are the causes, and then what are the cures?

DR. JAHODA: Well, that’s a really big question. Form the studies we have done on the subject we have come to the conviction that anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice in people rarely serve a psychological function for these people. They have some deep-lined personality conflict and the very existence of the Jews or the Negroes is used by them as a way of dealing in the external world with something that’s really fundamentally wrong in themselves. Now, I don’t want to go into all the details of the subject, but the essence of what we know psychologically about this is that people in their very early years of life develop quite frequently an uncertainty about their own self. They are unhappy with themselves, they can’t accept themselves, there’s all sorts of criticism that doesn’t come out, there’s all sorts of fundamental doubts about their own personalities. Now, these things they don’t like themselves, they tend to see in outside groups, because it is, you know, like throwing the problem from yourself, projecting it to the outside world. Now people, for instance, might feel they are very interested in money and that’s a bad thing. Now, it’s awfully hard to admit this about one’s self, and it comes much easier to say “Isn’t it a terrible thing, the Jews want all the money, all they care about is this money greediness”; it could have been anybody that they are trying to build up by shielding this insecurity they have in themselves and reflect it in another group.

HEFFNER: Well, I’m sorry, what were you going to say, Arnold?

FORSTER: Well, I was going to say I don’t know if I can accept much of what Marie says because I don’t know that I’m prepared to accept her first statistic. I’ve seen many surveys on the attitude of different groups of Americans toward other groups of Americans and I’m not prepared to accept any one of them. They’re not validated so far as I’m concerned. The percentage of fifty percent of the American people with a hostility against Jews, I just reject that…I begin to understand how you can arrive at that kind of percentage, however, Marie, when I know the fact is that you’re taking into account to establish the hostility. It seems to me if you examine the frustration, sue that one frame and none of the others in your field, of any group of Americans, you might find a hostility incidence of Catholics against Protestants, of seventy percent Protestants against Jews, of forty percent against Negroes, of ninety-nine percent, and I don’t think really that these polls are pointing accurately to the size of prejudice against any group in this country.

TAYLOR: Well, I think there are a lot of discontented, frustrated people, and some of them take it out on groups, and the simplest thing to do is to take Jews, talk about Jews. But, I’d like to say too, that rather than giving a completely psychological explanation of why people behave as they do, as far as anti-Semitism is concerned, I think that if you live in a white, non-Jewish community of middle income all your life, and there are stereotypes which emerge in the culture you just accept them. And even if you’re feeling great and are not mad at anybody you can still be anti-Semitic both in a polite and an impolite way by the kind of cultural patterning which you’re exposed to if you never meet anybody except your own kind. And I think that’s one of the big things about segregating any minority group, that you never can break through into an open and generous type of acceptance of each other because you don’t know the other people.

HEFFNER: But, Harold, would you be willing to ascribe to this group you’ve just outlined, a hostility against Jews and anti-Semitism, these people who, in the white Protestants I think you called them, who have their own cultural and they kind of build walls around the others…do these people who fall into that culture automatically become anti-Semites?

TAYLOR: I couldn’t answer the question explicitly, but I couldn’t imagine so. I think that one accepts social stereotypes as they come along.

DR. JAHODA: But the one real truthful question as to whether or not this anti-Semitism is whether that sort of belief taken over from others stands up when the facts really contradict it. And when a person is unable to take structural correction in his views about the Jews, only then do I call him anti-Semitic. You know, this business you started about psychological and social reasons being separate goes against all my vested interests as a social psychologist.

TAYLOR: Well, I’d hate to do that.

DR. JAHODA: (LAUGHS) Because the two continuously interact. You have to have the need for the hostility against the other person, but together with it you have to have a situation that lends itself to reflect this hostility outward, so socially or psychologically alone I don’t think we could ever understand prejudice.

TAYLOR: Yes. I understand you to mean that there’s been evidence of some form of emotional maladjustment that symbolizes the development of anti-Semitism. I was going to say it could appear in the people who adjust themselves to their own anti-Semitism and are quite happy about it, and are not looking for something to act out on someone else. I think there’s a social reason, for example, among certain groups…

HEFFNER: (CUTS IN)…Just as we say that I’m afraid we have to end our program today on anti-Semitism. Well, that’s the nature of time. But thanks so much for coming to discuss it with me Dr. Marie Jahoda, Dr. Harold Taylor, Mr. Arnold Forster. Possibly, the best way to conclude this program on anti-Semitism is to read from a letter that George Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, back in 1790. “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, and giving it on all occasions their effectual support”. And the President concluded, “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the Father of all mercy scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here and in His own due time and way, everlastingly happy”. Obviously, the issues and questions raised by today’s discussion of anti-Semitism indicate that the roots of prejudice are deep indeed. And so, next week, THE OPEN MIND will return to investigate the nature of prejudice generally. Our guests will be a psychoanalyst, a priest and a newspaperman. Meanwhile, we’d like to know your thoughts on today’s subject.

ANNCR: WRCA-TV has just presented THE OPEN MIND. Your host was Richard D. Heffner. If you have comments on THE OPEN MIND, or if you wish to suggest subjects for future programs, write to THE OPEN MIND, WRCA-TV, New York 20, New York.