Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern American

By Marc Dollinger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
“The Hope of Democracy and Peace":
American Jews and the Campaign for Intergroup
Dialogue, 1933–1941

DURING THE 1930s, the Great Depression loomed as the greatest threat to American life, and the New Deal dominated national, state, and even local politics. American Jews, however, could not view the political landscape through such myopic lenses. They needed to keep one eye focused on the New Deal, the other keyed on events overseas, and still retain enough peripheral vision to prepare for an uncertain political future at home. For despite efforts to expose Hitler's racist attitudes as undemocratic and un-American, anti-Jewish attitudes remained strong throughout the United States. Isolationist organizations such as America First blamed Jews for Roosevelt's pro-British policies, and anti-Semitic demagogue Father Charles Coughlin broadcast his message of hate to millions of radio listeners. When the Gallup organization conducted a survey in April 1938, it discovered that more than half the American public believed the persecution of European Jewry was either partly or entirely the Jews' fault. The next month, 20 percent of the respondents said they wanted to “drive Jews out of the United States” in order to check their power, while almost one quarter sought Jewish exclusion from government. 1

Once again, American Jews looked to liberal politics to pacify the threats against their community. In their call for interfaith dialogue, Jewish leaders demonstrated how a universalist approach to American liberal democracy legitimated religious difference. The organized Jewish community abandoned the particularist tenor of its anti-Hitler campaign in favor of an ail-American appeal rooted in the optimistic belief that communication, education, and the rule of law could remedy intergroup conflict. Civil equality remained the Jews’ primary goal, and any strategy that antagonized mainstream America compromised Jewish security. While representatives of the AJC and AJCongress differed in their approaches to the New Deal and the rise of Hitler in Europe, all agreed that the fight against domestic discrimination necessitated a univeralist perspective.

When the government proposed bills to limit American civil liberties, Jewish leaders brought their liberal defense of First Amendment rights to

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