No Jews on Their Golf Courses

By Jeffreys, Daniel | New Statesman (1996), August 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

No Jews on Their Golf Courses


Jeffreys, Daniel, New Statesman (1996)


Anti-Semitism in America is not only the preserve of extremists. It is alive and well among the seemingly civilised middle class

When the white supremacist Buford O Furrow Jr shot five children in a Jewish daycare centre on Thursday 12 August he was doing something that has become more American than apple pie.

Over the past year, 15 Furrow types have gone hunting with a bagload of military-style weapons for the purpose of killing a stranger of the wrong race or colour. Jews in particular have become the scapegoat of the growing number of far-right hate groups who blame them for the success of the civil rights movement, blame Jewish women for women's equality and Jewish entertainers for the advancement of gay rights.

Nor is American anti-Semitism the preserve of extremists. When Furrow called his attack" a wake-up call to America to kill Jews", he was addressing the millions of Americans who subscribe to a deep-rooted tradition that stretches back to Ulysses S Grant, who expelled Jews from Tennessee during the American civil war. This middle-class bigotry never fails to shock Europeans, who have traditionally viewed American Jewry as a powerful lobby group and highly successful minority that is also an assimilated and integral element of the United States. That may be true among the chattering classes in New York and LA, but beyond these metropolitan boundaries the picture is far more sinister.

In rural Maryland, six miles outside Baltimore, York Road heads north through cropped cornfields. Some of the most intense battles in the civil war were fought here. Many farms were once field hospitals, patching the wounds of northern soldiers sent to dismantle slavery. As York sails over Interstate 83 and dips down, the land becomes a polished green gem dotted with sandtraps. The road follows the golf fairways for three gorgeous miles. Then, through thick trees, the gleaming red brick of the 101-year-old Baltimore Country Club rears up on land that was once a plantation. Much of what fuels American anti-Semitism begins quietly, in civilised circumstances - just like at BCC, a club for the white elite that less than 30 years ago still posted signs reading: "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews".

York Road starts its journey to BCC several social strata away in downtown Baltimore. The city gave birth to the Channel 4 series Homicide and it was once the most dangerous in America. Since 1995 it has been in rebirth. Public funds have been spent, but the bulk of the reconstruction has come from private money. Four local Jewish families have been especially active, donating millions for the renovation of two theatres, the city's art gallery and a concert hall.

Many BCC members love the new downtown facilities; BCC board members do millions of dollars-worth of business with Jewish-owned corporations - but none of this means they will let the Jewish families who built them join their club.

"I wouldn't try to get in there," says a prominent Jewish banker who lives just half a mile from BCC. "Anyone with an obviously Jewish name can expect a rebuff."

Not that the club has a line in its rules that says "No Jews allowed". There is no need for such crass racism, and anyway, who wants the discrimination lawsuits? Instead the policy is operated deep in the consciousness of the members, Catholics and Protestants, who for generations have preferred to keep Jews out.

To join, a prospective member must be recommended by 12 current members, must have all 12 to their home and must visit their sponsors' homes, all within a 12-month period. Only a few Jews have bothered to meet this onerous standard in the past decade, and most were married to Gentiles.

"We gave up trying to integrate with the BCC crowd," says the Jewish owner of a Baltimore construction company. "We built our own clubs instead. It was better than hearing the room go quiet whenever a Jew walked in. …

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