Home > Uncategorized > Santa Inc. and why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/26/2021

Santa Inc. and why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/26/2021

I am a Sarah Silverman fan. I have watched her comedy, read her memoir, The Bedwetter, and I regularly listen to her podcast. As readers may know, Sarah is a New Hampshire native, born in Bedford, and she grew up in the southern tier of our state.

She and Seth Rogen recently did voices in a new animated comedy series, Santa Inc., that is streaming on HBO Max. It is made for adults – not children. Rogen plays the voice of Santa Claus and Sarah plays an elf who wants to become the first female and Jewish Santa. It is dirty and funny and I would describe it as in the Bad Santa tradition of Billy Bob Thornton. It will offend many.

Still, when the Santa Inc. trailer uploaded in November what was shocking was not the comedy. Santa Inc. received a torrent of ugly and creepy reactions from Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers. YouTube disabled the dislikes when the count went over 25,000 comments. Many seemed to dislike the idea of two Jews doing a movie about Santa.

The haters coordinated a troll campaign, brigading Santa Inc.. The response made me think about the origins of anti-semitism in the United States and why this is happening now. Is the antisemitism reflected in incidents like the reaction to Santa Inc. something qualitatively new or is it a continuation of longer-term history?

The United States has largely been a welcoming place for Jews since the beginning. When the Jews of Newport Rhode Island wrote George Washington a letter of congratulations on being elected President, Washington responded:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation.”

Of course, early on, Jews made up an infinitesimally small percentage of the American population. In 1776, there were about 1,000 Jews in America; by 1840, 15,000; and by 1880, 250,000, which was one-half of one percent of the population. Unlike in Europe, Jews benefited from our constitution that had a First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

After 1880, things changed dramatically for American Jews. Between 1880-1920, two million Jews fled Eastern Europe and Russia to escape pogroms and state-sponsored terror. And Jews were certainly not the only immigrants. Many millions came to the U.S..

The immigration influx ran headlong into American xenophobia and racism. In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was founded out of a belief that Anglo-Saxon tradition was being drowned by a flood of racially inferior people from southern and eastern Europe.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, WASP upper class elites looked down on Jews as a greedy, cunning and dishonest people. Protestant and Catholic religious leaders promoted stereotypes of Jews as Christ-killers. This was the heyday of Christian antisemitism before the Christian churches started recognizing their responsibility for acquiescing in the promotion of hate.

Although there was an American tradition of tolerance, antisemitism became more entrenched in all sectors of American society.

In this era, scientific racism and eugenics were used to justify immigration restrictions. A group of intellectual influencers, close to ruling circles, that included Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, and Edward Ripley, argued against interracial mixing and against immigration. They argued that immigrants brought crime, illiteracy and political and labor radicalism. Jews, particularly, were associated with labor militancy.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all spoke favorably of Grant.

Grant believed Anglo-Saxons were being displaced by highly undesirable immigrants, particularly Jews, whom he saw as worthless. In his very influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, he outlined the intellectual justification for the 1924 Immigration Act which greatly limited Jewish immigration to America. It was this restrictive law which precluded more European Jews from being able to obtain asylum during the Holocaust.

The gist of the book was that swarms of Jews and other racially inferior people were the cause of the passing of the great white race. Grant’s book was a favorite of Hitler’s. Hitler considered the book his bible.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s, prominent Americans like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin all contributed to an antisemitic upsurge. In his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, Ford published a long-running series The International Jew, claiming there was a vast Jewish conspiracy seeking world domination.

Groups like the German-American Bund sold virulently antisemitic newspapers in cities around the country. In Boston, Irish-Catholic gangs organized “Jew hunts” where a half a dozen young men would drive to a Jewish neighborhood, pile out of a car, beat up Jews and split. Boston had a reputation as the most antisemitic city in the country.

While the oppression was much milder than what African Americans experienced, antisemitism was, to some extent, institutionalized. There were limits for how many Jews would be accepted at upper echelon colleges and universities. There were also restrictions blocking Jews from getting into law firms, medical practices, private clubs, and exclusive residential areas.

Public opinion polls from the 1940’s present an unflattering picture of American antisemitism. A public opinion survey found that 63% of Americans believed that Jews as a group had “objectionable traits”; a majority believed German Jews were wholly or partly to blame for the Nazis’ persecution of them: and a third to a half of the American public would have sympathized with or actively supported an antisemitic campaign. No more than 30% would have opposed it.

After World War II, I do think awareness of the Holocaust changed the thinking of many Americans and moved antisemitism to the sidelines. The Holocaust was such an enormous atrocity that it discredited Jew haters and shrank their visibility and presence.

Over the last fifty years, I would mention the novel, The Turner Diaries, written in 1978, by William Pierce. It has been like scripture to U.S. white nationalists and antisemites. The Anti-Defamation League identified it as “probably the most widely-read book among far right extremists”. It is the most popular antisemitic read since Mein Kampf.

The novel argues that Jews use people of color to conceal their plans for domination. Pierce deemed blacks as not fully human and incapable of action on their own. He saw Jews as the puppet masters.

The Turner Diaries was the forerunner of the Great Replacement theory currently espoused by the far right in America and Europe. The Great Replacement theory is not simply a crazy ideological construct. It has led to attacks on Jews. When the neo-nazis in Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”, that was no accident.

I do see antisemitism as getting worse in America and according to public opinion surveys, 82% of American Jews would agree with that assessment. The historical background I described creates context where antisemitic ideas have been insufficiently repudiated. Rather than confronting and rejecting antisemitism, Americans seem to prefer pretending it is not happening.

There are some indicators I would mention. According to the FBI, American Jews are subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite making up only 2% of the U.S. population. Since 2016, there has been a significant increase both in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes more generally.

Among Jews, there is evidence that many have changed behavior out of fear. According to a new report from the American Jewish Committee, 39% of American Jews avoid posting content online that would reveal their Jewish identity. 23% refrain from publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might enable others to identify them as Jewish. Synagogues and other Jewish-identified institutions have increased security.

I think former President Trump kick-started the hate. Hate crimes spiked in the days after his election in 2016 and have conspicuously continued. For me though, Charlottesvile was the watershed. Trump’s refusal to clearly and unambiguously condemn the white supremacists and neo-nazis who made up part of his base boosted the racists and Jew-haters. The antisemites saw that as a win.

Kenneth Stern of Bard College’s Center for the Study of Hate has said:

“Antisemitism thrives best historically when people are given ammunition to act on an impulse to see an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”

That was the Trump presidency. Trump ran against “the other”, especially immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter and Antifa. He gave license to nutty conspiracy theories like QAnon which draw on antisemitic themes like the blood libel.

One other factor that must be mentioned in the worsening of antisemitism is the role of the internet and social media. Online communities connect haters from far and wide. Tomer Persico from Haaretz writes:

“The web connects oddballs and fundamentalists, and it gives extremists the feeling that they are part of a broad movement. A rising, seething wave of toxicity is being ridden by unscrupulous politicians who are aggrandizing the feeling of white victimhood.”

The reaction to Santa Inc. is a sad testament to the increase of Jew-hatred. Americans of all political stripes and persuasions need to publicly stand up against the hate and oppose it. Part of protecting our multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy is protecting all citizens from emboldened haters.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Ronni Wise
    December 26, 2021 at 4:04 pm

    This was a chilling reminder.

    Thank you for such a comprehensive overview.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • December 26, 2021 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks Ronni and happy new year. I think the history of American antisemitism has been less well covered than the history of racism. I feel compelled to write more about it.

  2. Carl Jung
    January 6, 2022 at 7:37 am

    Jonathan,

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you completely failed to comprehend and even remotely acknowledge that the subject matter and humor in Santa Inc. was not merely distasteful, it was more like an outright attack on one of Christians most sacred Holidays. I guess you are incapable of understanding this rather obvious point. The only thing you can see is antisemitism which is completely pathetic. What this movie clearly illustrated was the mocking, cynical attitude that many Jews harbor towards Christians. The overwhelming response to this travesty of a movie was certainly justified and even an apology from Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman to Christians around the world could not even begin to address all the damage and I’ll will that this movie has caused. In your article, you refer to this movie as “funny” – if you found any part of this movie “funny” – I really think you are quite disturbed and have a very twisted sense of humor. This was a sad, pathetic attempt to cynically mock not only one of our Holidays but I felt it went deeper, and attacked Christians themselves. I hope these comments help you better understand why people reacted so vehemently to this horrific POS movie and why it was not “funny” at all.

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