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Behind the Aegis

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History: Political antisemitism in the United States, 1873-1932

Introduction: Over the past months I have described the development of anti-Judaism in Christian theology and its transformation into secular antisemitism with the 18th century Enlightenment. In the 19th century secular antisemitism quickly evolved into a political movement with an agenda aimed at excluding Jews from civil society and antisemitic parties appeared throughout the West. In Germany-Austria the political agenda changed from social exclusion to physical extermination with the goal of achieving a final solution to the West’s Jewish Problem. This week we turn to the evolution of political antisemitism in the country with the largest surviving post-Holocaust Jewish Diaspora population, the United States.

As in Europe, organized political antisemitism also appeared in the United States in the 19th century. And, as in Europe, a movement to deny Jews legal and social rights did not just appear: it emerged from an already present antisemitic culture.

The first Jews to set foot in the New World arrived with Christopher Columbus in 1492. In 1584 Joachim Gaunse, a Jewish metallurgist who accompanied Sir Walter Raleigh to the Virginia territory, was threatened with blasphemy and forced to return to England. “In 1647, the Portuguese authorities arrested Isaac de Castro for teaching Jewish rites and customs in Portuguese controlled Brazil and sent him back to Portugal where the Inquisition sentenced him to death and burned him at the stake.” Seven years later twenty-three Jewish refugees fled Portuguese Brazil for the more tolerant Dutch New Amsterdam (later renamed New York under the British) where they were barred entry by the colony’s Director General, Peter Stuyvesant. “The Jews who have arrived,” he wrote the directors of the Dutch West India Company, “would nearly all like to remain here, but learning that they (with their customary usury and deceitful trading with Christians)… [we ask that] that the deceitful race -- such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ -- be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony…” The Company apparently felt the Jew’s “customary usury and deceitful trading” would be of value and ordered Stuyvesant to let them stay. As for French colonial areas, the Jews were barred until 1759; and the Spanish, like the Portuguese, planted the Inquisition in the New World and persecuted and executed their “suspect” Conversos, Catholics of Jewish descent.

While the 1789 US Constitution, following Enlightenment principles, protected citizen rights regardless of religion, the first acts of “political” antisemitism came in the form of “states rights,” which allowed states to make local laws, including a state’s relations with Jews. Anti-Jewish legislation would only be rescinded in North Carolina in 1869, while New Hampshire finally relented and allowed “non-Protestants” to hold state office in 1887. Sabbath laws, forbidding commerce on Sunday, was another form of legal antisemitism. Such discriminatory laws remained on the books well into the twentieth century. Their antisemitic intent was clearly described when, “in the 1855 California assembly debate on the topic, the speaker of the house argued that Jews ‘ought to respect the laws and opinions of the majority.’”


Posted by Behind the Aegis | Mon Dec 19, 2011, 06:18 AM (3 replies)

Gay films thrive in Tel Aviv

Aside from being the epicenter of the Israel film industry, Tel Aviv is quickly earning a reputation as the hottest gay destination in the Middle East. Or, as screenwriter, producer and journalist Gal Uchovsky says, "It's good to be gay in Israel."

In some Middle East countries, being gay is cause for punishment, including a death penalty. However, Israel's right-wing, conservative government is putting a great deal of resources into promoting the country as a place that accepts and welcomes homosexuals.

Tel Aviv, where 70,000 marched in this year's Gay Pride parade, has long been a place where attitudes and dress codes are laid back and gay clubs are a prominent component of the city's thriving nightlife.

So confident is Tel Aviv's tourism association in the city's appeal to the gay community that it recently launched a massive branding campaign, dubbed Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, hoping to entice gay and lesbian visitors from all over the world.

Posted by Behind the Aegis | Mon Dec 19, 2011, 04:18 AM (0 replies)
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