Sep
12
2013

On the successful marginalization of anti-Semitism in WWII America.

I was particularly struck by this passage:

“The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto” wasn’t just a piece of timely wartime programming by NBC. It was the capstone of an American Jewish Committee program to combat anti-Semitism by promoting the idea that, with the world at war, anti-Jewish bigotry wasn’t just a problem for the Jews—it was also essentially un-American.

The initiative was the brainchild of Richard Rothschild, a philosopher-turned-advertising executive who was recruited in the late 1930s to craft AJC’s national strategy to combat anti-Semitism. Rothschild introduced the concept of “salting in,” whereby notable Jewish figures were folded into radio programs or print material. Their names alone, he felt, would identify them as Jews; there was to be no discussion of the character’s religion or ethnicity. The Jew was to be presented, quite simply, as a natural part of the landscape. At the same time, non-Jewish stars like James Cagney were recruited to perform AJC material. Meantime, millions of Americans saw full-page newspaper advertisements, school posters, and comic books prepared by AJC but distributed through partner organizations.

While the war itself laid the groundwork for shifting American perceptions about Jews, Rothschild and his colleagues were instrumental in casting anti-Semitism outside the realm of social acceptability. Rather than dignifying anti-Semitic attacks with a direct response, they simply presented an alternate reality in which Jews were portrayed in pop culture as Americans like anyone else—prefiguring by decades the rise of Judd Apatow’s nebbishy anti-heroes. The anti-Semites, Rothschild argued, had to be the “ones in the criminals’ dock” where their un-Americanism, indecency, and subversive activities could be exposed.

It worked.  More to the point, it deserved to work. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are capable of accepting that your country’s base culture is worth supporting, defending – and joining.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

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