Both the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress come in for their share of criticism in an article by Dorothy Thompson and Benjamin Stolberg entitled “Hitler and the American Jew” in the current issue of Scribner’s Magazine, just issued.
Discussing the activities of the American Jewish Committee when faced with the problem of taking a stand on Hitler’s tactics, the authors charge the Committee with trying to “soft-pedal things.” “It advised watchful waiting,” they say. “It refused to participate in parades, demonstrations, protest meetings. It tried to get the government to do something, but very, very quietly. Hush, hush, was the word. In short, while the stress of the situation demanded leadership, the American Jewish Committee offered restraint, It did nothing, most diplomatically.”
But the writers continue: “What is bad for the American Jewish Committee, is good for the American Jewish Congress, which is entirely the sounding board of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise…. Normally, the American Jewish Congress is a pure paper organization. It represents nobody but itself. The Committee represents wealth, which is real. The congress represents leadershipâ€”without followers….
“Nobody doubts Rabbi Wise’s sincere belief in the gospel of racial solidarity, of race-consciousness, of the absurd doctrine that every Jew who believes in assimilation is a ‘renegade’. But there can also be no doubt that the American Jewish Congress saw in the Hitler anti-Semitic outbreaks the chance of a lifetime to gather in some mass following. The rank and file of American Jews wanted to protest. Doctor Wise was very glad to lead them. And to a large extent the reaction of the American Jews to Hitlerism can be studied in the relations of the Ameriican Jewish Congress with the Jewish masses.”
Commenting on the profoundly stirred and outraged Jewish masses which sought to express their indignation and whose desires were frustrated by internal dissension, the writers of the article seek to analyze the components of that mass.
“The Jewish workers,” they write, “who with their families make up more than half of American Jewry, tend to stick to an old-fashioned socialism in theory, though they are both in fact and psychology and in their mode of life a part of the middle class as is the rest of our tradeunion movement. The Jewish ‘petit bourgeoisie’ simply believes in American democracy. Both these groups, which constitute about 90 percent of our Jewish population, wanted to voice their protest in parades, mass meetings, demonstrations. Unfortunately our organized labor movement does not think it necessary to protest in behalf of their German comrades. Unfortunately the liberal forces in America, though not silent, seem unable to demonstrate their disapproval of the fascist terror.
“The Jewish masses would have preferred, avowedly, to march under the banners of American labor and democracy. Since the American Jewish Congress was the only organization which was willing to lead them, they did for a brief time, from early March to the end of May, rally round the congress. But friction soon developed.”
This friction was caused, Miss Thompson and Mr. Stolberg believe, by the fact that the Congress protest against the atrocity campaign of the Hitlerites was in terms of religion while the Jewish mass desired to protest in the name of social justice. They maintain that the “masses of American Jews are against Hitler on many grounds besides his anti-Jewish background. They are for democracy. They are for civil rights. They are against war. They dislike militarism. They are against a system in which a secret police can arrest and hold anyone without trial. They are for free education.” …
Whereas the authors feel that the Jewish upper class (represented by the American Jewish Committee to some extent) are “essentially too conservative to realize that anti-Semitism is a symptom of social reaction and, therefore, temperamentally cannot fight it.”