NEW YORK (Jan. 10)
At a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish discrimination in the United States were at their lowest in more than 30 years, American Jews worried more about the resurgence of Nazi groups than any other domestic problem last year.
This was among the findings of two analyses on “individual Freedom and Jewish Security,” one from a national perspective and the other from a local view, by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC).
The studies, which were mode public, will be used as background papers for a session at the 1979 NJCRAC plenary meeting in Cincinnati Jan. 21-24. They were prepared by Samuel Rabinove, legal director of the American Jewish Committee, and Norman A. Stack, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.
The studies point out that while Jews must remain constantly alert to the threat of anti-Semitism, it is even more important to remain vigilant against threats to democratic institutions, Albert D. Chernin, NJCRAC’s executive vice-chairman, pointed out “What complicates the issue of American Nazis,” he explained,” is the traditional Jewish dedication to freedom of speech and to the First Amendment itself, which are so vital to the interests of the Jewish community.”
DENIES ANTI-SEMITISM IS POTENT FORCE IN U.S.
Rabinove noted that while Jews remain acutely sensitive to reminders of the Holocaust, the general public seems genuinely puzzled by the depth of anguish American Nazi groups induce in Jews today. But it is clearly wrong, he continued, to see this lack of understanding as a sign of increasing Nazi sympathy. He said that while “significant numbers of American gentiles, for varying reasons and in varying degrees, feel antipathy toward Jews,” this “does not mean anti-Semitism is a potent force in the American body politic…it is not.
Cities in which Nazi groups were active over the past years included Skokie, St. Louis, Son Francisco, Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City (Mo.), Milwaukee and Denver. Communities different in structure, tradition and personality also differed in the way they responded, Rabinove said. He stressed that “there is simply no perfect answer” to the problem. He rephrased the question to: “What limits, if any, ought to be imposed on the right to freedom of expression of any group under the First Amendment?”
While assenting that the weight of legal authority is on the side of the civil libertarians, Rabinove added that the Supreme Court has described the First Amendment as having a “preferred position” in the constitutional scheme but has never held that freedom of expression under the Amendment is absolute. “In any event,” he said, “It is neither absurd, immoral nor necessarily constitutionally unsound to maintain that incitement to murder should not be protected speech under the First Amendment.”
WARNS-AGAINST OVER-PUBLICIZING NAZIS
Stack, writing about the local scene, asserted that the Nazi groups thrive on publicity out of all proportion to their numerical strength and warned Jews against “falling into the trap of making them seem more important than they are.” He described the threatened march in Skokie as a unique situation for which the Jewish community was unprepared.
Declaring that a host of factors in Skokie, including the heavy population of Jewish survivors of the Nazi years, mode “understandable” efforts to prevent the march and when this failed to launch a counter demonstration, Stack pointed out; however, that “during and after the period of greatest publicity, many other communities were subjected to Nazi assaults. ” He compared what happened in Skokie with the responses of two other cities, St. Louis, where he was directly involved, and San Francisco. Both used variations of a “quarantine” technique.
In St. Louis, the majority of the organized Jewish community agreed not to participate in counterdemonstrations to a proposed Nazi march and rally or to confront the Nazis in any way. Instead an educational campaign was mounted which included briefing police, civic authorities and the press on the need to keep the Nazis under surveillance because of their hoodlum character, on not exaggerating their importance or giving them the undue publicity they seek and on making clear that such hate groups are an American problem, not just a Jewish one.
The St. Louis Nazis did achieve news coverage when jeering crowds, predominately non – Jewish, had prevented them from even getting off the truck which brought them to the sites of their proposed march and rally and that they finally had to be escorted from their own headquarters to the police station where they changed from their storm trooper uniforms into civilian clothes and dispersed.
In San Francisco, the Jewish Community Relations Council concentrated on discrediting the Nazis through the media — radio, television and press. The anti – Nazi publicity exceeded the news coverage of the Nazis by about 10-1.
NO MAGIC FORMULA
Stack, like Rabinove, however, concluded that “there is no magic formula” or solution applicable to all situations. He added that although each community should be free to determine its own strategy for dealing with Nazi assaults, “the only true comprehensive program for combatting anti-Semitism is for Jews to contribute — as individuals in non-sectarian organizations and through Jewish community organizations — to finding solutions for the major issues challenging our democratic pluralistic society.”