Joe McCarthy and the Jews: Comments on Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, by Aviva Weingarten (2008).

Beginning in the 19th century, liberal/leftist politics has been a hallmark of the Jewish community in America and elsewhere. The attraction of Jews to the success of the Bolshevik Revolution was an entirely mainstream movement among large numbers of Jews in America and led to one of several anti-Jewish stereotypes during the 1920s and 1930s — stereotypes that were aided and abetted by people like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin. Into the 1930s the American Communist Party (CPUSA) had a Yiddish-speaking Jewish section. and Jews around the world had positive attitudes toward the USSR, at least partly because Jews had achieved elite status there.

After World War II, however, anti-Semitism declined precipitously in the US, and Jewish organizations were poised to spearhead the transformations in civil rights and immigration legislation that would come to fruition in the 1960s. By 1950 the Jewish community was part of the establishment — well connected to the power centers in the media, politics, the academic world and the construction of culture generally.

But there was a major problem that the organized Jewish community was forced to confront—a problem stemming from the long involvement of the mainstream Jewish community in communism and the far left, at least until the end of World War II, and among a substantial number of Jews even after this period. In Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, Aviva Weingarten points to a “hard core of Jews” (p. 6) who continued to support the Communist Party into the 1950s and continued to have a “decisive role” in shaping the policies of the American Communist Party (CPUSA) (p. 9).

Weingarten notes that unlike other communists, Jewish communists continued to have an ethnic  identity (p. 10) and often participated in the wider Jewish community. This is a refreshing change from a long history of Jewish apologetics over this issue. The standard line, not only among Jewish activist organizations but by academic authors such as Yuri Slezkine, has been that Jews ceased being Jews when they joined the Communist Party or participated in other far left causes. As a result, the focus of Chapter 3 of The Culture of Critique is to demonstrate that Jewish radicals retained a strong Jewish identity and a sense of pursuing specifically Jewish interests. Most egregiously, the American Jewish Congress — by far the largest Jewish organization in terms of membership — continued to be associated with the far left and was formally affiliated with organizations listed as subversive by the US Attorney General. The CPUSA viewed members of the American Jewish Congress as “democratic forces”  in their attempt to create “democratic and anti-fascist” policies in the World Jewish Congress (p. 25).

This history of Jewish involvement in communism and sympathy toward communism was now combined with the new situation of the Cold War in which the Soviet Union had become the mortal enemy of the United States.

I suppose that in the ideal Jewish world of 1950, Jewish organizations and the great majority of Jews would have smoothly transitioned to a world of what became mainstream liberal politics: the movements for civil rights, for non-European immigration, and for removing any sense that the United States had a European, Christian identity. But, as Weingarten’s book makes clear, Senator Joseph McCarthy made this transition a delicate matter because McCarthy’s investigations into communist infiltration of the government often targeted Jews — not because they were Jews but because Jews were highly overrepresented among communists. And Jewish defendants accused of communist  affiliations were typically represented by Jewish attorneys (p. 30). The result was that Jewish organizations were terrified that the public would be reinforced with the stereotype of Jewish communism.

Such fears were well-founded. A survey by the American Jewish Committee in 1948 found that 21% answered affirmatively the question “Do you think most Jews are Communists?” And an informal survey showed that more than half the people mentioned Jews in responding to the question “What do you think of the atom [spy] stories in the newspapers?,” even though the question didn’t mention Jews (p. 34).

The matter was compounded by the fact that many of the causes championed by the Jewish organizations in the area of civil rights, immigration, and globalist internationalism were also championed by the CPUSA. And throughout the period, the CPUSA viewed Jews as a group that was particularly susceptible to communist messages and recruitment and therefore actively courted them.

In particular, the CPUSA and pro-communist sympathizers continually tried to paint as anti-Semitism any targeting of Jews as communists, no matter how well founded. A paradigmatic case was the spy trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The CPUSA-inspired National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Trial held meetings defending the Rosenbergs in Jewish community buildings. “Headlines in the Daily Worker in the form of ‘Anti-Semitism and the Rosenbergs’ were an inseparable part of this campaign” (p. 32) — a view that the Rosenbergs themselves promoted. Indeed, as Stuart Svonkin points out, the Rosenbergs saw themselves as Jewish martyrs and viewed their political radicalism as intimately bound up with their Jewish identification.

The strategy pursued by the organized Jewish community under these circumstances had several facets:

  • Education within the Jewish community aimed at decreasing sympathy for communism. The main organizations here were the ADL and the AJCommittee, with the AJCongress conspicuous by its absence due to its far-left proclivities. A main tactic was to point out the anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union after World War II — a tactic that assumed (correctly) that Jewish communists had a Jewish identity and would be motivated by it. The ADL and the AJCommittee also fought against Jews who cooperated with high-profile communist campaigns, such as the defense of the Rosenbergs. In 1954 the ADL advocated continuing old programs begun in 1950 and established new programs, indicating that they saw a continuing need for anti-communist work within the Jewish community. For example, there was great embarrassment in 1953 when a person who invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned by HUAC turned out to be a member of the Council for Jewish Community Centers in Cleveland.
  • Public condemnations of communism by Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders, such as Senator Herbert Lehman (D, NY). However, the established Jewish organizations rejected the American Jewish League Against Communism, a Jewish organization that supported McCarthy and took a strong stand in favor of ridding the Jewish community of communism. They were worried that the AJLAC would bring too much attention to the Jews-as-communists concerns of the mainstream Jewish organizations.
  • Intellectual work rationalizing the political goals of Jewish organizations in the areas of civil rights and immigration as fulfilling American ideals rather than communist ideals. Here Weingarten credits the “mostly Jewish” New York Intellectuals as developing a left/liberal anti-communist perspective that left an “indelible mark” on American intellectual life. (In The Culture of Critique, the New York Intellectuals are discussed as a Jewish intellectual movement.) Weingarten highlights the role of Commentary(published by the AJCommittee) as publicizing anti-Semitism in the USSR and Eastern European countries. Commentary also published articles on the incompatibility of Judaism and communism. Throughout the entire period the organized Jewish community continued to engage in propaganda campaigns designed to re-educate the American public along liberal lines. Both the ADL and the AJCommittee supported academic research by the Frankfurt School and the New York Intellectuals designed to promote civil rights, end the European bias of US immigration laws, and promote the idea of the United States as a proposition nation with no ethnic or cultural core.
  • It bears emphasizing that although all of these intellectuals began their careers as Marxists and continued to promote anti-White policies in areas such as immigration reform, they framed their ideas in language that was more acceptable to an American audience and often appealed to American ideals of democracy and freedom. For example,  Sidney Hook, a leader among the New York Intellectuals, argued that democracy required multiculturalism. An influential paradigm of this approach is The Authoritarian Personality, a product of the Frankfurt School that was funded by the AJCommittee — and the subject of Chapter 5 of The Culture of Critique.
  • Strong opposition to McCarthy himself.

But why exactly were these Jewish organizations and the vast majority of individual Jews so opposed to McCarthy? One might think that the Jewish organizations could simply cooperate with McCarthy to rid the Jewish community of hard-core communists. One reason was that the atmosphere created by McCarthy was not conducive to the liberal/left political agenda that the Jewish organizations were actively pursuing in the areas of civil rights and immigration policy. The  McCarthy era produced an upsurge of patriotism in the US at a time when patriotism had strong overtones of supporting the traditional people and culture of America. Everything linked to communism came under suspicion. And since the CPUSA supported the domestic political agenda of Jewish organizations — an agenda entirely at odds with traditional conceptions of America, the Jewish organizations had an obvious motive to end McCarthyism as soon as possible.

Moreover, McCarthy fanned the passions of anti-communism and, because of the strong association of Jews and communism, these passions often had anti-Jewish overtones. A well-known example was the so-called Peekskill riots of 1949 in which demonstrators yelled out anti-communist and anti-Jewish epithets at people attending a scheduled performance by Black baritone and political radical Paul Robeson. Most of the concertgoers were Jewish radicals from New York City.

Jews were also vastly overrepresented in high-profile cases among those invoking the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate oneself, so that public hearings like McCarthy’s inevitably highlighted the Jewish role in communism. For example, in 1952, of 124 people questioned by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Weingarten identifies 79 Jews, 32 non-Jews and 13 with unknown ethnicity. All invoked the Fifth.

Even more remarkably, of the 42 people who were dismissed from their positions at the Fort Monmouth Laboratories in New Jersey on suspicion of constituting a spy ring (the same one that Julius Rosenberg belonged to), 39 were Jews and one other was married to a Jewish woman. M. Stanton Evans has an excellent chapter on the Monmouth case in his Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies — by far the best and most exhaustive survey of McCarthy’s battles. Evans shows how many of the Fort Monmouth accused invoked the 5th Amendment under questioning by McCarthy and he exposes the incredibly lax security procedures at the facility. For example, one employee “signed out at one  time or another for more than 2700 documents (not a typo)” (p. 510). Two-thirds were still missing after an investigation, but when the employee was brought up on security charges, all of this was omitted from the record on orders from above.

Evans also quotes the post-McCarthy testimony of a Soviet scientist that “in the 1940s secret U.S. material involving radar had turned up in Russia in vast amounts, and that literally ‘thousands’ of these had been identified on their face as having come from Monmouth” (p. 510). Other evidence indicated that the Monmouth spying continued into the 1950s at the  time of McCarthy’s hearings. In the end, the Fort Monmouth battle proved pivotal for McCarthy, “provoking a showdown of epic nature between McCarthy and the executive branch” (p. 513).

I also suspect there was a visceral gut solidarity with the Jewish left which made it very difficult to simply cooperate with McCarthy. Again, the AJCongress was the by far largest Jewish organization during this period and its membership was sympathetic to the left even when not explicitly pro-communist. Particularly salient was the 50,000-member Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order, an affiliate of the AJCongress listed as a subversive organization by the U. S. Attorney General. The JPFO was the financial and organizational “bulwark” of the CPUSA after World War II and also funded the Daily Worker and the Morning Freiheit. Although the AJCongress severed its ties with the JPFO and stated that communism was a threat, according to Stuart Svonkin, it was “at best a reluctant and unenthusiastic participant” in the Jewish effort to develop a public image of anti-communism—a position reflecting the sympathies of many among its predominantly second- and third-generation Eastern European immigrant membership.

The organized Jewish community consistently opposed measures intended to make it more difficult for communists to operate within the American system even as it officially opposed communism. For example, Jewish organizations objected to any infringements of civil liberties or academic freedom enacted to firm up national security. Weingarten attributes this stand to a principled Jewish respect for human rights (e.g., p. 66), particularly on the part of the AJCongress, the Jewish organization most closely identified with the far left.

But it can be easily seen that Jews and Jewish organizations have not consistently been on the side of civil liberties and academic freedom. During the 1920s and 1930s mainstream Jewish organizations and Jewish intellectuals rationalized Soviet despotism and turned a blind eye to Soviet mass murder during a period when Jews were an elite within the Soviet Union. And in the present era, Jewish organizations, most notably the ADL, have been prime advocates of “hate crime” legislation aimed at penalizing beliefs and ideas. Jewish organizations have also attacked the academic freedom of professors who have been critical of Israel. The ADL has also been critical of my writing and, along with the $PLC, engaged in public denunciations of my writing and associations at the university where I work. In general, perceived interests are a much better predictor of Jewish behavior than principles.

Finally, another reason the organized Jewish community opposed McCarthy was that even though Joe McCarthy surrounded himself with Jews and did his best to ingratiate himself with the Jewish community, some of his supporters and associates were well known to be anti-Jewish. Most of these people are little known now, with the exception of Gerald L. K. Smith. Weingarten interprets these associations as McCarthy using these people for his own ends, not as indicating that McCarthy was anti-Jewish.

Indeed, some of McCarthy’s closest associates were Jews, including Roy Cohn, chief counsel of McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and Cohn’s protégé David Schine. Cohn is portrayed as a strongly identified Jew who felt that Jewish organizations did not do enough to support Jews who were in the front lines opposing communism. Cohn was remembered by college friends as “reacting almost violently to any Jew suspected of pro-communist leanings” (p. 92); a TV producer claimed that Cohn had said that “although not all Jews are Communists, but all Communists are Jews” (p. 92).

Another Jew close to McCarthy was George Sokolsky who was a journalist for the Hearst newspapers and was associated with the “China Lobby,” a group devoted to Chiang Kai-Shek and a non-communist China. Sokolsky was the Hearst newspapers’ liaison with McCarthy and set up McCarthy’s relationship with Cohn. Sokolsky also set up a meeting of McCarthy with the ADL. There are varying accounts of this meeting, but nothing positive came of it. One observer claimed that a drunken McCarthy stated “you just write what my credo ought to be and I’ll sign it” (p. 108), but the offer was turned down by the ADL representatives.

Alfred Kohlberg, a businessman associated with the China Lobby, was also a close friend of McCarthy. Sokolsky, Kohlberg and Cohn were all associated with the American Jewish League Against Communism.

As Weingarten notes, “the fact of their being Jews and anti-communists was made full use of by McCarthy, who wanted to expand his circle of support, while doing his best to free himself of any hint of anti-Semitism” (p. 100). McCarthy also attempted to get Cohn appointed to a position on the ADL executive council, presumably, as Weingarten suggests, in order to dampen the animosity of these organizations toward him.

Indeed, McCarthy seems to have done everything he could to curry favor with Jews. Lucy Dawidowitz wrote that in the early 1950s “for anyone in public life [anti-Semitism] is the sign of Cain. So overwhelming is the disrepute of anti-Semitism that an unrestrained demagogue like McCarthy has studiously avoided the Communist provocation and has, as a matter of fact, tried to establish himself as a philo-Semite” (p. 128).

The fact that McCarthy attempted to gain Jewish allies and did his best not to offend the Jews shows quite clearly that Jews were very powerful in 1950s America. In retrospect, the campaign of the organized Jewish community and their allies in the media and the intellectual world was quite successful in containing the threat posed by McCarthy to the general public policy positions pursued by the organized Jewish community during this period: civil rights, non-white immigration, and the idea that America is a proposition nation with no ethnic or religious identity. All these campaigns were carried on in the teeth of McCarthyism and despite the fact that these same ideas were promulgated by communists.

In the long run, these public policy positions were far more important than the national security threat posed by pro-Soviet Jewish leftists. The general climate created by McCarthy delayed the triumph of these policies but could not ultimately hold them back. At least part of the problem was that McCarthy was not concerned with challenging the policy positions of the Jewish organizations related to civil rights, immigration, and the proposition nation, but focused exclusively on containing the internal security threat. The nexus among elites in politics, the intellectual world and the media was not threatened by McCarthy or his allies in the moribund conservative movement of the period, and indeed this elite ultimately caused his downfall.

This hostile elite — hostile to the traditional people and culture of America — is still in place. But unlike  McCarthy (and with the benefit of 50 years of hindsight), we now realize that the Jewish involvement in the transformations of recent decades must be discussed openly and honestly — even if mainstream conservatives are still terrified at the prospect.

Indeed, one might ask these conservatives, “What do you have to show for decades of not openly discussing Jewish influence?” The answer, quite clearly, is that by not discussing Jewish issues openly and honestly, mainstream conservatives are cooperating in the displacement of White America and are forfeiting any sense that conservatism ought to defend the traditional people and culture of America. As they say, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

This is a repost of an article that originally appeared in 2009. 

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