Throughout the nearly fifteen years of the anti-czar boycott
and backlash, threats of retaliation against Russian Jewry never deterred the men of the
Committee. And in fact, during the anti-czar crusade, thousands of Russian lives were lost
and hundreds of thousands more were devastated in pogroms. But the Committee held that the
anti-Semitic outrages of one regime could speed infectiously if not quarantined.
Jacob Schiff addressed the issue in a 1905 cable to Russian
premier Count Sergei Witte: "No doubt... your local authorities, seeing the coming of the end
of the old regime,... have in their rage... instigated the populace against the Jews....
Jewry in general will have at least this consolation; that the present awful sufferings of
their co-religionists will not have been for naught, nor their blood spilled in vain." A year
later, President Theodore Roosevelt warned Schiff that the U.S. protests against pogroms
might only provoke more harm from an indignant czar. Schiff ignored the warning, determined
that such genocidal actions could not go unprotested.(50)
And in early 1911, Schiff acknowledged in a letter to Taft
that as a result of "action on our part, pogroms and massacres of Russian Jews, such as
shocked the world in 1905, might be repeated." But he assured the president that the world
Jewish community and even the Russian Jews themselves knew the risks were unavoidable. The
responsibility for bloody reprisals would be taken "upon our own shoulders," said Schiff. He
added, "it was recognized by our co-religionists that in such a situation, as in war, each
and every man, wherever placed, must be ready to suffer, and if need be to sacrifice
The art of economic and political confrontation-public and
private-was thus a tested and endorsed tradition of the American Jewish Committee. In 1929,
Committee president Cyrus Adler wrote an authorized biography of the great economic warrior
of the Jews, entitled Jacob H Schiff, His Life and Letters. The book detailed Schiff's and
the Committee's tradition of unrelenting economic and political retaliation-regardless of the
short-term risks- against those who would threaten Jewish rights. The book's foreword hoped
its accounts of staunch Jewish defense would "prove of some value in guiding and
For the three and a half decades before Hitler's rise to
power in 1933, the Jews of America were actively engaged in international and domestic
boycotts to fight anti-Semitism. They used the backlash weapon to fill newspapers and
congressional hearing rooms with the gruesome truths of Jewish oppression. The Jews of
America could lead public opinion and marshal government action. They had this power and
they used it continuously.
Wielding this power inspired the conspiracy stories. And so
Jewish leaders were often reluctant. But what choices did they have? After its expulsion
from Israel in the second century, Judaism became a religion without a state and thus without
Papal legions could crush rebellions. Crusaders could
invade lands. Islamic armies could conquer and convert. To survive, Jews could only use
what they had. And what they had was what they were allowed to have. For centuries, denied
lands, denied access to the professions, denied military rank, Jews were forced to deal with
money, with trade, with middlemanship, with bargains, with influence, with the portable
professions. And so Jews fought fire not with fire but with money, with the media, with
access to high position, not in some imaginary conspiracy to dominate the world but in an
ongoing effort to stay one step ahead of the blade, the noose, and the burning stake.
Yet the Jewish leaders most skilled in wielding the boycott
and backlash weapon would in 1933 refuse, in part because the enemy was now Germany,
Fatherland of the Committee. It was now German Jewish blood that would be spilled-not
Russian Jewish. It was now their own uncles and lifetime friends whose lives would be
subject to reprisal in any war for Jewish rights.
Those skilled in using Jewish weapons would also refuse
because a wholly new tactic would now be used to shape Jewish destiny. Palestine would be the
new solution. Hence, the question was now whether to use or not to use the one weapon Jews
had, the one weapon they knew how to use: boycott and protest.
Yet the one weapon Jews had was the one weapon Hitler feared.
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