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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

HATESGIVING, HENRY FORD, & OTHER THOUGHTS ON ANTISEMITISM

As I’ve written in this column too often, America is facing an onslaught of antisemitism unlike anything we’ve seen in the recent past. What began about seven years ago with the outbreak of the so-called “alt-right” has now blossomed like the famous corpse flower into a smelly, shocking mess. But unlike that weird flower, it has not closed up again and shows little sign of doing so. The most recent chapter in this horror show took place over Thanksgiving when former president Trump hosted Kanye West and Nick Fuentes – two vile antisemites – at his Florida home.


West’s “deathcon 3” and other tirades against Jews are by now well known. Fuentes, however, may be a new name to those who don’t follow the snake of antisemitism slithering across America. He is the vicious Jew-hater and white supremacist who spearheaded the 2017 “Unite the Right” marches in Charlottesville, Virginia. The one where they shouted, “Jews will not replace us.” The one that Trump defended saying that “there were very fine people, on both sides.” (Keep in mind that Trump’s (partial) defense for Hatesgiving Dinner 2022 is that he had no idea who Fuentes is.)


Responses to the event by Trump supporters ranged from powerful to disappointing to non-existent (more on this below.) In any case, I did not originally set out today to write about what happened at Mar-a-Lago. I originally intended to write about the antisemitic histories of and responses to Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin and their parallels today. Little did I realize that one of those parallels would be Hatesgiving Dinner 2022.


In any case, I still want to turn to Henry Ford and parallels to what we're seeing today.


My interest in this was raised by a recent Washington Post opinion piece by Detroit area writer Rebecca Sonkin. Noting the business collapse that Kanye West brought upon himself with his ongoing antisemitic tirades, Sonkin asked a question that’s been bugging me since I moved here in 2013: how is it that Ford’s malevolence toward Jews is today dwarfed in our area by the urge to celebrate his achievements?


From the Henry Ford College to the Henry Ford Health System (“I am Henry!”) to the Henry Ford museum, the guy who I grew up hearing was the King of American Jew-Hatred is celebrated here everywhere, as if his antisemitism never was. Certainly there would be no red flags for simply honoring the Ford name since it comes with the family’s and business’s legacies. There were many laudable figures in both. But to specify Henry? What’s that all about?


Sonkin’s (and my) questions – and her challenge to the Detroit Jewish community to do something about this – are grounded in the realization that when we ignore or erase the legacy of antisemites and other haters, we open the doors to forgetfulness or worse.


Worse happened in 2019 when Jonathon Stanton, chair of the Dearborn Historical Society, clashed with the city’s mayor John O'Reilly Jr. over the mayor's insistence on stopping distribution of an issue of the Dearborn Historian — the historical commission’s magazine — that contained an article about the antisemitism of Henry Ford. The mayor subsequently removed Stanton in June 2021. I guess the mayor of Dearborn feels he has what to hide when it comes to Henry Ford's antisemitism. The city’s seal has long borne the reminder that it’s the “home town of Henry Ford.” And Dearborn’s name is similarly prominent in Henry Ford’s Jew-hatred itself as Ford – honored by Adolf Hitler with the 1938 Grand Cross of the German Eagle – used the Dearborn Independent to circulate the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other antisemitic trash in every Ford showroom.


Metro Detroit’s antisemitic ignominy is not Henry Ford’s legacy alone. There was also another equally horrible guy in Royal Oak, pre-WW II era radio personality Father Charles Coughlin, vicious antisemite and isolationist. After moving to Royal Oak I discovered that the beautiful National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica, barely 1.5 miles from my home, was his headquarters. Still, I held out hope that unlike the metro-wide veneration of Henry Ford, Coughlin would be dealt with more honestly by a Catholic Church that already had centuries of Jewish blood on its hands.


Nope.


As widely reported last spring, the Basilica has actually done very little to tell the truth about its famed pastor. In fact, the sole mention of this infamous chapter in his career can be found in a glass-protected display of his chalice and vestments that memorializes him as follows: “While Coughlin’s pastoral skills produced the splendid Shrine, his political involvement and passionate rhetoric opened him up to accusations of antisemitism.”


The whitewashing reflected by the display and the paucity of attention to Coughlin’s Jew-hatred was recently reported in conjunction with an event last May called “The Jewish-Catholic Relationship: Past, Present and Future,” a series of historical lectures co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Detroit Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC). It was a laudable effort that, sadly, yielded but one mention of Coughlin’s antisemitism. It was local reporters who placed Coughlin’s history center-stage. Recent reports note that Basilica leaders are determined to right the wrong of the decades-long cover-up.


Which brings us back to Hatesgiving 2022.


By now anyone who is surprised that MAGA-World and its leader harbor no small number of antisemites and racists must have been living under a rock. Yet every single time there’s another related incident, we discover anew that there are whole cities of under-rock dwellers that act surprised whenever it happens. Just yesterday PBS Newshour asked 57 members of Trump’s party whether they condemn the dinner. You can decide for yourselves. The results are at this link. For a look at how Jews with alliances to MAGA-World have reacted, you can also check this link.


Judging by the short history lesson provided by our little corner of the Mitten (and we need not judge by Michigan alone) America has seriously failed its duty to remember and, yes, completely cancel the racists and antisemites who have made our nation far less great than it should be. Whether through cover-ups, mass amnesia, cowardice, or political expedience our America has failed on too many fronts to confront the disease of hate and its purveyors.


Before I conclude, permit me to add one link more, this one to the recent PBS documentary by Ken Burns, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” Perhaps what I’m struggling to articulate here will be made clearer by Burns’ cinematic excellence. I’ve seen more than my share of Holocaust documentaries but never any as well done as this.


Especially for Americans.

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