Writing for Salon.com, Michelle Goldberg goes into some of the long history behind the right-wing crusade against a non-existent liberal “war on Christmas.
Henry Ford was sounding the alarm about the war on Christmas in his notorious 1921 tract “The International Jew.” “The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and other Christian festivals, and their opposition to certain patriotic songs, shows the venom and directness of [their] attack,” Ford wrote. He listed local outrages: “Christmas celebrations or carols in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Paul and New York met with strong Jewish opposition … Local Council of Jewish Women of Baltimore petitions school board to prohibit Christmas exercises … The Council of the University Settlement, at the request of the New York Kehillah [Jewish leadership], adopts this resolution: ‘That in the holiday celebrations held annually by the Kindergarten Association at the University Settlement every feature of any sectarian character, including Christmas trees, Christmas programs and Christmas songs, shall be eliminated.'”
To compare today’s “war on Christmas” demagogues to Henry Ford is not to call them anti-Semites. Rather, they are purveyors of a conspiracy theory that repeatedly crops up in America. The malefactors change — Jews, the U.N., the ACLU — but the outlines stay the same. The scheme is always massive, reaching up to the highest levels of power.
Goldberg is careful to avoid labeling the current crusade as anti-Semitic… but I’m not. At first I found the deluded rantings of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson to be so pathetic as to be funny. But I’m not laughing anymore. I’ve done a lot of thinking and a lot reading on this subject over the past couple days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
When you talk about a war on Christmas, or anything Christian, most Christians do not instantly think of the enemy as secular humanists or even Muslims… they think of Jews. Yes, like other forms of racism, anti-Semitism has mostly been pushed beneath the surface of respectable American dialogue for the past few decades, but two millennia of institutionalized Jew-hatred is not so easily washed away. Whether the intent is to blame the Jews for the rash of secular “Happy Holidays” that’s supposedly destroying our nation is not the point… many Christians, in buying into this bullshit rhetoric, will naturally blame Jews… whether it be the Jewish lawyers of the ACLU or Jewish merchants or whatever. Furthermore, this latently anti-Semitic “war on Christmas” rhetoric is clearly being harnessed for political purposes.
In her seminal work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt distinguishes between good old fashioned religious Jew hating, and modern, political anti-Semitism. While the latter certainly draws upon the former, anti-Semitism is more of a secular, racialist ideology, generally harnessed for political purposes. Indeed, Arendt argues that far from being just a terrible by-product, anti-Semitism was actually an organizing principle of the Nazi’s totalitarian regime.
This is, above all, a political crusade, and when O’Reilly and his ilk rage against a “war on Christmas,” they dangerously appeal to the inner demons of Christian society, for when Gibson talks about a vast anti-Christian conspiracy reaching into the heart of American life, it’s only natural for some Christians to look towards their historical boogeyman. Gibson writes:
“Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards.”
No wait… that wasn’t Gibson, that was Henry Ford again, writing in his infamous 1921 anti-Semitic tract. Eight-five years later, Gibson and O’Reilly are careful not to name the enemy, but the vile rhetoric and its impact are unchanged. For who else would wage a “war on Christmas” than Christianity’s favorite 2000-year-old enemy… the Jews?
The right’s war on the “war on Christmas” is a political strategy intended to divide the nation along religious and cultural lines, and like all wars, there will be victims. How many Fox viewers have openly and angrily derided this attack on Christian America, and how many Jewish children have already been harassed by their schoolmates as a result? Anybody who has ever been a child should understand that this sort of open hostility happens everyday, and that the subtle strains of discrimination that lie beneath the surface of 21st Century America are not so subtle to the children who are its target.
And so the more the likes of O’Reilly and Gibson feign offense at this imagined attack on the rights of our nation’s white Christian majority, the more offense I shall take at their dangerous and hateful rhetoric. Intentional or not, they are harnessing the force’s of anti-Semitism to achieve a political end, and it’s time people started calling it for what it is.