Christian Europe, White colonies, and Jewish civic identity

In the September 1966 issue of Triumph, the great English Catholic historian Christopher Dawson wrote in an article entitled “The Christian Church and the Democratic State,” that “[F]rom the conversion of Constantine to the French Revolution, Christianity became the universal faith of Western culture and the foundation of its sociological unity, so that Europe, insofar as it was civilized, was known as Christendom—the Christian people.” Indeed, during the period of Early-Modern European civilization, the identity of Europe or European man could be summed up not so much in racial or ethnic terms, but in religious ones. As those ostensibly responsible for Jesus’ death and the rebellion against Christ, as St. Augustine and St. Ambrose had argued for so vehemently in Confessions and City of God, Jews, naturally, could not be a part.

The Protestant Reformation did not change much either. When Martin Luther issued his challenges to the Church, he set in motion the replacement of the unifying Christian identity for a more ethnically or nationally based one. German princes who had once been loyal (yet reluctant) subjects of the Vatican accepted Luther’s call and took over the reigns of clergy and ecclesiastical power in their own territories. Henry VIII famously did the same by declaring himself leader of the newly created Anglican Church. Nevertheless, the years of Christian domination continued to deny Jews citizenship in society, or recognize them as part of the greater national identity. Even with the French Revolution and Emancipation, the place of the Jew was never clear. Too many centuries had precluded Jewish citizenship for a mere proclamation of emancipation to say otherwise. The Fascist movements of the early 20th century made that clear. The Jew’s fate as an equal in Europe was sealed long ago.

The same cannot be said for the satellite European nations that broke from the Motherland; they did so in more than just geography. The first prime example was the United States, whose founders sought to create a clean slate from their ancestral roots. While many customs remained, such as the common law and the familiar pulpits, national identity did not. Identity now was based on race, specifically the white race. One need only read the Naturalization Act of 1790 or the first part of Chief Justice Taney’s majority decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford to understand the racial element to American citizenship and identity. Unlike non-white Africans and Indians, Jews were part of the club.

Such was a given in the letter President Washington sent, dated August 18th, 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI, where he remarked upon the tolerance American Jews were enjoying under the new regime. Such was a given fifty years prior in 1740, when although there was no American government, the British parliament passed the Plantation Act, which among other immigration related issues, permitted Jews to be naturalized in the American colonies.

This tradition continued with the formation of the next explicitly white identitarian nation, the Confederate States of America. The acceptance of Jews into the greater society was evident from the get-go. Famously, an open and professed Jewish Senator from Louisiana, Judah Benjamin, served first as the CSA Secretary of War then later as her Secretary of State. The biggest Jewish communities in America were located in the South, and Southern Rabbis authored some of the most beautiful prayers for the CSA. We have numerous correspondences between Confederate Jewish soldiers and their families expressing their love for cause and country. On Aug. 23, 1861, Rabbi Max Michelbacher of Richmond, who wrote a “Prayer for the Confederacy,” which was distributed to all Jewish Confederate soldiers, asked General Lee to grant a furlough for the Jewish soldiers to attend synagogue for the High Holy Days. Although Lee declined due to battlefield constraints, Lee responded that he felt “assured that neither you or any member of the Jewish congregation would wish to jeopardize a cause you have so much at heart.” In closing, he added: “That your prayers for the success and welfare of our Cause may be granted by the Great Ruler of the universe is my ardent wish.” Although the CSA was a short-lived nation, Jews were considered part of the white identity.

Some decades later, when Europeans took up the White Man’s burden in Africa, they established two nations, two gems: South Africa and Rhodesia. Both countries’ identities were clearly defined in racial terms. And while native Africans enjoyed far more sophisticated and capable governments as well as greater standards of living than other Africans, it was the White Man who controlled the countries’ destinies. Again, Jews were part of this order. Let us begin with South Africa.

During the years of World War II, when the Jews of continental Europe were trying to escape the Continent, there were fears in South Africa about letting them in. Prime Minister (PM) Daniel Malan, the first prime minister of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1948, had argued that when the Jewish population became too large in a particular country, the potential for conflict would arise. He stressed that he was arguing in the best interests of Jews. Nevertheless, when the turmoil of war abated, the Jews who did live in South Africa enjoyed the fruits of the White regime, and enjoyed status equal to those of their European counterparts. Under Apartheid, (as well as today), South African Jews today were among the richest and most well connected in the country.

Rhodesia is a far less tumultuous story, and one where the connection between Jews and native Rhodesians was even closer. In 1957, the Rhodesian Board of Jewish Deputies reported that one of every seven marriages in Rhodesia are marriages between Jews and non-Jews, an alarming figure for both communities. And despite these high levels of assimilation, Jewish infrastructure (schools, synagogues, youth movements etc.) flourished. Sir Roy Welensky, a product of such intermarriage, served as the last PM of Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (a federation that lasted between 1953 and 1963 before its dissolution, and the establishment of the independent countries of Zambia, Malawi, and Rhodesia). With the demise of the white government in both South Africa and Rhodesia, the Jewish community of course has suffered and has begun to dwindle. Many have since immigrated to Israel.

I do not intend to argue that (Ashkenazi) Jews are white or should be classified as such. There is good reason to consider them as a distinct group. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting to note the dichotomy between religious/ethnic European countries versus racial European-derived countries, and how not just treatment of the Jew differed, but how his status as it related to the national status did as well.

Woe onto to the Jews who so viciously fought to destroy those governments and countries which finally gave them and their communities a chance to thrive.