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Colonial-era prejudices and the root of American antisemitism

The belief that landless people are morally inferior made its way here from England in the 1600s. A modern-day version is still causing problems for Jews.

Neo-Nazi demonstrators at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017.EDU BAYER/NYT

The dinner that Donald Trump hosted last month at Mar-a-Lago with avowed antisemite Kanye West and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes may have come as a shock in a country that has historically been open and welcoming to Jews. When we ponder the deep roots of antisemitism, after all, we typically think of medieval Germany or Tsarist Russia, not colonial America. It’s true that Anglo-American history is relatively free of crazed mobs accusing Jews of eating children and spreading plague, as one finds in Europe’s past. But another kind of antisemitism, based on the moral inferiority of landless people, did make its way from England to America. It’s still causing problems.

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