Published December 3, 2023
This isn’t the midcentury ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ variety. It’s the return of pure hatred of the Jews.
I remember a dinner party on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s when I and my first wife, who was Jewish, shared lobster with a half-dozen nicely tanned Protestants in sherbet-colored golfing trousers. They chattered about what pests “those people” were, who kept “pushing” to join the local beach club, even though they were “not wanted.”
“Gee,” said a middle-aged Princeton man—pronouncing the word “jay”—“why don’t they stick to their own clubs?”
My then-wife and I left the party early, and in the car she burst into tears.
How innocent the moment seems. That was the postwar “Gentleman’s Agreement” version of American antisemitism—gentiles relaxing up-island, on their fourth glass of Chablis. The word “Jew” wasn’t mentioned. In the Martha’s Vineyard iteration—post-Auschwitz—American antisemitism often had a discreetly covert quality. It emerged from a kind of sly politesse because, after all, everyone at some time or other had seen the films from the Nazi camps—the ones that Gen. Eisenhower had ordered his troops to watch. In Elia Kazan’s 1947 movie based on the Laura Hobson novel “Gentleman’s Agreement,” desk clerks fidget and look away when Gregory Peck, as a journalist pretending to be Jewish, pushes them about renting a room.
Lance Morrow is the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of public events, including developments in regard to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and political correctness on American campuses, with a view to the future consequences of such suppressions.