Reviews | Kanye West’s anti-Semitism is bad for business. And what about Henry Ford?


Rebecca Sonkin, writer, lives near Detroit and in New York.

In the middle of a peak In reports of anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, two developments in recent weeks have been particularly visible. One was the anti-Jewish statements made on social media and in interviews by Ye, the musician and fashion designer formerly known as Kanye West. He was promptly fall by Adidas, Gap and other retail partners. Then, on Nov. 3, National Basketball Association star Kyrie Irving was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets after promoting an anti-Semitic film on social media. Nike backed off from her relationship with him. (Irving eventually apologized. He remained suspended on Monday.)

For now, it seems, anti-Semitism is bad business in the United States. And yet, driving in my hometown of Detroit is to wonder if this news has arrived.

Henry Ford, the most prominent, virulent anti-semitic the nation has ever known, is ubiquitous in Detroit. Yes, Ford is famous for execution the moving assembly line and founding of the automobile manufacturing company that put the Motor City on the map. But Ford was also a powerful engine of anti-Jewish hatred, using his wealth and influence to promote anti-Semitism in the interwar period, before World War II and the Holocaust.

Ford, a friend wrote in his 1919 diary, “attributes all evil to Jews or Jewish capitalists.”

To advance his views, Ford had purchased the Dearborn Independent newspaper in 1918, which soon began editing a weekly homepage column, “The International Jew: The Problem of the World.” It ran for 91 issues of a newspaper which, at its height in the mid-1920s, claimed a traffic from 700,000 to 900,000, distributed across the country at Ford car dealerships.

During this period, Ford also paid for the printing and distribution of 500,000 copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a stubbornly persistent forgery that purports to describe a Jewish plot for world domination.

For these efforts, Adolf Hitler rented Ford by name in “Mein Kampf” and in 1938 reward him the highest nazi honor granted to a non-German. Although Ford apologized for his anti-Semitic campaign in 1927 amid mounting public criticism – his remorse was met with great skepticism – he gladly accepted the honor.

Today, how is it that Ford’s malevolence toward Jews is eclipsed in Detroit by the desire to celebrate his automotive exploits?

Drivers leaving the Detroit Metropolitan Airport encounter a road sign pointing to Henry Ford College, another towards the Ford Expressway. And yet another to the Henry Forda 250-acre museum campus dedicated, as its website puts it, to “a vibrant exploration of genius.”

Downtown, Henry Ford Hospital bills itself as a “science + soul” haven. It is part of the Henry Ford Health System, with over 250 locations in Michigan. In a suburb of Detroit that I visited recently, his marketing campaign posters covered the walls of the waiting room. A photo showed a smiling African American woman in a white blouse. Another showed an Asian American doctor. The two radiate behind the slogan “I AM HENRY”.

As far as I know, Jews are nowhere to be found in a campaign that otherwise tends toward inclusivity.

Jews are also hard to find on the website of the Henry Ford museum complex. Digging eventually turns out “Henry Ford and Anti-Semitism: A Complex History.” The article begins: “Like most famous people, Henry Ford was complex, had character traits, and took actions that were both complimentary and embarrassing.”

“Annoying”? At the end of the article, it’s hard not to ask yourself: Embarrassing for whom? We are told that the column “The International Jew: The World’s Problem” in Ford’s diary “tarnished his reputation and it was never completely forgotten.”

One might conclude that, for an institution bearing his name, it is almost reasonable to aspire that Ford’s antipathy to Jews be forgotten.

More disconcertingly, Detroit is home to a thriving Jewish community of approximately 70,000. And yet, silence on this subject prevails. Where is the local opposition to living under the name of the man who helped Inspire the mastermind of the Holocaust? Where is the Jewish campaign to make the Henry Ford name a losing business proposition?

The Ford Motor Co. is one thing; the name of Henry Ford is another. Detroit should be cleaned of it.

At the start of the Depression, my grandfather got a job at a Ford factory in Detroit. He was stunned. If an illiterate refugee from the anti-Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe could get paid work with the country’s leading anti-Semite, then America’s promise might be possible.

Alas, within a week the foreman had called him a filthy Jew. As the story progressed, my grandfather responded with a one-two punch, knocking the foreman flat on the ground. It cost him his job, but his dignity was intact.

For me, as a child, the story of my grandfather was irresistible. He was the Jew who fought back.

It’s time for all of us to stand up against the toxic omnipresence of Henry Ford in Detroit.

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