No Jews on their golf courses

Anti-Semitism in America is not only the preserve of extremists. It is alive and well among the seem

When the white supremacist Buford O Furrow Jr shot five children in a Jewish daycare centre on Thursday 12 August he was doing something that has become more American than apple pie.

Over the past year, 15 Furrow types have gone hunting with a bagload of military-style weapons for the purpose of killing a stranger of the wrong race or colour. Jews in particular have become the scapegoat of the growing number of far-right hate groups who blame them for the success of the civil rights movement, blame Jewish women for women's equality and Jewish entertainers for the advancement of gay rights.

Nor is American anti-Semitism the preserve of extremists. When Furrow called his attack " a wake-up call to America to kill Jews", he was addressing the millions of Americans who subscribe to a deep-rooted tradition that stretches back to Ulysses S Grant, who expelled Jews from Tennessee during the American civil war. This middle-class bigotry never fails to shock Europeans, who have traditionally viewed American Jewry as a powerful lobby group and highly successful minority that is also an assimilated and integral element of the United States. That may be true among the chattering classes in New York and LA, but beyond these metropolitan boundaries the picture is far more sinister.

In rural Maryland, six miles outside Baltimore, York Road heads north through cropped cornfields. Some of the most intense battles in the civil war were fought here. Many farms were once field hospitals, patching the wounds of northern soldiers sent to dismantle slavery. As York sails over Interstate 83 and dips down, the land becomes a polished green gem dotted with sandtraps. The road follows the golf fairways for three gorgeous miles. Then, through thick trees, the gleaming red brick of the 101-year-old Baltimore Country Club rears up on land that was once a plantation. Much of what fuels American anti-Semitism begins quietly, in civilised circumstances - just like at BCC, a club for the white elite that less than 30 years ago still posted signs reading: "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews".

York Road starts its journey to BCC several social strata away in downtown Baltimore. The city gave birth to the Channel 4 series Homicide and it was once the most dangerous in America. Since 1995 it has been in rebirth. Public funds have been spent, but the bulk of the reconstruction has come from private money. Four local Jewish families have been especially active, donating millions for the renovation of two theatres, the city's art gallery and a concert hall.

Many BCC members love the new downtown facilities; BCC board members do millions of dollars-worth of business with Jewish-owned corporations - but none of this means they will let the Jewish families who built them join their club.

"I wouldn't try to get in there," says a prominent Jewish banker who lives just half a mile from BCC. "Anyone with an obviously Jewish name can expect a rebuff."

Not that the club has a line in its rules that says "No Jews allowed". There is no need for such crass racism, and anyway, who wants the discrimination lawsuits? Instead the policy is operated deep in the consciousness of the members, Catholics and Protestants, who for generations have preferred to keep Jews out.

To join, a prospective member must be recommended by 12 current members, must have all 12 to their home and must visit their sponsors' homes, all within a 12-month period. Only a few Jews have bothered to meet this onerous standard in the past decade, and most were married to Gentiles.

"We gave up trying to integrate with the BCC crowd," says the Jewish owner of a Baltimore construction company. "We built our own clubs instead. It was better than hearing the room go quiet whenever a Jew walked in."

Not that BCC is unusual. For miles along the Florida coastline, from Miami to Palm Beach, there are tangible signs of Jewish philanthropy tucked alongside clubs that still have partial or complete bans on Jewish members.

The top five country clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Jewish charities built one of America's best-rated hospitals, have no Jewish members. The sixth-ranked club, the Dallas, admitted its first Jew in 1997.

Harvey Shield is the British president of Temple Knesset Israel, in LA. Two days after Furrow's attack, his temple was sprayed with swastikas and the words "Jews die". He now has a police escort and plans to hire security guards for the high holy days in September.

Despite the presence of hundreds of powerful Jews in LA, where they have been a dominant force in the movie industry for decades, Shield has seen the same discrimination as that practised in Maryland.

"Anti-Semitism is always under the surface in America," he says. "It is part of the architecture of American life. When politicians turned Jewish refugees back to Germany in the second world war, ordinary Americans were untroubled. I don't believe much has changed."

American Jews are rarely shocked when one of America's maniacs turns his gun on them, for they understand that the casual anti-Semitism of America's non-Jewish elite is a poison that filters down to the troubled classes, who use guns, rather than polite indifference, to make their point.

"I was astonished by how fierce the anti-Semitism can be," says Seth Campbell, a civil rights worker who two years ago infiltrated the ultra-WASP Greenwich Country Club, working as a table-cleaner. "I was invisible to them; they would talk freely, and sometimes I felt I was hearing the ghost of Goebbels."

"This country is full of educated racists," says T J Leyden, once a loyal acolyte of Aryan Nations, a 3,000-member hate group based in Oregon.

Now a consultant at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Task Force Against Hate, he believes that white lower-middle-class fascists get their start in the hate business through an employer or teacher who find a private moment to parade their prejudice.

"The white upper-middle classes mostly believe blacks are more likely to commit crime and Jews are sucking the economy dry," he says. "A lot of these people, if they fire a guy, they are likely to tell him it's because the Jews put interest rates up."

FBI statistics reveal how vulnerable American Jewry has become. In 1998 there were 8,049 US hate crimes, with 3,120 black victims and 1,087 Jews. However, of 270 million Americans, blacks make up about 13 per cent of the population and Jews just 2.2 per cent: Jews are twice as likely to experience hate crimes as blacks.

While casual anti-Semitism flourishes inside America's mainstream white population, the level of anti-Jew extremism on the fringes is likely to increase. That was made plain to me two months ago when I encountered the crown prince of America's white supremacists at first hand.

Just an hour's drive from where Timothy McVeigh committed America's worst act of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma farmland takes flight into the Ozark hills and the fortress of "Christian Identity", led by the Reverend Robert Millar. Here a heavily armed militia, which searched every item of my clothing and every niche of my car before letting me meet their leader, has built a millennium fantasy of polyurethane survival huts in preparation for the Jewish plan to destroy Aryan civilisation on 31 December.

Once this group would have been isolated madmen in the wilderness. Now they have a bank of computers that maintain six white supremacist websites and allow anyone in America with racist tendencies to reach out and touch a fellow fascist. They get so many visitors each day that two credit card companies have considered buying advertising space on their home page.

In years past, when the Ku Klux Klan formed in a small town ten miles away, a racist had to work hard to find fellow travellers. Now all he needs is America Online.

"A civil war is brewing in which we must deal with the Jews," says Millar. "It is a time of reckoning for their pact with the devil."

Millar refuses to say what this means. He is part of the increasingly vicious fringe of America's extreme right, groups who model themselves on international terrorists by building tiny but violent cells such as the one led by Eric Rudolph, who is accused of masterminding six solo bombings, including the one at the Atlanta Olympics.

When asked about an attack that had taken place a day before, in which a Jewish yeshiva student had been killed, Millar said that those were not his methods. Asked if he was sympathetic to the victim's family, he said he was permitted to have sympathy only for members of his own race.

Millar and his cohorts take particular comfort when they attack Jews from the nation's muted outrage. And muted it has often been, according to an exhaustive study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League eight months ago: Jewish victims are attracting far less press or sympathy than other minorities. "There is a move among Americans towards us," Millar says. "The economy has never been better, but ordinary Americans are struggling. That's because the Jews are taking way more than their fair share."

To a white factory worker in Maryland, this makes all sorts of sense. He probably knows that the good-old-boy members at the country club are not keen on Jews and he thinks they have good reason. He's also aware that his real income has gone down by 3 per cent in ten years while the Dow Jones industrial average is up by almost 250 per cent over the same period.

"The country club guy makes the factory hand believe his anti-Semitism is intellectually legitimate," says T J Leyden. "People like Millar make him feel it's righteous and they give him a direction for his anger."

Almost two centuries after York Road's pastures saw the north strike blows for equality, the Baltimore Country Club and others like it across America stand as a reminder that American Jews can climb almost to the very top of American society only to find that there is always a section at the summit surrounded by impenetrable barbed wire.

As they stand there, looking through the fence, they are forced to hear the anti-Semitism of the WASP elite while their backs are targets for an underclass that still blames blacks and Jews for every bill they can't pay and every hour spent unemployed or working at a job that is only a step away from servitude.

"Early on in this decade, scholars were concluding that the bark of American anti-Semitism was a lot worse than its bite," says Andrew R Heinze, director of Judaic studies at the University of San Francisco. "Now, I fear, we might have to agree a bit with Buford Furrow: these recent attacks are indeed a wake-up call. Something new is happening in this country. The deep-seated American hatred of Jews has become a potent political force."

Daniel Jeffreys is the author of "America's Back Porch", a chronicle of the USA's dark side, published by Quartet

This article first appeared in the 23 August 1999 issue of the New Statesman, No Jews on their golf courses