Hen­ry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Bat­tle Against Hate Speech

Vic­to­ria Sak­er Woeste
  • Review
By – May 14, 2013
Though vio­lent inci­dents were rare (espe­cial­ly when com­pared to their Euro­pean brethren), Amer­i­can Jews of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry were not with­out their trou­bles. Sub­ject to anti-Semit­ic rhetoric and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries in the pop­u­lar press, Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers were con­flict­ed about how to pro­ceed: to fight back could per­haps add fuel to the fire, but to do noth­ing could let anti-Semi­tism fes­ter in the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness. In his news­pa­per, The Dear­born Inde­pen­dent, Hen­ry Ford, a vocal pro­po­nent of anti-Semit­ic views, accused farm­ing coop­er­a­tive orga­niz­er Aaron Sapiro of steal­ing mon­ey from farm­ers and giv­ing it to oth­er Jews. Sapiro decid­ed to sue the car­mak­er for libel dam­ages. The result­ing tri­al brought the issue of anti-Semi­tism and the role of the Jew­ish peo­ple in Amer­i­ca to the fore of the Amer­i­can press and con­ver­sa­tion. 

The book is divid­ed into two sec­tions. The first sec­tion gives bio­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal back­ground on the main par­ties involved in the law­suit, and the sec­ond sec­tion delves into the tri­al itself. The book quotes heav­i­ly from news­pa­per arti­cles, tri­al tran­scripts, and oth­er sup­port­ing mate­ri­als; in cer­tain foot­notes, the author com­ments fur­ther on the con­tent. The bio­graph­i­cal sec­tions are well-writ­ten and give the read­er a glimpse into the life of Amer­i­can Jews at this time. It is a seri­ous aca­d­e­m­ic work in tone and scope; those seek­ing a broad­er overview may find them­selves over­whelmed by the lev­el of detail and speci­fici­ty. Schol­ars of Jew­ish Amer­i­can his­to­ry, ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can his­to­ry, and legal his­to­ry will find this book a nuanced, well-researched case study of the era. Index, notes. 

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