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President Trump made a very uncomfortable comment as he was visiting a Ford factory in Michigan. As he was addressing executives about the founder of Ford Motors, Henry Ford, he said, “The company was founded by a man named Henry Ford, good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”
That statement was awkward at best and appeared possibly antisemitic. I say possibly because I am not convinced that President Trump is actually anti-Semitic. I don’t say this simply because he has Jewish family members, that would be too simplistic. Rather, Donald Trump has been a friend of Israel for a while and has shown great boldness in the last three years when it comes to proving his loyalty to the Jewish state.
Under his administration, the United States finally moved its embassy to Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem. Under his leadership, Nikki Haley, ambassador to the U.N., was one of the strongest advocates for Israel. He was instrumental in helping reverse policy on Jewish settlements, to name just a few of his accomplishments as they pertain to Israel and the Jewish people.
Trump knows a lot, but he is not omniscient. Is it possible that he doesn’t know some of the darkest details of history that have loomed over Henry Ford’s head and have severely tainted his legacy? Sure, it is! Frankly, unless you are looking for it, that information is not advertised. Today, Ford Motor Company is far removed from its original, founder and his xenophobic ideology. Today’s Ford is not yesterday’s Ford by a long shot, but a trip back to the 1920s is necessary to explain why President Trump’s comments ruffled many feathers in the Jewish community.
In the early 1900s, a Russian man, Sergei Nilus (1862-1929), wrote a pamphlet titled “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” Sergei Nilus, a blatant anti-Semite, actually claimed that the book had been read secretly at the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. The Protocols are the best know example of a forgery, as well as one of the earliest examples of “Conspiracy Theory.” They are filled with clichés, platitudes and ugly stereotypes on how to take over the world, while never containing any details or specifics. In the pamphlet, you could read what was appeared to be the minutes of a Jewish cabal trying to take over the world. The Protocols were a compilation of antisemitic tropes that, for a while, fueled the fires of antisemites around the world. It was quickly exposed as a hoax in 1921 and subsequently debunked. This didn’t prevent people from continuing to promote The Protocols. Henry Ford was one of them in a very strong way. Ford was also the publisher of a newspaper known as the “Dearborn Independent.”
He used that medium to reprint The Protocols between 1920 and 1927. The newspaper published The Protocols, at the same time as The Times in London discredited the pamphlet, but this did not stop Henry Ford, who was quoted saying: “The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on.” Ford continued to promote them for 6 years and also was responsible for the financing and distribution of 500,000 copies of The Protocols. Many of the articles published in the Dearborn Independent were reprinted in a later volume, known as The International Jew.
Hitler himself relied heavily on The Protocols and even quoted them in Mein Kampf, praising and validating them: “To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. What many Jews may do unconsciously is here consciously exposed. And that is what matters. It is completely indifferent from what Jewish brain these disclosures originate; the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.”
As Hitler was influenced by The Protocols, it greatly helped him to rationalize the destruction of European Jewry. In many ways, The Protocols were a catalyst for the Holocaust as they became part of “The Solution to the Jewish Question.” In the twenty-first century, The Protocols continue to be published and distributed by neo-Nazi fringe groups and radical Islamist groups around the world. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are classified under “controversial knowledge” and are even available today on Amazon.
Henry Ford didn’t care that the pamphlet was a forgery because it served his agenda of hatred. Incidentally, on his 75th birthday, Henry Ford received the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle, which was the highest honor that Nazi Germany could give to a foreign person. Hitler had great admiration for Henry Ford and even mentioned him in Mein Kampf.
Ford’s antisemitism is indelibly printed in the chronicles of history. It cannot be denied, it shouldn’t be minimized and will not be forgotten. To this day, some Jewish people refuse to buy a Ford automobile, just like my own Holocaust-surviving mother refused to step foot on German soil for the rest of her life because of the day she saw her father taken in front of her eyes by the Gestapo in her Paris home. Let me reiterate that the Ford Motor Company of 2020 IS NOT the Ford Motor Company of 1920. Likewise, just because Martin Luther wrote a very caustic book against the Jewish people at the end of his life doesn’t negate his invaluable contribution as the father of the Reformation. So, we cannot hold today’s Ford Corporation responsible for the sins of its founder.
This being said, we must tread very lightly when it comes to praising Henry Ford. The proper choice of words is going to be critical. By now, most people have realized that regardless of his accomplishments, President Trump not only doesn’t mince words, but he also isn’t the most tactful person. Using a statement such as, “The company was founded by a man named Henry Ford, good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood” was a very poor choice of words. It definitely can be seen as antisemitic.
I do not believe that President Trump was promoting Eugenics or racial superiority in the way that Henry Ford did. Unfortunately, unless he apologizes for a very poor choice of words–and he probably won’t– his statement will be used against him by his enemies and also by those who espouse such a view, linking President Trump to a group of fringe antisemites that already are believed by some to support him.
I am reminded of some very good advice from the Bible, warning us all about misusing the tongue in James 3:8-10, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
Olivier J. Melnick is the National Director of Training, Chosen People Ministries (US) Vice-President, Berger D’Israël (France).