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Ulysses S Grant, US General, became a friend of the Jews of America after becoming President.

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On a mid-December day in 1862, at the height of the American Civil War, Union General Ulysses Grant was about to sign what could very well be considered his most controversial order. With the Union maintaining a strict blockade of the Confederacy, the South relied on merchants to run blockades in order to export their precious cotton to the rest of the world. General Grant, who was growing increasingly frustrated with blockade runners, became desperate to put an end to their practice by any means necessary and issued General Order No. 11, ordering the expulsion of the Jews from areas under Union control in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, all the way to Cairo, Illinois.

When the order reached the Atlantic coast in the new year the press erupted with fury with the Philadelphia Public Ledger going to great lengths to display the contributions Jews have made towards civilization in general and the United States in particular. The New York Times was particularly outraged, describing it as holding “degrees of rascality developed by the war that might put the most accomplished Shylocks to the blush” and “a momentary revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.”

Unfortunately, the order had travelled up the Mississippi earlier than it had reached the coast, and thirty Jewish families were tragically expelled from their homes in Paducah, Kentucky. The Jews of America, however, knew that unlike their counterparts in Europe, they had the equal ability to petition their government over their grievances. A Jewish merchant from Paducah, Caesar J. Kaskel, led a delegation to President Abraham Lincoln, who was equally horrified by the order, and forced General Grant to revoke it. On January 17th, 1863, Grant officially revoked the order.

The order became an issue during the 1868 American presidential election, with Democrats pointing to the order as an example of Grant’s willingness to violate civil liberties. While they may have had a point, the hypocrisy of this argument coming from the Democratic Party, which had only 8 years earlier plunged the nation into civil war in an effort to preserve slavery, was palpable. Grant himself repudiated the order and insisted that his convictions were to judge every man by their individual merit, and not on the basis of class. Grant won the election in a landslide victory, securing the majority of the Jewish vote with it.

​As President, Grant thoroughly displayed his opposition to antisemitism and his commitment to meritocratic judgement. He was the first sitting US president to attend a synagogue service, bringing his entire cabinet with him as they celebrated the dedication of the newly constructed Adas Israel Congregation in Washington DC. He appointed more Jews to government posts than any president before him, going as far as to appoint Edward S. Salomon as Governor of Washington Territory, the first Jew to ever hold the post of governor in the United States. In 1870, when a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms hit Romania, President Grant responded by appointing a Jew as the American Consul to the nation.

​Since then, historians have tried to untangle what exactly motivated Grant to issue the order. The order constitutes the only major act of antisemitism committed by the government against American Jews in American history. No other events from Grant’s life indicated that he ever held antisemitic views.

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In all likelihood Grant, who was born and raised in rural Ohio and spent his entire adult life up until then in the military, probably had very limited interactions with Jewish people, and the majority he came across were likely merchants, traders, or shopkeepers of some sort. His actions in 1862 stemmed not from hate, but from ignorance, and a Jewish community ready and willing to forgive one of the great heroes of the American Civil War allowed him to become a powerful ally of the Jewish people.

I’ve been thinking about this earnest redemption arc recently after seeing the response to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson over an antisemitic image he put on his Instagram story. The image contained a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler, stating that black people are the real “Children of Israel” and that Jews will extort America to keep this a secret. The quote is frequently spread around radical black nationalist groups such as Black Hebrew Israelites, who can commonly be seen standing on street corners in major American cities harassing pedestrians.

The predictable ensued. Twitter erupted with rage and demands for Jackson to be removed from his team, a nauseatingly common demand in the age of cancel culture. The press quickly picked up the story and responded analogously to Twitter. Jackson took down the story and posted an apology video where he insisted that he never tried to put down any religion, and he made a commitment to educating himself in a tweet he made later that day.

A star NFL wide receiver since 2008, DeSean Jackson is now more famous for online antisemitism

While some on Twitter accepted his apology, many others were not having it. Calls for him to be fired continued, with many complaining that the apology sounded insincere or was not good enough. Others suggested that this could not be indicative of anything other than virulent antisemitism. How could a person possibly just “accidentally” quote Hitler when everyone knows how evil he was?

This is exactly how cancel culture is supposed to work. Instead of talking to people under the principle of charity, whereby we assume that our dialectical partner is acting in good faith, cancel culture, like the critical theory which birthed it, searches for the most sinister of motivations and interpretations of any and all statements made by anyone perceived as an opponent, ruthlessly deconstructing every aspect of it until total character assassination has been achieved. 

While we as Jews may struggle to understand how this could be anything but antisemitic, the reality is that many Americans are woefully uneducated on the Holocaust. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in January of this year, 16% of Americans did not know that the Holocaust was about the persecution of Jewish people, over fifty million people. Less than 45% of Americans could correctly identify the death toll, and a quarter of Americans did not know what Nazi ghettos were. Such ignorance gets more pronounced among younger people like Jackson, with two thirds of his fellow millennials not knowing what Auschwitz is.

A revised apology by DeSean Jackson has not satisfied many critics of his antisemitic outburst online

DeSean Jackson himself probably has had limited interactions with Jewish people throughout his life. Growing up in the Crenshaw neighbourhood of Los Angeles, there were probably very few Jewish people he interacted with regularly. Playing in the NFL, the Jewish people he would have interacted with by far the most would be administrators and managers of NFL teams, by no means a fair and balanced representation of our community. The post he shared itself is one of thousands, potentially millions, of misinformative memes spreading like wildfire in black nationalist circles. Speaking from personal experience, it only takes one late night on any social media platform to go down a rabbit hole of disinformation and propaganda designed for those who don’t know any better to spread it around.

With all this in mind, the idea that this was some sort of misunderstanding born out of ignorance becomes much more likely. To rephrase Hanlon’s razor, never attribute to hate what can be adequately attributed to ignorance. I could be wrong about everything I said, he may have been acting maliciously, and he might not be so ignorant on the topic of the Holocaust, but Jackson has committed to educate himself on the Nazis, Jews, and the Holocaust, and I think at the very least we should give him the benefit of the doubt. If he doesn’t already deserve it for being human, he certainly deserves it for his record.

Jackson is certainly no war hero like Ulysses Grant, but he is a hero in his own right. In 2004, he received the Glenn Davis Award from the Los Angeles Times as the most prestigious high school football player in the Los Angeles area, certainly serving as an inspiration for his neighbours, classmates, and football fans throughout the city. Since becoming an NFL player, he has travelled across the country speaking to schoolchildren and inmates about aiming to achieve their dreams and to encourage them not to be bullies. These are powerful and inspirational words from a man of his stature, but these acts of virtue have gone unmentioned in the current discourse on his career prospects.

The calls for him to be punished or fired must come to an end. While it may be tempting to want to cancel someone for daring to fall short of our standards of righteousness, we should instead take inspiration from how our corresponding community south of the border was capable of allowing Ulysses Grant to achieve redemption for what was by all measures a significantly more egregious act of antisemitism, even by the standards of the day.

This is an opportunity to not only educate Jackson about Jews and the Holocaust, but also for us to build a bridge with communities where Jewish people are not so commonplace so we can prevent these attitudes from manifesting themselves to begin with.

Noah Alter is a Jewish free speech advocate from Toronto. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Economics in 2020.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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