The elder Kahn, a Republican from San Francisco who served 12 terms in Congress between 1899 and his death in 1924, championed an extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1902 prohibiting immigration by Chinese laborers.
While doing so, he approvingly read to Congress excerpts from a travel writer’s 1853 journey to the Far East, describing the Chinese as “morally, the most debased people on the face of the [E]arth.” Kahn personally endorsed these views, stating they are “undoubtedly equally applicable to any Chinese community in our country.”
A tremendously influential legislator, Kahn was successful in getting the votes for the act’s extension, which made Chinese immigration permanently illegal and legally enshrined anti-Chinese sentiment until its repeal in 1943…
What is certainly true is that the anti-Chinese immigration stand was the party line of the day. And, say Bay Area Jewish historians, virulently anti-Chinese sentiment was also par for the course among Kahn’s fellow German Jewish gentry of San Francisco…
“They were a civilizing influence on a kind of boomtown of young men running wild,” said Fred Rosenbaum, the founder of Berkeley-based Lehrhaus Judaica and the author of many books about San Francisco Jewry. “But they did have a giant blind spot. And that had to do with anti-Asian racism. They really were leading participants in the persecution of the Chinese in California.”
Added historian and author Ava Kahn (no relation to Julius): “Julius Kahn was one of the few Congresspeople who was against a literacy test for immigrants. So he was not anti-immigrant. He was anti-Asian immigrant.”
So was Jacob Voorsanger, the famed rabbi of the city’s Congregation Emanu-El (and founder of the local Jewish newspaper that became J.), who described the Chinese as a “non-assimilative race” who were “unable to mix with caucasians” in the pages of J.’s predecessor, the Emanu-El.
Levi Strauss summarily dismissed 180 Chinese workers from his famous blue jeans factory after thugs targeted the Chinese in 1877 riots. Adolph Sutro, a social liberal, one of the city’s greatest industrialists and philanthropists, and, in 1894, the first Jew to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city, boasted about having never hired “a chinaman.” He wrote that “the very worst emigrants from Europe are a hundred times more desirable than these Asiatics.”
Rosenbaum’s research has revealed that Jewish communities on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where there were few Chinese, were confused and horrified at San Francisco Jews’ peculiar animus — which, to be fair, they shared with much of the city’s white establishment. Many worried that the fanatical drive to limit Asian immigration would eventually boomerang on Jews — and, with the Immigration Act of 1924, it did: Jews from much of Europe were barred from entry, intensifying the magnitude of the Holocaust.
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