What would Moses drive?

Jews once used their car-buying power to punish Nazis and anti-Semites. It's time to stop buying the SUVs that soak up the gas that provides the cash that sponsors terrorist attacks on Israel.

By Sheldon Drobny
Published November 22, 2002 12:17AM (UTC)
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I grew up hearing my father insist I could never purchase a German or Japanese car. I was born in 1945, just after the end of World War II, when Germany and Japan caused the deaths of 50 million people, including 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. My parents were immigrants from Poland. My mother lost a brother, sister and five nieces and nephews to the Holocaust.

My father's was the prevailing attitude among American Jews at that time. It was easy to avoid buying German and Japanese cars, of course, since there were very few in America in the 1950s. But while Jews were supposed to buy American cars, they made a point of avoiding those manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, too, because Henry Ford was an anti-Semite and published hateful articles about the Jews well before Hitler was in power. So Jews were only supposed to buy GM or Chrysler-made automobiles. Most Jews bought GM cars, and the favorite choice was the Cadillac. Oh, how we admired those rich people who could afford a Cadillac.

I've been thinking about my father's car-buying advice a lot lately, because several groups have launched a consumer movement to get Americans to stop buying SUVs. Arianna Huffington triggered a grass-roots clamor for an ad campaign connecting SUVs to terrorism, since the profits from the gas they guzzle goes to support unfriendly Middle Eastern governments that sponsor terror. Those ads film next week. This week, a religious group launched its "What would Jesus drive?" campaign, trying to make a spiritual case for environmental stewardship. The Bush administration may be listening: The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that discussions have begun about whether to enforce fuel efficiency standards on SUVs and light trucks, a move the administration and its auto-industry friends have long opposed.

Clearly consumers have the power to do what government and the industry have resisted: to vote with their dollars for more fuel-efficient vehicles. It's worth remembering what happened when Jews decided to use their economic power to punish Ford. Soon the No. 1 automaker dropped to a distant No. 2, behind GM. It wasn't only Jewish buying power, of course, but Jews no doubt played a role. This phenomenon must have confirmed to Henry Ford that there really was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, at least against him.

As time passed and the memories of World War II subsided, imports began to arrive in great numbers over the next four decades, and Americans began to discover that German and Japanese cars were better than American cars. At first Jews resisted buying "Nazi" and "Jap" cars. Forgive me for these ethnic slurs, but I listened to my father's words and I am trapped by the memories of his rage. If a Jew bought a German car, he was ostracized from the community.

Eventually even Jews began to compromise. There was not much reason for a Jew not to buy a Japanese car. The Japanese didn't kill any Jews. So Jews started to buy Japanese cars because they were better and saved lots of money on gas consumption. (The Japanese had figured out that since they were paying five times the price of gas that Americans were paying, they'd better manufacture a fuel-efficient car.)

As time went on, Jews compromised even more. By the 1980s we realized that all those Nazi war criminals were either dead or dying. So American Jews started buying German cars, too. Suddenly, the revered Cadillac was for old people. The baby boomers were buying imports in all sizes, shapes, models and colors. Especially after the Gulf War, we didn't care about gas mileage -- gas was cheap! Jews wanted speed and horsepower. And by 2000, Jews could even buy Fords -- especially those big gas-guzzling SUVs. Henry Ford's heirs aren't anti-Semites!

So the Jews forgave all of their old enemies, which showed that they are truly a tolerant people. But it turned out, by purchasing gas-guzzling cars and SUVs, they were aiding and abetting a new enemy: oil-rich Middle Eastern countries who use oil and gas profits to sponsor terror, most notably Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Maybe Jews trust that Israel can keep them in check -- they've defeated their enemies in every battle, and they even have nuclear weapons. But it's starting to seem ironic: I'm sure there are plenty of Jews who send money to Israel, and then turn around and send money to its enemies, every time they fill up their SUVs with gas.

I didn't make the connection quickly, either. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving to work in my expensive, speedy, gas-guzzling Mercedes SUV. I left my expensive, speedy, gas- guzzling BMW roadster at home because it was raining that day. Then I heard the news. Today, I have only one car -- I sold the German gas-hogs, and bought a Japanese car, the Toyota Prius hybrid. It gets about 45 miles per gallon. I love it. After a few days of power withdrawal, I started getting my kicks by seeing how many weeks I could go without filling the tank. My record is three weeks.

I hope other Jews will join me. It's nice to have no guilt about subsidizing Islamic fundamentalists, or ruining the environment, either.

Sheldon Drobny

Sheldon Drobny is chairman and principal of Paradigm Millenium Fund.

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