One of my correspondents recently asked why Henry Ford was anti-Semitic.
The first question must be, “Was Henry Ford anti-Semitic?” Only if so might we explore the “why?” question.
A Google search of “Henry Ford anti-Semite” returned about 80,700 hits. This, in itself, proves nothing. Only when we examine some of those hits might we get an answer.
The top hit was from WGBH on the Public Broadcasting System’s “American Experience” feature. The article begins, “Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic views echoed the fears and assumptions of many Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries… increased immigration from Europe brought millions of Jews to the U.S. during Ford’s childhood…” The apparently undated article cites a “close friend” of Ford who wrote in a diary that Ford “attributed all evil to Jews or to the Jewish capitalists… The Jews caused [World War I], the Jews caused the outbreak of thieving and robbery all over the country, the Jews caused the inefficiency of the navy…” [This person was John Burroughs. See Ref. 5.]
The article says that Ford purchased The Dearborn Independent newspaper and around 1919 began publishing a series of 91 articles alleging a “vast Jewish conspiracy” that was “infecting America.” These articles were printed and bound, and distributed through Ford dealerships.
The second Google hit was from The Washington Post newspaper, a ‘religious news service’ commentary from October 2014. The article reported on a proposal to name a bridge in Fort Myers, Florida after Henry Ford, and the proposal’s demise after Ford’s “dark history as far as the Jewish community and Jews” were discussed. The article cites the purchase of the Independent and the series of articles noted above.
The Post article also noted that it had been the Independent that had published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which was known to have been a forgery of the Russian Tsar’s secret police to foment anti-Semitism.
[Although I no longer have access to “White Crow,” by James H. Cockfield, I recall that this book describes how the Tsars and the Russian Orthodox Church ruled in part by keeping the peasants isolated and teaching them religious and racial hatred for anyone unlike themselves.]
The “Protocols” were plagiarized from an 1869 German novel which was plagiarized from an 1864 French political satire. 
The Post article notes that the Independent “merged racism with anti-Semitism by calling Prohibition-era whiskey ‘n__-r gin’ and labeling jazz [at the time associated primarily with black musicians], ‘Yiddish moron music.”
This article also quotes Hitler as having said, “You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his… I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany. … I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration.”
Ford issued a public apology for the newspaper articles, and claimed he had no voice or knowledge of them. He ended publication of the Independent in 1927.
I skipped the next Google hit, from the Jewish Virtual Library, even though I have found that site to be a valuable source of information.
I skipped the next hit, a Wikipedia article, even though I am a Wikipedia editor and have great confidence in Wikipedia and its self-correcting process.
The next hit was a paper by Jonathan Logsdon on the web site of Hanover College, Indiana. It is well-documented and was apparently published in The Hanover Review. I’ll accept that as a legitimate source without further comment.
This article notes that it was a “Jewish Hungarian named Rosika Schwimmer” who proposed Ford’s “Peace Ship” initiative, a proposal he accepted, funded, and in which he participated despite nearly universal derision according to accounts in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere.
On the other hand, Ford is reported to have said to Ms. Schwimmer before the ship departed, “I know who caused [World War I]—the German-Jewish bankers. I have the evidence… Facts. I can’t give them out yet because I haven’t got them all. But I’ll have them soon.”
After the Peace Ship became a debacle, it was Rabbi Joseph Krawkopf of Philadelphia who defended Fords attempt to end World War I.
A brief review of other articles from legitimate sources (e.g., Bloomberg) and some of questionable provenance (e.g., the American Nazi Party) only served to substantiate the above.
Conclusion: Henry Ford was for much of his life anti-Semitic.
Why was Ford anti-Semitic?
We all carry a genetic mandate to “like those who are like us” and to “dislike those unlike us.” This was nurtured and encoded in our DNA from the time we lived in small tribes in Africa, and depended utterly on our tribe for survival. This was a time when we and our tribe competed with other small tribes for resources—food, shelter, mates. We are all—you, Henry Ford, and me—descended from people who emigrated from Africa between about 20,000 and 100,000 years ago.
However, we also have a brain that evolved to deal with abstract thought, and to learn behavior, rather than simply behaving as animals.
We should expect a tribe of non-human primates (chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, e.g.) to act as animals. We know that chimpanzees will gang up on intruders from another tribe, frightening them away if possible, killing them in some cases. [As an aside, a recent article on the Seeker web site reported that Brazilian monkeys are making knives. Soon, perhaps, we’ll see reports that they are using these knives to kill one another. Evolution continues.]
We should not expect modern humans to act that way. But we do. Why? Why did Ford seem to “dislike those not like him”?
One clue to the answer to this question may be found in court testimony recorded in 1919 after Ford had sued the Chicago Tribune. Upon examination by the Tribune’s lawyer, Ford expressed the opinion that he understood there to have been a revolution in this country, and that it was in 1812. He said he thought Benedict Arnold was a writer. After six days of cross-examination, Ford was “forced to admit… that he was ‘ignorant about most things.’” 
Ignorance is perhaps the first characteristic of a closed mind.
I would also offer the words of H. L. Menken, who said a lot of things I would like to say, and who said them so much better than I ever could.
“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’”
References in order cited. Internet articles accessed on 5 November 2016.
3. “White Crow: the Life and Times of the Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich Romanov: 1859-1919,” by Jamie H. Cockfield, 2002.
4. https://history.hanover.edu/hhr/99/hhr99_2.html [Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism: Henry Ford and His War on Jews]
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.