First, full disclosure: Bernard Madoff is in my extended family, and many in my family were victimized by his fraud. While I've shared close airspace with Bernie less than 10 times in my life, I've grown up knowing other headline-making Madoffs, and have always found them to be people of virtue and integrity.
But this post isn't about Bernie Madoff, the figurehead of immorality; this is about Bernie Madoff, the lightning rod of anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman said on December 19, "Jews are always a convenient scapegoat in times of crisis, but the Madoff scandal and the fact that so many of the defrauded investors are Jewish has created a perfect storm for the anti-Semites."
Comments collected by the ADL from Florida newspapers The Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post alone shock the senses:
"The SEC is filled with Jewish gatekeepers who routinely turn a blind eye to Jewish financial bandits...It's no conspiracy that the Jews are the source of all financial troubles in the world."
Madoff is "just another jew money changer who robbed everyone... Jews worship only one god -- money. They are taught to hoard money from age 13."
Haha, this whole story reads like a holocaust story with the poor jews once again as victims, even though most of them have been getting paid BIG TIME by his fraud over the past 30 years."
It takes less than a handful of mouse-clicks to further validate Foxman's point. Following are user comments I've personally collected, knowing that some of these and many more have been deleted by their host newspapers:
The New York Daily News
I will never do business with jews. No one has even become enriched doing business with them or hiring them as employees. They will undermine you at every step and look to cause dissension because this is how they've always prospered.
The fact remains that ten years ago, when suspicion of Madoff's activities were first reported to the SEC (and that body took no action), its chairman was Arthur Levitt, Jr., who led the agency from 1993 to 2001. And he's no Catholic. I'm not an anti-Semite, but let the facts speak for themselves....
The Jewish Journal
In every country they have ever lived in many Jews have tended to be white-collar criminals. That is an indisputable fact. Somewhere between 40-50% of America's billionaires are ethnic Jews even though they are only 2-3% of the the overall population -- that makes me wonder how many other Madoffs are lurking amongst these people...
The New York Post
Jews rule the world financially because they have that fire in their belly about going out there and making money.
You must realize that the Jew wants our people to perish. That is why you must leave those who have brought you nothing but war, inflation, and discord. For thousands of years the Jew has been destroying the nations.
Wait, that last one wasn't from The Post; it was a quote from German newspaper publisher Julius Streicher, a diehard Nazi who was executed for war crimes in in 1946. (You can see how I made the mistake. In terms of blogging, men like Streicher and Charles Coughlin were decades ahead of their time.)
L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein didn't help matters much this month when he set out to prove that "Jews totally run Hollywood." Stein was disputing a recent survey from the ADL showing a possible decline in the number of people believing Jews control the entertainment industry.
Stein's name-by-name accounting of how many entertainment titans are Jews reveals only what is self-evident: that many entertainment executives -- yes, a disproportionate amount -- are Jewish. They're also, by and large, white, male, and rich. But the phrase "Jews run Hollywood" isn't usually a statistical comment so much as an implication of conspiracy, and I find that ridiculous. There just aren't enough Hanukkah and Purim blockbusters being made to back that up.
Having grown up in an America of the last forty years, and not the previous, I don't have much of a real-world connection to anti-Semitism.
Growing up in Texas, I once had a fellow sixth-grader look me in the eye on a cafeteria line and say, unprovoked, "F--king Jew."
I had the honor of meeting and working with Holocaust survivor and Oscar winner Gerda Weismann Klein, and that was deeply inspiring.
Four years ago, during the holiday season, I publicly supported my local school district's decision to prohibit the singing of overtly religious music as part of celebratory, non-curricular school events. I was interviewed by the Associated Press about it, and it was fed to major media outlets, thirsty to make use of their fancy "War on Christmas" graphics and promos. I found myself the subject of quite a few news stories and blogs. Many offended bloggers made intelligent counterpoints, but some singled me out as a self-entitled Jew who wanted to rid the entire world of Christmas.
Even then, I saw the blowback as part of a reasonably civil debate -- not a resurgence of pure anti-Semitism -- with maybe a few bad apples also getting their say.
But Bernie seems to have awakened an orchard, or at least violently shaken the tree. The stirring of widespread latent anti-Semitism must feel frighteningly familiar to those who lived in Europe during the 1930s. And it should be just as alarming to us as well. While deleting waves of anti-Semitic rants from comment forums is a rational move, it also sweeps them under the rug.
"The Bradley Effect", while a dispelled myth, made us look deeper into the dark corners of American culture. What will "The Madoff Effect" have? Will it cause us to recognize and fight a broader existence of anti-Semitism, or will it just feed a growing prejudice? Only our national character hangs in the balance.
Follow Joel Schwartzberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joeljest