February 1, 2010


How to Think About: Jewish Bankers (Michael Kinsley, January 29, 2010, Atlatic)

Is it legitimate to talk about Goldman as a Jewish firm? That's a different question. Many American Jews think "Jewish" when they hear the words "Goldman" and "Sachs," but still cringe whenever they hear the connection made in public, especially by non-Jews. Certainly any explicit suggestion that Goldman's alleged misbehavior and its Jewishness are related in any way is anti-Semitic.

But what about comments about Goldman Sachs that draw on the classic stereotype about Jews and money, without making any explicit connection to it being a Jewish firm? That depends on which stereotype you mean. There is the stereotype that Jews thrive and tend to predominate on Wall Street and in the financial professions generally. This is true, but so what? There is no mystery or conspiracy involved. Jews in Europe were excluded from many occupations for centuries. They couldn't own land and be farmers. Here in the United States they couldn't climb the executive ladder at big corporations. They were not welcome at investment banks run by Protestants. So they founded their own.

The stereotype that Jews gravitate toward, and often do well in, finance is so innocent that, ironically, bringing it up is suspicious. What does it have to do with anything?

Rush Limbaugh brought it up the other day. He said on his radio show that President Obama may be appealing to anti-Semitism with his recent populist criticism of banks and bankers. "There are a lot of people," Limbaugh said, "when you say banker, people think Jewish." He didn't mention Goldman Sachs. Abe Foxman, longtime head of the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, declared that Limbaugh's remark was "offensive and inappropriate" and "borderline anti-Semitic." Limbaugh and his defenders protest that Limbaugh clearly was referring to other people, "people who have--what's the best way to say--a little prejudice about them," and not endorsing such views himself. And the transcript bears him out.

By Foxman's standard, even to mention that many bankers are Jewish is anti-Semitic (even though it's true), and attributing this view to others (while professing to be worried about it) is no excuse This may be over-the top.

...then this column and this post about it are both anti-Semitic. However, merely pointing out the anti-Semitism would itself be anti-Semitic, because it too requires discussion of the stereotype. No one ever sounds dumber than when they are being PC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 1, 2010 11:11 AM
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