Friday, October 17, 2008

Where Have All the Antisemites Gone?

One of the advantages of studying history is however depressed you feel, and however depressing is the current historical moment, you can always find things to read about that are still more depressing. That is why, I suppose, I have found myself reading about the Holocaust recently, in particular Saul Friedlander’s magisterial two volume history of Nazi Germany and the Jews. And in reading it, a question occurred to me relative to the current problems on Wall Street; where have all the Antisemites gone?

Now I will acknowledge that I don’t spend a lot of time trolling Neo-Nazi websites, but as far as I can tell this is the first major financial crisis in American history that has been without open or even covert Antisemitic accusations directed as Jews and “Jew York.” And yet this is probably, to use Jon Stewart’s term, the most “Jewy” of all of America’s financial crises; Jews in the news include the last two chairmen of the Fed, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, Hank Greenberg of late lamented Bear Stearns, and Ace Greenberg of mortally wounded AIG. The most heated phase of the crisis was catalyzed by the failure of another famous Jewish firm, Lehman Brothers, and while Treasury Secretary Paulson is not Jewish, he is the former CEO of the most famous Jewish firm of them all, Goldman Sachs, and if you like you can throw in Clinton’s last two pro-free market Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin (also of Goldman Sachs) and Lawrence Summers, and prominent commentators on the crisis, such as Kenneth Rogoff, Paul Krugman, and Nouriel Roubini.

So where are the Antisemites? Jews are certainly profoundly overrepresented in those in the highest echelons of responsibility for this scandal, and there is little doubt that many have acted disgracefully. Sure, so did the gentile bankers, but the fact that most of the most powerful financiers in this country, like J.P.Morgan, have almost always been non-Jews, has never prevented Antisemites from seeing Wall Street as a Jewish plot.

I don’t have any good explanations. Perhaps Jews are really no longer thought of as pariahs, and those seeking to cast racial or ethnic blame for the financial meltdown have turned their attention to the usual suspects in America’s recent bouts of racial blame-gaming, the blacks and the illegal immigrants, through willful misreadings of the history of the Community Reinvestment Act. And support of Israel has become such a byword among conservatives that it is hard to segue from seeing Israel as a bastion of American values amid a swarm of Islamofascist terrorists to denouncing Jew bankers. And while plenty on the left despise Israel, its sort of hard to tie Israel’s unfortunate policy toward the Palestinians to the events on Wall Street. So this seems to be bear market for Antisemitism as well as for stock prices, which is good, and in many ways a notable turning point in the history of Jews in America. My fear is, however, that someone somewhere is writing the Protocols of the Elders of the Illegal Immigrants.

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