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An ugly bias is back: blaming Jews for financial woes

Conspiracy claims die hard. But responsibility lies with all of us.

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The stereotype of the money-grubbing Jew goes back a long way. Zacchaeus was a greedy little tax collector. Fagin was a hideous creature who forced orphans into his organized network of pickpockets. And Shylock, perhaps the most infamous Jewish moneylender of all? Well his avarice ran so deep that he demanded a "pound of flesh" from an indebted Venetian merchant.

Canonized in the Christian Bible and two classics of English literature, these characters reinforce prejudices that Jews have struggled against for centuries. This scapegoating has been particularly venomous during difficult economic times. And these are those times.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported Feb. 10 that a survey of 500 people in each of seven European countries – Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain, and Britain – found that 40 percent felt Jews have too much power in business and nearly a third blamed Jews for the global financial crisis.

Though the ADL has not surveyed American anti-Semitism since 2007 – when 18 percent shared the sentiment that Jews have "too much control/influence on Wall Street" – the Jewish defense organization reported a spike in anti-Semitic chatter online after Wall Street collapsed last September.

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