On your podcast Saturday you casually mentioned one of the most prominent and persistent anti-Jewish tropes the world has ever seen: the idea that Jews love money. But instead of dispelling it, you laughed and said that it was obviously true, and you even expressed disbelief that Ilhan Omar felt the need to apologize for using it.
You are one of the most influential people in the world, and an incredible podcast host. In general, you expect your guests to educate you about topics on which you are not an expert. In this instance, your guests utterly failed to correct your mistake and indeed doubled down on the offensive stereotype. Please consider this letter in the spirit it is written—as the correction your guests should have made.
Part of the myth about Jews and money goes all the way back to the New Testament, in which Judas betrays Jesus for silver. By the Middle Ages he was depicted in art as a caricature of evil, dressed in a distinctive bright yellow cloak (the color of gold) that distinguished him as a traitor—branding that the Nazis would later reintroduce in the form of the yellow star.
The myth of Jews and money gained new life in medieval Europe, when Jewish people were openly discriminated against, by law, and forced to live in the margins of society. They were excluded from participating in most professions, and in most cases from owning land; sometimes their only option for survival was crediting on interest. This worked out well for the Christian rulers, who considered doing so a sin, and so they recruited their local Jews to do it for them. The nobleman would loan money to the Jew, and the Jew in turn would loan money to the non-Jewish peasants around him. If the Jew did not collect on time, the nobleman would kill him. As a bonus, whenever things went bad and people complained to their leaders about their difficult financial straits, there was a ready-made scapegoat: the money hungry Jew.
Antisemitic ideas about money-loving Jewish traitors are also tied directly to the ones about Jewish power and control. This triad was concretized, for example, in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a wildly racist paranoid fantasy first published in Russia in 1903. It describes a plot by a secret cabal of wealthy Jews to subvert and control the world through their finances, and it quickly became the most widespread and one of if not the most influential pieces of antisemitic literature ever written.
You might be shocked to learn just how many Americans still believe this trash, on both sides of the spectrum; whether people are rallying against the Rothschilds on the right or George Soros on the left, there always seems to be a rich Jewish bogeyman secretly pulling the levers of power to bend the world to their will. The “Protocols” was used by the Nazis as “proof” of the Jewish people’s wickedness, greed and disloyalty, and the manuscript formed an important part of the Nazis’ justification for Jewish genocide. On your podcast, you said that saying Jews love money is just like saying Italians love pizza. But Jews did not invent money, and as David Baddiel has pointed out, Italians have not been slaughtered throughout history for loving pizza.
So no, Joe, Jews don’t love money any more than any other group. In fact, studies have shown that American Jews give a disproportionately large amount of their money away to charitable causes. Even if it is part of comedy for a comedian to play with stereotypes, when you tell a worldwide audience that a dangerously offensive antisemitic trope is true, in dead earnest, without a hint of irony, outside of any routine, and that people who disagree are just stupid, well, that isn’t comedy, and only feeds hateful stereotypes that have always led to violence against innocent people.
It is also worth noting how quickly your guest gleefully built off your comment to explain how “Jews love money” justifies Omar accusing American Jews of dual loyalty (yet another related trope) and outright bribery, all for the heinous crime of legitimate participation in the American political process. See how quickly the conversation can shift from Omar’s comments about how American politicians’ support for Israel is based on money rather than principle, to “Jews love money,” right back to “and that’s why American Jews with their dual loyalty conspire to pay off politicians with their money to support Israel”? Welcome to modern antisemitism.
Ilhan Omar “apologized” for using antisemitic tropes because she knew better—certainly after the first time, or the second time, or the third time she was told. You are different, and bear no responsibility to apologize. But especially in a time of rising antisemitism, even (and especially) among influential celebrities, you do have a responsibility to correct the record for your listeners. As a fan, I sincerely hope that you do.
Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is an international lawyer and director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.
This article was originally published by Jewish Journal.