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Will Madoff scandal lead to anti-Semitism?

By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

December 24th, 2008

A comment recently posted on The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle Web site has raised some local concern about anti-Semitism in the wake of the Bernard Madoff financial scandal.

“Anti-Semitism doesn’t spring from nothing,” a reader with the screen name “David008” wrote in response to a JTA article about the Bernard Madoff financial scandal.

“I believe that Jews don’t share basic values with the Christian majority of America and that creates conflict. Most people you talk to have some story of dealing with a Madoff type.… Now would be a good time for Jews to look in the mirror, reflect on their shortcomings and stop blaming others for all of their problems.”

Though the writer claimed to be “a friend,” the anti-Semitic stereotyping is clear in the implicit claim that Jewish culture fosters the creation of people like Madoff, who is alleged to have swindled many organizations, including Jewish ones, out of up to $50 billion.

Yet as this issue of The Chronicle went to press Monday, this is the only example of any known local anti-Semitic reaction to the national story.

“I have not heard nor seen anything locally that is directly related to the Madoff scandal,” said Paula Simon, executive director of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations. “But we know that in times of financial crisis, anti-Semitic canards about Jews and money and finance are always a possibility.”

“Nobody has reported anything to me,” said Harriet Schachter McKinney, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Jewish Committee, “and that’s all to the good.”

“I’ve heard virtually nothing, other than people asking the question you asked,” said Steven H. Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council. “I’ve had no reports of any [anti-Semitic] comments” related to the scandal.

In fact, no calls or incidents have surfaced through the Midwest to date, according to Lonnie Nasatir, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Midwest regional office in Chicago.

“We have not received a report of an incident attributable” to the Madoff affair, whether harassment or hate crime, Nasatir told The Chronicle in a telephone interview Monday.

However, the national ADL on Dec. 19 issued a press release saying that the Madoff scandal has triggered “an outpouring of anti-Semitic comments” on the Internet.

“Site users have posted comments ranging from deeply offensive stereotypical statements about Jews and money … to conspiracy theories about Jews stealing money to benefit Israel,” the release states.

“These and other anti-Jewish tropes have appeared on popular blogs devoted to finance, in comment sections of mainstream news outlets and in banter among users of Internet discussion groups,” according to ADL.

“I hope that managers of Internet sites have the moral responsibility to not allow them to be used to foment hate,” said Simon. “I think we have to be clear that there is no room and no quarter for anti-Semites who are going to exploit this American tragedy.”

And Nasatir said that the ADL’s “antenna is up. We hope this doesn’t cause anti-Semitism to increase at the local level and we hope that most Americans will see these as the acts of one person and not of the Jewish community per se.”

To report anti-Semitic incidents of any type in your area, contact the MJCCR, 414-390-5777; or the MJCC, 608-278-1808.