Tuesday 18 December 2018

Jews like myself not surprised by the Myers article - we've been hearing it for centuries

Journalist Kevin Myers
Journalist Kevin Myers

Daniel Sugarman

I remember it happening quite vividly. I was in a lecture theatre at university, waiting for a lesson to start, when I got into a conversation with an acquaintance of mine. The conversation turned towards finances, specifically student loans and tuition fees. The young man spoke about how he was looking forward to the latest instalment of his loan entering his bank account.

And then he ended with the following line: "Still, it's not a problem for your lot, is it? You've all got tons of money."

I didn't think of my fellow student as a bad person. But nonetheless, he had, quite casually, flung across an anti-Semitic trope.

I wore a skullcap at university, so there was no mistaking what I was - and no mistaking what he meant. I probably should have confronted him about it at the end of the lecture. But I rushed away. I don't think I ever spoke to him again.

On Sunday, this trope of Jews and money came to the fore once again. Columnist Kevin Myers, in the Irish edition of the 'Sunday Times', decided to write a misogynistic piece on why women get paid less than men. Amid such pearls of wisdom as men "usually work harder, get sick less frequently, and… tend to be more ambitious", came the following: "I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC - Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work, I am tragically unacquainted - are Jewish.

"Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price…"

Inevitably, there are those who defend this type of comment. He's saying Jews are good with money! That's a compliment!

It's not a compliment. The idea that Jews are obsessed with money dates back to the Middle Ages, when Christians refused to allow Jews to work in many professions. One of the only permitted ways for Jews to make a living was through moneylending. So Jews, their options severely limited, became moneylenders. And then Christians, also citing the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for 30 pieces of silver, promoted the myth that Jews were obsessed with money.

The grasping Jew is a common motif in medieval literature. Take Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice', where the villain is the vindictive moneylender, Shylock.

The depiction went beyond the Middle Ages, of course - look at the 'Brothers Grimm', whose selection of fairy tales includes a vicious little story called 'The Jew in the Thorns', about an evil Jew obsessed with money. Even Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' has Fagin, the Jewish character, as a rapacious thief who runs a gang of pickpockets out of one of Victorian London's most squalid rookeries.

If it ended there, perhaps this wouldn't be quite so harmful. But it does not. Throughout history, there have been many banking families. The Fuggers, the Medici, the Morgans. Yet it is a Jewish banking family, the Rothschilds, around which conspiracy theories just happen to swirl. The idea that "Rothschilds" (AKA Jews) control the world's money supply has been eagerly promoted by anti-Semites for two centuries, and is spread by both the far-right and the "anti-Zionist" far-left today.

Yes, this is a problem on the left too. On Sunday I saw far-left activists falling over themselves to condemn the Myers piece for its anti-Semitism - because it happened to be published in a right-wing paper. You could hear crickets from some on the far-left when a self-described socialist was rightly kicked out of Labour for comments about "workers abroad being exploited for 50p a day by Jewish companies" and talk about Tesco and Marks & Spencers having "Jewish blood".

The Hamas Covenant, now supposedly changed, but a document summarising the organisations' ethos for almost 30 years, includes the following passage: "With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money, they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein.

"They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money, they formed secret societies, such as Freemason, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money, they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources".

But Jeremy Corbyn ignored all that, calling them "friends" and praising them as "an organisation that is dedicated… to bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region".

Social media on Sunday was awash with people aghast at the Myers article. "How could someone displaying such anti-Semitism have a column in a national newspaper in 2017?" more than one person asked. I was angry, of course, but not surprised. Given the rhetoric employed by both the far-right and far-left on a regular basis, it's a wonder we've seen as little as we have. But at least the outrage gives cause for some hope.

It's when people fail to react at all that Jews like me will have far greater cause to worry.


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