Will Wall St. crisis spur anti-Semitism? Some Jews find cause for anxiety

Will Wall St. crisis spur anti-Semitism? Some Jews find cause for anxiety

NEW YORK — In the world according to the comedy writers at “Saturday Night Live,” the pyramid of complicity in the current financial crisis runs like this:
On the bottom are poor and minority homeowners victimized by predatory lending. Next come condo-flipping yuppies out for a quick buck. They’re followed by rapacious bankers who cashed out before the economy crumbled. And on top are billionaire financiers who pocketed the government bailout and quickly moved it offshore.
In the SNL imagination, the top two categories seemingly are populated by Jews.
In a skit broadcast Saturday night, barely a day after Congress authorized a massive bailout of the ailing financial industry, the jokesters at SNL conjured a post-vote news conference in Washington featuring these four categories of characters.
Playing the part of the rapacious bankers were Herbert and Marion Sandler, the Jewish owners of a savings and loan sold to Wachovia Bank for $24 billion in 2006.
“Actually, we’ve done quite well. We’re very happy,” Marion cackles in a thick New York accent, as the screen identifies her and her husband as “People who should be shot.”
The financier is George Soros, the Jewish Holocaust survivor and financier, who in his thick Dr. Strangelove accent brags that he pocketed the government bailout money and converted it into Swiss francs because he has taken a short position on the U.S. dollar.
Are these caricatures anti-Semitic?
As of Tuesday morning, the clip had been pulled from the show’s Web site. NBC did not immediately respond to JTA’s inquiries as to why.
Regardless of whether the writers intended to paint Jews as responsible for the crisis, the skit is almost sure to aggravate a growing concern: that Jews ultimately could find themselves blamed for the nation’s financial meltdown.
“There is definitely a fear among certain Jews in this industry,” said a Jewish employee with a top New York investment bank who asked that his name be withheld. “And it’s because it’s spreading past Wall Street now. There’s a growing animosity towards the wealthy, and especially the wealthy that have made money on Wall Street and real estate and finance, as so many Jews have — some legitimately, some not so. It’s very easy to generalize that it must be the entire Jewish people.”
Others in the industry are not so sure about a backlash against the Jews.
Daniel Cohen, who works in investment banking at JPMorgan Chase, said he has neither seen nor heard anything worth getting worked up about regarding fears that anti-Semitism could be a consequence of the financial crisis.
“I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind, to be honest,” Cohen said.
While global crises of all stripes historically have drawn out fringe elements eager to scapegoat Jews, the prominence of Jews in the financial industry — and the conspicuously Jewish names adorning many of the nation’s top investment banks — have given the conspiracy theorists an unusually rich trove of ammunition and many Jews a cause for anxiety.
“As we witnessed after 9/11, whenever there is trouble or uncertainty in the economy or world events, Jews become the scapegoats, and ugly anti-Semitic canards are given new life,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Last week, the ADL reported a “dramatic surge” in anti-Semitic Internet postings related to the economy. The group said the Internet chatter is not limited to neo-Nazi and white supremacist sites, but has spread to mainstream Web sites such as Yahoo! and AOL, where “hundreds” of anti-Semitic messages have flooded financial discussion boards.