The shameful (and shameless) financial dealings by Bernard Madoff have imperiled Jewish philanthropy and have led to a crisis in banks and other institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish, throughout the world.

In addition to dealing with the financial fallout of this disaster, Jewish organizations, and individuals, face an additional threat. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Madoff scandal has prompted “waves of anti-Semitism” online – in both mainstream and extremist Websites.

Despite the fact that self-identified Jewish organizations like Hadassah took major hits – some $90 million for that organization alone – the ADL reports that “the public comment sections of highly trafficked news sites, blogs, and financial message boards that have featured material on the scandal surrounding Bernard Madoff and his investment firm are filled with anti-Semitic comments, mostly from anonymous users.”

While some Jewish commentators have suggested that we should not focus on this, but rather target our energies to dealing with solutions to the financial mess, it would be shortsighted to ignore this hatred.

Jews do relatively well when our fellow citizens are comfortable, when they have jobs, when the world is not a threatening place. Of course their charges against us as a group are baseless. Of course they see Jewish conspiracies behind every disaster. But in hard economic times, such charges can have a cumulative impact. We must remember that the Nazis rose to power on charges that Jews had betrayed the fatherland, that they were not “good Germans.”

How good can the Jews look now when the Madoff financial scheme has undermined an already shaky economy? How many reprints of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” will owe their existence to Madoff’s infamy? And, at a time when Jews are being accused of knee-jerk loyalty to the State of Israel, how can it help when some bloggers suggest that Madoff’s scheme was a ploy to steal money to benefit Israel?

The ADL’s suggestion that the Madoff scandal has helped create “a perfect storm for the anti-Semites” cannot be ignored, but neither should it paralyze us into inaction. Rather than ignore such calumny and hope that it will go away, it makes more sense for us to face the charges head on, Website by Website, with well-reasoned rebuttals to the baseless charges. Perhaps the ADL itself can create a template for Jewish Web surfers to follow, sending our own messages in response to the venom now on display.

Will it help? Maybe, maybe not. But saying “there they go again” ignores the danger posed by anti-Semites looking for an opportunity to spread their poison.

L.G.