Spike in anti-Semitism a side-effect of scandal?

Spike in anti-Semitism a side-effect of scandal?

Elie Wiesel. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Hadassah. Yeshiva University.

Despite all the Jewish organizations and individuals among the thousands of victims of convicted swindler Bernie Madoff, the Anti-Defamation League has recorded a spike in anti-Semitic comments on mainstream Websites that the organization credits to the Ponzi scheme that stole more than $60 billion from its investors.

The ADL has collected dozens of anti-Semitic remarks from news and financial Websites such as Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Many of the comments appeared around the time of Madoff’s conviction last week.

“We found that he’s been vilified by a number of sources for his criminal actions but a number of people continue to make anti-Semitic comments about Madoff,” said Etzion Neuer, director of the ADL’s New Jersey office. “These are remarks that blame his actions on being Jewish.”

The organization is ignoring the typical extremist hatemongering sites because extremists have their own agenda, which makes them less relevant to the current situation, Neuer added.

The damage Madoff has done to Jewish philanthropy has been widespread, causing some foundations to close while many others struggle to survive. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity lost $15.2 million, while U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s family foundation, which has contributed heavily to Jewish causes around New Jersey, took a major hit. These actions have brought accusations from Website commentators that Jews will turn on their own for a buck. Some of Madoff’s Jewish victims, however, lament the damage he has done to the image of the Jewish people.

“It’s horrific that he has reinforced the worst stereotype of our people, where money is the only thing that’s important,” said Burt Ross, an Englewood-based real estate mogul and former mayor of Fort Lee who lost $5 million to the master con artist. “The fact of the matter is we’re the most philanthropic people on Earth.”

The ADL cannot tell who is responsible for the comments, Neuer said. Any public venting of bigotry is a concern, he added, but the organization is unsure if these comments are representative of extremists moving off their own hate sites or something else.

“Are they individuals who’ve been on the front of the financial meltdown and are taking it out on Madoff? Are they bigots using mainstream forums to vent? We don’t know,” Neuer said.

For the most part, Neuer added, people are not associating Madoff with all Jews.

“By and large, people recognize Madoff doesn’t represent an entire people,” Neuer said. “At the end of the day, most Jews and non-Jews recognize this is the work of one criminal who is now facing the criminal justice system.”

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who lost her lifesavings in her IRA that had been invested in Madoff funds, echoed Neuer’s comments that Madoff is only the latest excuse for anti-Semitism. Because she is a public servant, Weinberg’s e-mail address is easily available, and she has received a handful of nasty e-mails in the scandal’s wake. She said she anticipated that the episode would bring forward anti-Semites, but she dismissed the notion that Madoff’s actions are directly responsible for the rise.

“These people didn’t become anti-Semites because of Bernie Madoff or because of Loretta Weinberg or any other Jewish person who perpetrated this or was victimized,” she said. “All it does is bring them out of their deep, dark holes. Sometimes that helps because they can be found out more easily.”

For the time being, Neuer isn’t worried about a larger backlash. Once Madoff is sentenced in June and his name begins to disappear from the headlines, Neuer believes most of the furor surrounding him will dissipate.

“Whether or not he’s done any long-term damage to the Jewish community is yet to be seen,” Neuer said. “His name has already become synonymous with the worst financial scandal in history.”

Ross said he is confident that the Jewish community would move past Madoff and come back stronger.

“We are a people of survivors,” he said. “We have survived worse than Bernard Madoff and we will survive Bernard Madoff – and that includes Jewish philanthropy.”

Just another sneaky jew money changer
Some examples of anti-Semitic slurs appearing, as written, on mainstream news Websites in the wake of the Madoff scandal:

“Wah wah wah. So a bunch of rich people who are more loyal to Israel than to America lost money as a result of their greed. Who cares? I say we deport him to his brothers in Israel.”

-Jud, 3/09, New York Times

“The people I feel really sorry for are the charities that relied on this dreadful man and are now bankrupt. Over 20% of the population of Israel alone lives in poverty and relied on this money. Oops. Wait they are the arabs in Israel aren’t they, they don’t count.”

-monty41, 3/09, New York Times

“Just another sneaky jew money changer who steals every chance they get. They’ve been doing it for 3,000 years.”

-THE MAN, 3/17/09, Palm Beach Post

“I cannot help to notice that all these people that got scammed by Madoff are all jewish, I believe that the Jewish people tought that they were joining a special club so they could make easy money. It all amounts to greed.”

-Joseph, 3/16/09, Palm Beach Post

“People who lost money in Bernie Madoff scheem should not worry or be sad too much. The money was put to a good use. Most of the $50B went to Israel to be spent on building new settlements for the Jews on the occupied Palistinian lands.”

-jondoe2, 3/13/09, Washington Post

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