Thursday, December 18, 2008

It Could Happen Here

Last week I published a post titled “Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach.” I wrote about a Palm Beach devastated by the potentially 50 billion dollar scam. I described the world at the Jewish Palm Beach Country Club where Madoff was an esteemed member managing the fortunes of many members.

The piece had hardly been posted when the New York Post emailed asking to reprint it. Since then the Jewish Voice has asked to reprint it, and I felt that I had written something worthwhile and true.

But when I posted the piece on my own blog, there was an anonymous comment that startled me. “I don't know much about the author or about Palm Beach, but what struck me about the post was the title,” Anonymous wrote. “It’s a sophisticated author's way of expressing anti-Semitism in a way that toes the line between what will be considered acceptable to the most liberal and despicable to those who (sic) no better. ..a sick way to rub it into the face of the victims and espouse what to many will be considered an anti-Semitic title is going too far.”

To me there’s nothing worse than being called Anti-Semitic. There were plenty of positive comments including one from someone who appeared to use his real name. “All Larry is doing is stating the facts, no bias or prejudice,” Neil Rogers wrote. “Don’t let your insecurities, shame, embarrassment and guilt surface by playing the anti-Semitic card. Shalom.”

Even though to my mind I was simply reporting the facts in the context of Palm Beach, I still felt badly about this. My ex-wife and the mother of my daughter is Jewish, and thus by Jewish tradition my daughter and my grandchildren are Jewish. But I am not Jewish and I’ve come to realize that only someone born Jewish can understand at the most profound level what it means to be Jewish, and the inchoate fears that are an integral part of that heritage.

This got me to thinking about the whole issue and I talked to a friend of mine in Boston, David Goldberg. He has been following the Madoff news in among other places the Palm Beach Daily News where he said there were any number of truly anti-Semitic comments that should have been removed. I went to the website and it was as ugly and vicious, worthy of Hitler.

There was one comment posted criticizing these evil rants but for days they sat there. Editor Pat Thomas says that “it became apparent that there were — along with a number of well-reasoned and interesting comments — a number of comments that were clearly anti-Semitic and/or obscene.” Pleading that she did not have big enough a staff to cull out the obscene and foul, Thomas closed down the comments.

But a bubbling up of anti-Semitism does exist and the more I talk to people about this situation, the more I am convinced that we must deal with it not by giving into fear by shutting down the comments of everyone but by vigorously standing up against such ideas.

The fear is simply this. The Madoff story is being played rightfully and painfully as an overwhelmingly Jewish story, and it may spill onto the whole coverage of the economic debacle and that too would become seen as a Jewish story. Of course, it’s ridiculous but I remember when I was doing my last book on Arnold Schwarzenegger and how on my trip to Austria several Austrians told me that the Jews controlled the media and banks of their country, though there are only a few thousand Jews left. It can happen here. As things get worse and people look for scapegoats, the Jews once again can become the targets.

I don’t know how we fight the growing anger and hate in America. We fight it in part by being up front. We must stand up to those reeking of prejudice but we almost must stand up to those who find prejudice when there is only legitimate commentary and criticism. As journalists we fight it in part by trying to get the context right. And maybe we fight it a little with a sense of humor too, the true Jewish penicillin. But whatever we do we must never forget and never forgive those who seek to exploit our divisions and fears.


Anonymous said...


This piece was well thought out, sensitive and beautifully written. Thank you.

Terry and Frank

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Does Leamer think we're this stupid? Leamer's piece was NOT titled "Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach" as he claims. It was titled "Bernard Madoff and the Shame of the Jews" In fact, you can still see this because the title's embedded in the link itself!

So his statement that someone objected to this more innocuous title is a lie. You should also know that his last paragraph was filled with virulent anti-semitism, nauseating stuff, which caused me to comment, and apparently caused Huffington Post to edit that paragraph. Later apparently, so did Leamer himself. Now he says there's nothing worse than being called anti-Semitic.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (Dec 20 4:10 PM),

I wrote the original critical post regarding LL's Huffington title and I wrote it based on the 'more innocuous title' as you call it. So, although I was was critical of his title, his assertion was correct and not a lie. In a follow up post, 'It Could Happen Here' he expressed that he did not intend to write anything anti-Semitic.

I didn't see the purported other title or the pre-edited version you refer to, and I don't know the author or his subject matter (Palm Beach) but I take his post at face value and am inclined to believe he didn't have an anti-Semitic intent (even if it could be interpreted as such).

Anonymous said...

So you think it's OK that he wrote this piece about how people misunderstood his intent, WITHOUT MENTIONING that he had to change the title and edit out the more rabid bits. BTW, what makes you think you were the only one who objected to the title?

I guess you think, how on earth could he have known it would be regarded as anti-Semitic when he wrote: "There is a feeling of incredible shame, embarrassment, of exposure, as if their whole world has been exposed as jerry built. Many of these people thought they were smarter than everybody else. They thought they deserved higher returns because they were who they were and you and I aren't. And now it's all over."

I wouldn't even have bothered to comment. After all, anti-Semitism is rampant. No, what burned me was the dishonesty of editing the piece, and the title, in response to the first reactions -- then writing about how some people objected to the title (without mentioning it had been changed) and to the anti-Semitism in the article (without mentioning that it had been whitewashed).