get for being Jewish?
We might as well get the question out there. It’s surfaced since the Madoff arrest in March and then disappeared: How much is this a Jewish affair? Or, how much does it being an almost entirely Jewish affair change its nature?
Certainly the 150 years
represent a message beyond retribution and punishment. Madoff’s lawyer, Ira Sorkin,
who knows a thing or two about the fate of white-collar criminals, rightly characterizes it as “absurd.”
The notion is that Bernie has come to represent the financial meltdown; he’s symbolically paying for the whole thing. He’s going to jail not just for the $15 billion he stole (which was once, without adequate explanation for its restating, $50 billion more—what happened there?), but for the other $6 or $7 trillion (if I’m keeping up with my sums) lost in the collapse.
Yet, surely Enron was as great a symbol of generalized financial malfeasance (not to mention bearing some responsibility for George Bush’s elections) during the last significant crash (which might not have been as big as this one—but at the time we thought it was). I’d argue that Enron might even have been more of an anathema in that moment than Madoff, and yet Jeffrey Skilling is in for less the 25 years. He’ll likely see the light of day.
And then there are the widows and orphans—the greater Bernie’s sentence, the more, we seemed invited to infer, the widows and orphans are absolved of responsibility. Indeed, Bernie is more and more portrayed as a man who robbed entirely innocent victims. Instead of, more accurately, a man who robbed people who all had reason to suspect that financial returns should not be as rosy as they always were with Bernie Madoff. There ought to be a different standard of larceny when the person who is robbed is at least somewhat as greedy as the person doing the robbing. Again, to note that Enron robbed even more hapless and similarly greedy people than Madoff did.
So the Jewish thing.
Most of the hapless and greedy windows and orphans, along with the other high-net-worth individuals who Bernie robbed, were Jews. So it isn’t simple anti-Semitism. It’s actually a more complicated multiplier effect of the Jews hating Bernie even more because he is Jewish. He’s being shunned by the community. As the judge noted, nobody wrote a kind note or plea for leniency on Bernie’s behalf. That’s rough.
And then there is plain old anti-Semitism. Americans may all have been righteously reconstructed; the great majority may never have had a conscious anti-Semitic thought. And yet, just when you thought you’d escaped your historical prejudice, the archetype returns.
Really, it is better for everybody to throw away the key and speak no more of him.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.