Having covered Abraham Foxman as a journalist for more than 15 years now, I've come to marvel at his ability to insert himself into the center of newsworthy controversies, whether it is by angering left-wingers by opposing the mosque and swimming pool near ground zero, or angering right-wingers by denouncing Glenn Beck's coverage of George Soros only weeks after sending Mr. Beck a letter lauding Mr. Beck as "a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel."
So leave it to Mr. Foxman to find an angle into the story of the worldwide financial downturn, which he does in his new book, Jews and Money.
There are some real insights here. Much of the book is an argument that, when it comes to money, Jews aren't really all that much different from anyone else, and a complaint that the perception that the Jews are different is a powerful and potentially pernicious stereotype.
Mr. Foxman notes, for instance, that a profile of Bernard Madoff published in the New York Times two days after his arrest "managed to use the word 'Jewish' three times in its first nine paragraphs," while a similar Times profile of another person accused of Madoff-style financial fraud, Robert Allen Stanford, mentioned Stanford's religion (Southern Baptist, apparently) not once.
Mr. Foxman marshals statistics and anecdotes to debunk some of the stereotypes about Jews and money. Plenty of Jews are poor — hundreds of thousands of them in America alone. And plenty of rich people aren't Jewish, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Plenty of powerful people in Hollywood aren't Jewish, either.
Yet the stereotypes about Jews and money seem to have a powerful hold, Mr. Foxman records. In September 2008, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the United Nation that Zionists "have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers…in a deceitful, complex, and furtive manner."
And Osama Bin Laden's November 2002 "Letter to America" said, "the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense."
Polls of the American population show that 13% say "Jews are more willing that others to use shady practices to get what they want" and 15% say "Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street." Mr. Foxman writes that while the percentages are low and falling, they represent tens of millions of Americans — and that's just based on who is "willing to admit to a pollster" that they hold such views.
To me the most intriguing part of the book, though, was the brief section toward the end when Mr. Foxman himself acknowledges that there are what he calls "subtle but important differences between Christian and Jewish attitudes toward wealth," involving what he says is a Christian "tinge of asceticism — a belief in the value of physical and sensual self-denial, deprivation, even suffering" — that he says doesn't have much of a parallel in mainstream Judaism.
This is suggestive and perhaps even controversial, but Mr. Foxman just touches on it glancingly. Most of the book is instead devoted to describing and debunking anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. That's useful and well done and timely, as the jacket-praise for the book from non-Jews such as Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and Paul Volcker recognizes. It leaves room, though, for more to be said on this topic.