As a Jew, I’m grateful that Joe Biden used the word ‘Shylocks’

US Vice President Joe Biden shakes hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the state memorial service for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2014 [AFP]
US Vice President Joe Biden shakes hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the state memorial service for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2014 [AFP]
Joe Biden, once again, pulled a Joe Biden, (made a gaffe) when he referred to predatory bankers as shylocks. During a Tuesday speech at the Legal Services Corporation’s 40th anniversary conference, Biden said that his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, heard stories about banks preying on fellow servicemen and women when he served in Iraq:

People would come up to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures in terms of bad loans that were being – I mean, these Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas.

Of course, Shylock is a fairly charged reference, as it refers to the Jewish, interest-charging, money-lender in Shakespeare masterpiece The Merchant of Venice. There is much debate over whether the character is an anti-semitic stereotype, or a sympathetic character through whom Shakespeare critiques anti-semitism. But, to be sure, when people use the word, they mean it pejoratively. They are describing someone who takes advantage of others and not someone who highlights the inhumanity of anti-Semitism. You will not, for instance, hear anyone ever describe Anne Frank as a Shylock, though she certainly humanized Jews and indicted anti-semitism.

Predictably, Abraham Foxman, who is still the president of the Anti-Defamation League despite announcing his retirement last year, had something to say about this:

When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden, uses the term ‘Shylocked’ to describe unscrupulous moneylenders dealing with service men and women, we see once again how deeply embedded this stereotype about Jews is in society.

Biden issued an apology and a “Jews love me” #HumbleBrag: Continue reading “As a Jew, I’m grateful that Joe Biden used the word ‘Shylocks’”