Has America Been Too Good to the Jews?–The Shanda List and Antisemitism

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Stephen Miller: A real Paskudnik

 

 

 

For centuries, antisemitism has undoubtedly been the most discussed and studied issue facing the Jewish community worldwide.

However, discussions about this topic universally begin with the correct assumption that antisemitism’s origins—for whatever irrational and unfounded reasons–are outside the Jewish community.

But in 21st-century America, many American Jews have achieved exceptional financial, professional, and social success. This achievement has allowed Jews to accomplish some of the most elevated positions in society. For the most part, this overall success was achieved as American Jews primarily maintained and embraced their religion, traditions, and, most importantly, their Talmudic code and practices even when they could not articulate them.

At the same time, the Jewish community has produced its numerically small share of high-profile criminals, abusers of the public trust, and violators of human rights that put them into their particular category inside the Jewish community.  We only have to wash the gutter-level Trump trials to see names like David Pecker, Boris Epshtyn, Michael Cohen, and Allen Weiselberg.

This category of individuals and groups varies, but their common thread is that they are Jewish, evident to the world and the Jewish community, and have engaged in behaviors that tarnish or damage the reputation of the broader Jewish community.

Shanda Promotes Community Cohesion

When Jews create an apparent disgrace to other Jews due to criminal, unethical, or immoral behavior, it has traditionally been termed a “Shanda.”

The Yiddish word “Shanda” is “Misbehavior by a particular Jew or Jewish group that leads to embarrassment among the broader Jewish community.” The process is derived from the mandate to ensure community purity, group identity, and follow the Torah.

Shanda derives its power to disgrace and taint the reputation of other Jews because the ethical, legal, or moral violations not only attract the attention of other Jews but, just as importantly, the attention of non-Jews looking for another excuse to ramp up their anti-Semitic rhetoric or attacks.

This is how the term “Shanda” was put into the context of  “shande far di goyim” or “shanda for the goyim” (embarrassment before/for the non-Jews).

This is a powerful concept. First, conduct among Jews is ideally governed by Halakhah, which is the “way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, including civil, criminal, and religious law.  At the group or community level, “to be a Jew means first and foremost to belong to a group, the Jewish people.”

More authoritatively, Louis Finkelstein, in The Ways of Religion (1999) illustrated this by saying:

“Judaism considers every member of the faith responsible for the moral conduct of those neighbors over whom he can exert influence.”  Further, “the Jewish culture emphasizes not only personal adherence to Jewish law, but also a responsibility of all Jews to extend their influence to other Jews in hopes of guiding them to live within the laws. This is an important component of Judaism because it means that those who are affected by another’s bad acts share some (though not equal) responsibility for not influencing that person to live by the Torah.”

This sets the boundaries for individual and community behavior. Violating these laws or norms can trigger a community response. This is the context of “Shanda.”

Note: The Shanda List does not include violent criminals, such as those in the Purple Gang or Murder Inc. Those people were always considered outlaws in the Jewish community and essentially led separate lives. While these people were a Shanda, some still observed Jewish laws. One member of Murder Inc. would not kill people on Shabbos. On Yom Kippur, Jewish gangsters in New York would meet separately and hire a rabbi to lead the Yahrzeit service.

Community Standards Matter

Inside the Jewish community, the list of Jews earning the derisive term “Shanda” may also have contributed to a subtle, different form of antisemitism.

When Jews become critical of each other, it often happens in quiet conversations that are never publicly discussed. Most rabbis consider it a sacrilege to criticize other Jews in public since all Jewish souls, including those of criminals and even converts, are holy and have eternal positive value.

At the everyday level, Jews whose behavior exceeds the boundaries of U.S. laws and 2,000 years of Jewish and rabbinic teachings deserve the term” Shanda” since they are fueling a new form of antisemitism.

This source of antisemitism is not included in most studies about the origins of antisemitism that focus on Jew hatred from non-Jews.

A New Dynamic in Antisemitism

The remarkable social ascent and professional achievement of Jews in America has never occurred in history.

Since the start of the 20th century, America, without question, has been the new land of milk and honey for Jews. This steady rise in social and professional mobility witnessed periods of antisemitism in hiring and professional advancement. Still, since the end of World War II, widespread antisemitism has subsided, which allowed generations of American Jews to enter professions, make a living, and join social institutions that, 50 years earlier, barred their entrance.

But since the end of World War II, maybe America has been too good to the Jews.

The secure American Jewish lifestyle, free of organized hate and legal restrictions, naturally gravitated toward the dominant American consumer culture.

Pogroms and other horrors in Europe and Arab nations kept those Jewish communities cohesive, focused, and, to a greater degree, more observant than what we are seeing in America today. The pursuit of wealth and materialism in America has pushed Jews to more assimilation, accompanied by abandoning strong links or even a basic knowledge of traditional Talmudic values.

While there is a wide range of Jewish observance today, many sects would agree to the Jewish teachings from Chabad, the orthodox source of Talmudic knowledge, of the following:

“In the world of trust, the place we all go to after life on earth, what counts is the lasting impact we had on the world. The achievements of the soul, not the body, remain beyond the grave. The money we make, the holidays we go on, the food we eat, and the games we play are all the flowers that die with us. But the good deeds we do, the love we show to others, and the light we bring into the world, these are eternal.”

This is straightforward enough and shows the boundaries of expected Jewish behavior. However, these goals are violated in pursuing material wealth, power, and notoriety.

The Shonda List

The rise in antisemitism inside the U.S. may be fueled by the extreme behaviors of U.S. Jews, whose egregious acts are visible and reinforce old stereotypes.

These evident destructive behaviors also force Jews to re-examine whether the Jewish people are falling short of being a “light onto other nations” while serving as shining ethical and moral examples for other nations.

The people on this admittedly subjective Shonda list were chosen for a few reasons:

  • They created a long-term, negative impact on the world or the U.S. based on the Chabad description above;
  • They achieved national or international notoriety as Jews who conducted acts that harmed a larger group of innocent victims or profited from their errant behavior.

Here is this list:

Bernie Madoff and Ivan Boesky–These financial criminals fleeced thousands of investors. Madoff engineered the largest Ponzi scheme in history, worth about $64.8 billion. As an exceptional criminal, he was chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange. Madoff’s fraud started with his self-proclaimed interest in Jewish philanthropy. However, according to the New York Times, “it ultimately grew to encompass major charities like Hadassah and Yeshiva University. Boesky was one of the top arbitrage traders on Wall Street during the 1980s and served as the model for Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street. In 1986, he was convicted of insider trading and fined $100 million. He remained true to his roots. Boesky and his wife gave $2 million to the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. After Boesky was fined, he had The Jewish Theological Seminary take his name off of its new $20 million library in upper Manhattan, to which he had pledged more than $2 million, according to Business Insider.

Roy Cohen—Widely considered one of the most despicable Americans ever, Cohen worked to secure the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the famous 1951 spy trials, worked with J. Edgar Hoover to prosecute and harass political opponents, and was the force behind Senator Joe McCarthy’s Anti-Communist witch hunt hearings of 1953-1954. Cohen, a closeted homosexual, persecuted other homosexuals for political gain. Cohen was also a mentor of Donald Trump.

Sam Bankman-Fried, his parents (Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried), and WeWork CEO and founder Adam Neumann. These are all fraudsters who cashed in on either crypto scams or the hype of converting a real estate company into a tech one. Neumann’s scam was that he fooled greedy investors who fell for the hype that renting a desk or an empty office was a rare, once-in-a-lifetime investment. The trick fooled the greedy investors who pushed this empty shell company to a valuation of $10 billion. In his trial, Bankman-Fried admitted he knew nothing about crypto and was not a trader. But he and his parents (Stanford law professors) took the money anyway.

Michael Cohen—An admitted Trump henchman who flipped to the other side after serving three years in jail, Cohen is now a public critic of Trump. However, his crimes enabled Trump to cover his crimes and fostered Trump’s shady business-political dealings. Teshuva is excellent, but it sometimes comes too late.

Henry Kissinger—widely considered a war criminal, is the former Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, a Harvard professor, and one of the nation’s longest-serving diplomats. Kissinger endorsed and enacted policies that killed millions. Among the policies he advanced, He helped Nixon derail the Paris Peace Talks to allow the Vietnam War to continue. During this delay, about 20,000 US soldiers were killed. Kissinger also pushed for the illegal invasion of Cambodia and dictator Augusto Pinochet’s coup in Chile; he expanded the Viet Nam war into Laos and Cambodia (the destabilizing effects of which would pave the way for the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the death of up to two million people). He advocated the bombing of, in his own words, “anything that moves.”

1971 Kissinger backed Pakistan in its war against Bangladesh despite evidence of massacre and rape. In 1973, he orchestrated a military coup against Chile’s democratically elected Salvadore Allende regime and then installed the vicious Pinochet dictatorship. In 1975, as Secretary of State, he lent his tacit support to President Suharto of Indonesia, a despot responsible for the mass killings of hundreds of thousands in the deadly conquest of East Timor. Kissinger also proposed intervention in Cyprus and summed up his philosophy by saying: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer,” according to The Harvard Crimson. In the 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens said Kissinger “deserves prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.” He further calls him “a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.”

Barre Seid–A 90-year-old Chicago industrialist, is probably the least-known of the members on the Shonda list. Seid made a contribution of $1 billion (yes, $1 billion) to fund a new group run by the extreme right-wing Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo. Leo is a solid backer of the right-wingers who support Trump.

Barre Seid, the right-wing billionaire

Not much is known about Seid, but he was either gullible enough to give $1 billion to the right-wing Leo or else was fooled by Leo’s solicitation that his money would somehow be used to benefit Israel. In any case, Seid has bankrolled extreme right-wing causes for many decades since Leo’s Supreme Court judge selections will ensure they followed a right-wing orientation, including ending federal abortion rights. Seid’s contribution will also make it easier for Trump to pursue his far-right plan to take more authority over every part of the current federal government. Seid’s $1 billion contribution will fund right-wing causes for a few generations.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC)—As the only group on the Shonda list, the RJC is an example of wealthy Jews with outsized egos perpetuating their own “big lie.” Their lie is that Jews should embrace the Republican Party because, according to them, Democrats are allowing “antisemitism to flourish in their party.” There is no evidence of that, especially when the MAGA Republicans, which includes the RJC, traffic with white Christian nationalists and neo-Nazis, endorse candidates that support the Jan. 6 Trump insurrection, and who regularly use the name of George Soros as a synonym for anti-Semitic slurs.

The RJC was created to advance their own financial and social self-interests. There is no basis for the RJC’s historical fabrication that Republicans are “better” for American Jews  because 1.) there is no evidence Republicans have ever done anything special to earn the Jewish vote, and 2.) Trump and MAGA Republican policies are antithetical to the values and interests of most American Jews.

The RJC’s huge donations have also had no impact on the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. During the Trump administration (2016-2020), and at a time when RJC contributions were flowing at a record pace, the U.S. recorded 2,100 anti-Semitic attacks in 2019, which was the highest level of antisemitic incidents since the ADL started tracking them in 1979, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Paul Wolfowitz—As Deputy Defense Secretary under President George Bush, Wolfowitz pushed for the invasion of Iraq shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, even as it was evident Iraq had nothing to do with Osama Ben Laden. He also justified the invasion because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Both pretexts were false, but Wolfowitz advanced them regardless. After the Iraq War (2003-2011) and the Afghanistan War (2001-2021), the occupations of both nations cost almost $4 trillion, killing nearly 3,000 Americans and between 50,000 and 600,000 Iraqis. In both wars, Wolfowitz pushed his neo-conservative policies that worked against the interests of average Americans. After his stint in the Defense Department, Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank but was forced to resign in 2007 after he arranged a pay raise for a particular female employee.

Sheldon Adelson—Maybe the best example of a conflicted Jew, the late billionaire Adelson and his wife, both ardent pro-Israel conservatives, donated at least $200 million to Donald Trump in his presidential bid. In 2012, he donated $150 million to block the election of “socialist” and “anti-Israel” candidate Obama.  He also backed right-wing Republican Newt Gingrich for president in 2012. Adelson continued to make his vast MAGA donations despite the increase in anti-Semitic attacks and incidents nationwide. (Trump’s second largest contributor was Blackstone Group’s CEO Steven Schwarzman.)

As an egomaniac, Adelson was once a guest at a Washington reception and remarked to President George Bush, “You know, I am the richest Jew in the world.” It’s unclear what the Texan replied since he probably did not have many contacts with Jews growing up. (George Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, did business with the Nazis.)

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson

Since the Shanda List wants to be fair, Adelson has also been generous to Jewish causes. The Adelson Foundation gives $200 million annually to Jewish and Israeli motivations, the largest of any existing private foundation with that aim.”   Adelson also donated over $65 million to Israeli universities and think tanks, $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and hundreds of millions to educational and cultural exchange programs, according to the Washington Post. Still, the bad outweighs the good.

Merrick Garland—Meek and mild-mannered, Garland is a study in prognostication and delay that helped Trump almost topple the U.S. government. Garland is a judicial “traditionalist” whose judicial philosophy is essentially “don’t rock the boat.” Garland waited over a year to pursue the top leaders in the insurrection. His inexcusable delay will be examined in years to come as a reason why the U.S. judicial and legal system contributes to systemic injustice. Garland made a list because he had the power to act but looked askance when he had the legal authority to preserve the U.S. political system. According to an investigative report by The Washington Post, the “Department of Justice delayed plans to investigate Donald Trump and his associates’ links to Jan. 6 and attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Historians will examine Garland’s record and find that his unnecessary delays jeopardized U.S. democracy.

The Sackler Family—Drugs kill, and the Sackler family knew this but did nothing as they made billions selling their highly addictive OxyContin. At one time, the drug killed about 100 people a day in America and created millions of addicts.  After a protracted legal battle, the Sackler family received complete immunity from civil suits and agreed to pay  $6 billion to fund opioid addiction programs. The Sackler family is another example of evil people who can do good things. The Sackler family is a significant donor to Harvard, the Smithsonian, and the Metropolitan Museum, and behind research facilities and professorships at MIT, Columbia, Cornell, and Stanford.

Jerrod Kushner and Charles Kushner—Trump’s son-in-law was a prime Trump enabler and shady financial actor who received $2 billion from the Saudi government for delivering services that no one can explain. Kusher benefitted from being Trump’s son-in-law, and his Orthodox beliefs violated every commonly accepted rabbinic teaching. Jerrod’s father, Charles, also has no class. Charles was convicted of tax evasion and witness tampering. As a convicted felon, he was also disbarred in three states. He later received a federal pardon issued by Donald Trump in 2020. As part of the crime, when Charles discovered his brother-in-law was cooperating with federal authorities, he “hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law, then arranged to have the encounter in a New Jersey motel room recorded with a hidden camera and the recording sent to his sister, the man’s wife,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called it “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he ever prosecuted as U.S. attorney. Nothing does if this event does not rank near the top of the Shanda List. All this helps explain why Jerrod has the background needed to be Trump’s son-in-law.

Monica Lewinsky and Leona Helmsley–These women rose to national attention and disgraced the Jewish community. One did it through abhorrent sexual behavior in the White House, and the other by personifying criminal tax evasion and engaging in tyrannical behavior toward others.

Dr. Laura Schlesinger—The controversial Dr. Laura makes the List because she has mixed her conservative social views on homosexuality, abortion, race relations, divorce, and other hot-button social issues under the umbrella of dispensing psychological advice.  At one time, she claimed she was Orthodox and provided advice based on biblical teachings to criticize homosexuality. But, later, she said she had abandoned the strict adherence to Jewish laws but was still Jewish.  Her popularity has waned over the year as she ventured from providing relationship advice to lecturing on conservative morality and right-wing politics. She has told her audience to beware of “indoctrination” in public schools, the dangers of abortion, and the dangers of extramarital affairs, even though she had at least two before she was divorced. Dr. Laura makes the List because of ethical hypocrisy and her public persona of taking the high moral ground without showing any empathy for her callers.

Stephen Miller—Near the top of the Shanda List is the despicable Miller. The respected Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) credits the right-wing opportunist Miller with “shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump, which include the zero-tolerance policy, also known as family separation, the Muslim ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Miller: If looks could kill

According to a report in Vanity Fair, Miller has also “purged” government agencies of civil servants who are not entirely loyal to his extremist agenda, And that’s just for starters. Miller was also promoted. As a White House spokesman, Miller also made false claims regarding widespread electoral fraud. Emails from November 2019 showed he had promoted articles from white nationalist publications.

Miller, whose grandparents emigrated to the U.S. in 1903 to escape pogroms in Belarus. Miller must have forgotten that because he became the chief immigrant hate-monger in the MAGA Trump administration, even after Trump lost the election. The SPLC said Miller capitalized and profited from the intended use of fearmongering and xenophobia. He also implemented policies that demonize immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, in an apparent effort to halt all forms of immigration to the United States. Miller is a Shonda poster boy.

Alan Greenspan–Greenspan served 14 years as the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (from 1987 to 2006) and was called the world’s greatest economist and the stabilizer of the world economy. But he also had another agenda. Greenspan was a follower of Ayn Rand, who once called President John Kennedy’s social programs “The Fascist New Frontier.” His version of economics, “Greenomics,” is based on debt creation to fund selective growth accompanied by massive deficits.

During his tenure, Greenspan believed that taxes on the wealthy and any structure or regulation impeding corporate profits were detrimental to the economy. Despite his laissez-faire rhetoric, Greenspan bailed out Mexico, the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, and intervened in the Asian debt crisis. The Congressional Budget Office found that one-third of the Bush tax cut, aided by Greenspan, benefited the top 1% of families with an average income of $1.2 million. Due to Greenspan’s policies, the number of Americans employed in manufacturing is at the same level as before the U.S. Civil War.

Greenspan made the Shanda List because he had the authority to benefit millions but did not. He was a legendary public servant with immense power and followed the Federal Reserve’s mandate of creating jobs, promoting economic growth, and containing inflation. But during his long tenure, he overwhelmingly tipped the scales in favor of the wealthy and powerful. He is like an army general agreeing to fight a war within prescribed ethical limits. Greenspan failed since his policies advanced the rich at the expense of average Americans.

Mark Levin, Andrew Brietbart, Boris Epshteyn—The Jewish equivalents of Father Coughlin, the anti-Semitic Roman Catholic priest who in the 1930s and 1940s used radio to push America-first, ant-Roosevelt, and anti-Semitic propaganda, these media creations made millions pushing the right-win MAGA propaganda, including QAnon nonsense. Levin and Breitbart joined the right-wing media to profit and attack liberals, including other liberal Jews, while Epshteyn was a Trump advisor.

Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein—These wealthy, politically connected sexual predators showed the raw benefits of nepotism, political connections, and political corruption—each evaded prosecution because of their money. In Epstein’s case, even the source of his wealth remains a mystery, as does his death. Weinstein abused the outdated Hollywood casting couch selection system by enforcing total retaliation against any starlet who revealed his crimes.

Mark Zuckerberg—The  Facebook creator and one of the wealthiest men in the world (net worth: $102 billion) has built a worldwide network that failed to take the precautions and spend the money needed to prevent the dissemination of lies and propaganda. Under the guise of “free speech,” Facebook allows neo-Nazis, genocidal dictators, and hate-mongers worldwide free access to its communications site.

Facebook was involved in a number of scandals, including “scandals and accusations, including a psychological experiment conducted on 70,000 unconsenting Facebook users which examined how changes in the News Feed could impact their mental health,” according to Business Insider. During the 2016 presidential election, which saw Trump win, Facebook was accused of knowingly posting fake information and using keywords to sell ads to unsuspecting users. Still unrepentant, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity told The New York Times that it found “clear and deliberate attempts to covertly spread propaganda that were directly linked to the Myanmar military. That information was used to kill opponents. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations, the largest fine ever against a tech company.

And to show that Zuckerberg values profit over the company’s treatment of Jews, “neo-Nazi groups have been allowed to remain on Facebook because the social media giant found they did not violate its “community standards,” according to The Independent. Zuckerberg ranks high on the Shanda List for his greed and pursuit of profits at all costs.

Lessons From the Shanda List

While only 2.2% of the adult U.S. population, Jews have achieved the extremes in modern society. At the positive end of this behavioral spectrum, Jews seek an ideal promoting a higher standard of conduct. This isn’t easy in contemporary American culture, with its focus on material and financial success, assimilation, and, in rare cases, political power. Each goal is open to corruption and ethical violations.

A few generations ago, community cohesions created a more visible boundary between acceptable and unacceptable Jewish behavior.

But the idea of the Shanda is still evident today. In one case from this Shanda List, Maurice Cohen, a Holocaust survivor and the father of Michael Cohen, Trump’s now-disgraced lawyer, told his son to testify against Trump because “he didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his name sullied by Trump.” This showed awareness of protecting his individual and the community’s reputation.

While many contemporary Jewish community behavioral boundaries have faded, the Shanda concept remains a normative community marker that deserves to be preserved and enforced.

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