Dear Reader (except those of you too busy with your darkness retreats),
“You know who loves fried chicken? Black people. You know who else loves fried chicken? Everyone. Because it’s delicious.”
I tried to find the exact comedian who told this joke the way I remember it,
Now, on the one hand I love this joke. It’s funny because it’s true. But, on the other hand, I won’t deny being nervous telling it because, first, it’s fraught to tell jokes like that these days. Not only is it very easy to seem racist when making jokes about racial stereotypes, it’s very easy to be racist making jokes about stereotypes. But one of the reasons I like this joke is that it’s actually making fun of the stereotype, not black people (though I’m sure I’ll still hear from someone who refuses to see the distinction).
With that in mind, consider Joe Rogan’s recent statement about the Joooooz. In a move that gives new meaning to tardiness, the podcast host came to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, some four years after she tweeted something offensive.
Here’s Wikipedia’s (somewhat problematic) write-up of the incident:
In February 2019, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatened to “take action” against Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their support of the BDS movement. When journalist Glenn Greenwald responded that it was remarkable “how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans”, and tagged Omar for a comment, she replied with a quote from a hip hop song, “It’s All About the Benjamins”, alluding to the $100 bill of that name. Omar later clarified that she was referring to the well-documented influence pro-Israeli lobbyists, especially AIPAC, exert in Washington.
Fast forward four years and here’s Rogan’s defense of Omar (who subsequently apologized): “She’s talking about money,” Rogan said. “It’s not an antisemitic statement, I don’t think that is. Benjamins are money. You know, the idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous. Listen, it’s like saying Italians aren’t into pizza. It’s stupid. It’s f—ing stupid.”
So, just in case it’s not clear, Omar wasn’t claiming that money-grubbing Hebrews were the problem. She was saying that the Jews are too free-spending with their shmundo when it comes to Israel, lavishly raining Benjamins on the Gentiles to protect Israel, who eagerly accept Big Jews’ blood money.
In other words, Omar was trafficking in a completely different antisemitic stereotype—that Jews are string-pulling connivers and manipulators controlling events (and even the weather!) from their (Six-Pointed) Star Chambers. This is an ancient idea, made most famously in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Versions of it are popular around the globe and inform all manner of anti-semitic canards, including many versions of Great Replacement Theory. Not all criticisms of George Soros play into this, but there are plenty of criticisms that do.
But Rogan didn’t know or understand that. He assumed that “all about the Benjamins” was a reference to a different antisemitic charge: That Jews are greedy, filthy-lucre-obsessed, Scrooges. And, because he thinks that charge is so obviously true, he leapt at the chance to absolve her of a different antisemitic statement.
It’s actually kind of funny when you think about it. It’s like rushing to defend Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jewish space-laser theorizing by shouting, “It’s obvious Jews are good with numbers!” or “Everyone knows they suck at basketball!”
But let’s get back to the mic-drop argument that Rogan makes to defend Jewish greed. Italian love of pizza.
You know who loves pizza? Italian people. You know who else loves pizza? Everyone. Because it’s delicious.
Don’t take my word for it. In 2022, Americans bought $6.6 billion in frozen pizzas alone. Americans spend nearly another $50 billion per year on retail pizza. Pizza is very popular in America and has been more popular—and often better!—in America than in Italy for quite some time. But we can’t hold a candle to the Norwegians when it comes to mangia-ing za. On average, Norwegians eat 11 pounds of pizza a year. Grandiosa brand pizza is so popular among the Norgies that 1 in 5 of them think it’s the national dish. Of course, some argue that pizza really isn’t that Italian in the first place. Yes, it was invented in Naples, but Naples was settled by Greeks and preexisted Italian unification. Italians outside of Naples didn’t really start eating it on the regular until the 1940s, in part because Americans kept asking for it.
I bring this up because I want to be clear about how the pizza analogy is like a high rise for idiots: stupid on every level. For instance, even if you believe that Italian people invented pizza and love it more than everyone else, the fact remains Jews didn’t invent money. More to the point, Italians haven’t had their homes ransacked by mobs in search of secret piles of pizza hidden in the basement. Yeah, Italians have faced some prejudice, but the forces of anti-Italian bigotry don’t put loving pizza on their list of reasons to discriminate against them.
But I get what he’s trying to say: For normal people, associating Italians with pizza is just common sense. Likewise, he thinks normal people should associate Jews with money. Duh.
So let’s talk about Jews and money.
I can report from the field that Jews like money. You know who else likes money? Everyone else.
(This whole topic requires me to invoke one of my favorite bits from The Simpsons. Millhouse hates those Shelbyville kids because “They’re always eating candy in Shelbyville. They love the sweet taste!”)
The question is, do Jews like money more than everyone else? I think the answer is pretty clearly no.
The antisemitic idea that Jews are money grubbers has a complicated history. Part of it comes from the fact that in Europe, money lending (“usury”) was considered a sin by the Catholic Church. But kings needed to be able to borrow money. So, it was decreed that Jews be allowed to lend money since they were going to Hell anyway. Jews were hated. Money-lending was hated. So Jews were forced into money-lending and hated all the more for it. And ever since they’ve been stuck with the stigma that was imposed on them.
Jews were also barred from the guilds, so many Jews became entrepreneurs on the margins of socially acceptable commerce as well as salesmen, peddling wares from little carts. This made the guilds hate them all the more because they were competition, often selling better and more modern products the guilds refused to make. This is where the stereotype of the pushy Jewish salesman comes from. It’s also probably where we get the bigoted phrase “jewing.” Poor, enterprising Jews coming through town would haggle over the prices of their wares in communities where prices were fixed by guild and throne, sometimes for centuries. No wonder they thought haggling was Jewish.
While most Jews were poor, some proved quite good at sales and banking and became famous for it. And because ready capital was rare—most aristocrats looked down on making money and got their income from rents off land and the serfs bound to it (talk about exploitation!)—wealthy Jews were resented all the more. A vast swath of Jewish conspiracy theorizing can be traced back to the popular obsessions with the Rothschilds—the family that Greene believes sets fires with their space lasers. Because, firing lasers at California forests is where the real money is.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, Karl Marx put all of these antisemitic tropes into overdrive by claiming that the essence of being a Jew was being a capitalist exploiter, even though the vast majority of Jews were peasants, small businessmen, or traders at the time. “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist,” Marx writes. “Money degrades all the gods of man—and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world—both the world of men and nature—of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.”
The Jewish ‘secret.’
But here’s the thing. While Jews—like pretty much everyone—would like to be rich, the “secret” to Jewish wealth is that Jews are really, really, concerned with not being poor. The stereotypical Jewish mother wants her son—or son-in-law—to be a doctor or lawyer, not because that will make them rich but because it is a hedge against being poor. I mean you can make a nice living as a doctor or lawyer, but you won’t make enough money to finance Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
Moreover, if you’re a doctor or a lawyer and the pogroms come and burn your house down, you can leave town with the real source of your wealth. It’s worth remembering that, for centuries, there was pretty much no place in Europe where a Jewish family could be confident that the state or the mob wouldn’t take away everything they had at a moment’s notice.
(This, by the way, partly explains—but only partly—why so many Jews care about Israel. Zionism was born out of the entirely rational, fact-based belief that Jews could never be fully safe in non-Jewish societies. They needed their own homeland, and why not go with the one that was theirs from the beginning? Omar’s antisemitism is rooted in the idea that the Jews have no right to such a homeland, and she thinks the only way anyone could disagree is if they were bribed into doing so by Jews.)
Even so, in many Jewish communities, the most desirable profession wasn’t doctor, money-lender, lawyer, salesman, or jazz singer. It was to be a rabbi. And, while rabbis could enjoy some modest financial comfort, I shouldn’t have to tell people that few Jews became rabbis for the Benjamins. Similarly, today Jews go into all manner of vocations—academia, journalism, social work, politics, the arts, etc.—not to get rich, but to find fulfilling lives in professions that provide an adequate floor of income, not some guarantee of wealth. I can’t tell you how many Jews I know who study dumb stuff in college that has no chance of making them rich. But they feel free to do it because they know they won’t be (too) poor.
This attitude of raising your kids not to be poor is not unique to Jews. If you know anything about the Chinese or Indian diasporas you know this. If you know anything about the immigrant experience in America, you know this. Educate your kids as much as they can handle—and then 10 percent more for good measure. Learn a trade. Save money. These are not mystical secrets, they’re habits of the heart that pay off over time as a hedge against poverty. The census doesn’t count Jews, but it does count Asians and it’s because of these values that Asians are the least poor demographic in America. If Jews are better off than first- and second-generation Asian families in America it’s because they got an earlier start.
Prior to the enlightenment, you were stuck in the class or caste of your birth. If you were born an aristocratic moron you still got to live the life of an aristocrat. But if you were born a brilliant serf, you still had to live the same life as a moronic serf. You were stuck. The introduction of liberalism—in economics, in law, in culture—changed that, though not as quickly as we might like. Some of those factories sucked. But liberalism was a boon to communities with productive habits. That’s what the whole Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is about. It’s also the “secret” of Jewish success.
Liberalism and the emancipation of the Jews often went hand-in-hand in the 18th and 19th centuries. So did antisemitism because freeing Jews to compete in a liberal economy invited resentment from above and below. America has been a gift to the Jews, but that resentment, imported from Europe, endures like a dormant virus that flares up from time to time. It’s all the more infuriating because it runs against the grain of what America stands for.
I don’t think Rogan is an antisemite, and I don’t think he should be canceled. I do think he’s often proudly ignorant and something of a hypocrite. After all, a guy who makes tens of millions of dollars a year for talking into a microphone about things he doesn’t understand probably shouldn’t be denigrating a class of people as abnormally obsessed with money.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: I got home yesterday to a vigorous welcoming committee. Zoë duly chastised me for absence, but the dogs were also very happy to see me. They had a fine time on their sleepover. The Fair Jessica is out of town until Sunday when I leave for a speech in Springfield, Illinois. I’m psyched because everyone knows February is the best month to visit central Illinois. Still, the girls are having a fine time enjoying the warmer weather. In Florida this week, I met a bunch of people who asked me if I got a new dog. I didn’t but as I often have to explain, I will sometimes post pictures from the midday walk where other dogs join in on the adventure, including Clover who some people call Dark Pippa.
I’ll be on Meet the Press this Sunday.
And now, the weird stuff