Vice President Joe Biden used a popular reference to a Jewish character in a Shakespearean play, and in a culture that plays a constant game of gotcha with its leaders in all walks of life, he caused quite a stir.
Speaking at a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Biden shared stories he’d heard from his son, Beau, about his military experience in Iraq as Major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps.
“That’s one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year, ” Biden said, “that people would come 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, um, these women and men while overseas.”
Yes, he used the S word. And when you’re a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2016, and you rely on the Jewish vote and on Jewish money, you shouldn’t use the S word.
Never mind that it conveys a simple and well understood concept, often used by Jews in normal conversation. This is not the same as displaying an Auschwitz prisoner’s pajamas in a fashion store, or selling a blood soaked Kent State sweatshirt in a catalog.
The man who guards our proper use of language in public places, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, issued a reprimand on Tuesday.
“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, ” Foxman said in a statement.
For the record, Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice, ” in which Shylock, demands his “pound of flesh” from a merchant named Antonio if the latter fails to repay his loan, is not an antisemitic work, nor is Shylock (which isn’t a Jewish name) an unsympathetic character. He gets to have his say at the end of the play, and share his bitterness, caused by a life of persecution and humiliation.
“Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day, ” Foxman said. “The vice president should have been more careful.”
And Fozman should probably Netflix a good version of Merchant of Venice and reevaluate the offense. I for one could live with a president who is well versed with the classics.
CNN reported that Biden is heading to Iowa on Wednesday, to speak to Nuns on the Bus, a liberal Catholic social justice group based in Washington.
Let’s hope he keeps the pope jokes to a minimum.