Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NY Wasps candidly share anti-Semitic attitudes

It seems like shameless anti-Semitism in this article online at Vanity Fair:
“It is an act of the worst kind of buffoonery. Schwarzman is horrid.”

This statement was made to me by a member of New York’s Protestant establishment in reference to the renaming of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue at 42nd Street after Stephen A. Schwarzman, C.E.O. of The Blackstone Group, a private equity company. In March news broke that Mr. Schwarzman had agreed to lead the library’s current fundraising campaign by pledging a $100 million gift—the largest the institution has ever received. In recognition, the library announced, his name would be would be carved onto the exterior of the lion-guarded building.

Within senior Wasp circles, Schwarzman and the distinction he has received for his gift have set off a great deal of concealed outrage. Perhaps the best way I can describe it is to say that when I sat and talked with several Wasps about the diminishing influence of their clan, they often waited until the interview was winding down and I had folded up my notebook, and then they jumped back into conversation about Schwarzman and the library.

Old-guard Wasps appear to feel threatened by the newly rich and their growing influence around the city, and dismiss new money as “tasteless and gauche.” When discussing vastly rich people who are Jewish, it is not uncommon for them to use anti-Semitic slurs.

“Come on, though, it’s not Wasps giving Jews a bad name, it’s Jews giving Jews a bad name,” one said. Another told me, “The Astors knew to put their name on the inside. It’s good taste, that’s the difference between old and new.” A third said Schwarzman, who is Jewish, “is cleaning himself up, that’s what new money does. I suppose my family had to do the same thing hundreds of years ago, but look at us now, we’re like deities.”
I imagine this is what it sounded like in Hancock Park years ago as the tony L.A. neighborhood transitioned from the Waspyist address in town to the center of many a fights over Orthodox Jewish practices in residential neighborhood.

But today we are enlightened and Jews in America probably enjoy the most privileged diaspora lives since at least Islamic Spain if not Joseph's years as viceroy of Egypt. (Anyone want to make a case for pre-Nazi Germany?) Which is why it's surprising to see anti-Jewish sentiments so openly aired by somebody not named Kevin MacDonald or his anti-Semitic admirers. Even if they are being expressed anonymously.

The mere mention last summer by Tom Wolfe that many of the new hedge fund managers, like Schwartzman, were Jewish led Moneybox's Daniel Gross to say, "When you finish reading the piece, the faintest whiff of anti-Semitism lingers."

I read the article, and while I agree its quality did not meet Wolfe standards, likely because of the unavoidable comparisons to "The Bonfire of the Vanities," I didn't close Portfolio thinking Jews were money grubbers scouring American society.

Then the housing market tanked ...

There is no question Schwartzman is a jerk. Anybody who throws himself a $3 million birthday party has to be. But this should have nothing to do with Schwartzman being Jewish. In fact, it's worth arguing that if he were a better Jew, he'd be a little less selfish (regardless of how much money he's worth, or was worth).

Maybe Mondoweiss is right. Maybe something historic is happening.

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