OPINION: Why has The Economist used an ancient anti-Jewish image to illustrate a modern business story?

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OPINION: Why has The Economist used an ancient anti-Jewish image to illustrate a modern business story?

Imagine my indignation on opening the latest edition of the magazine on Holocaust Memorial Day to find a terrible trope revived, writes Alex Brummer.

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Goldman Sachs is an investment bank which always attracts headlines. As a business it is closely monitored in the financial press for it advisory work and investment expertise. Its alumni have populated some of the most prestige jobs in finance including the World Bank, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the American central bank the Federal Reserve.

Until recently the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was a member of this elite group. The chief economist at the Bank of England Huw Pill worked at the Goldman as did former governor Mark Carney.

The current under fire chairman of the BBC Richard Sharp also boasted a long career at Goldman. That almost certainly offends some editorial staff at the BBC who may regard any appointment made by Boris Johnson and anyone with strong City connections as anathema.

But with success as bankers and respected policymakers come a downside. Goldman, founded by Marcus Goldman in lower Manhattan in 1869, is viewed as a Jewish dominated institution and regularly attracts the attention of antisemites.

It particularly found itself in the limelight during and after the great financial crisis of 2008-09. It bankers were harried and hassled by protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park in the aftermath of the financial meltdown.

Alex Brummer

In 2010 that it was skewered by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘a great vampire squib wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.’

Advertently or inadvertently, Rolling Stone had bought into several anti-semitic tropes. The Jews as ruthless bankers controlling the world and the notorious blood libels of the Middle Ages which have cascaded down the centuries.

So imagine my indignation to open the latest edition of The Economist (page 19) to find this terrible trope revived and – on day of all days – Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Economist chose to headline an article about Goldman’s recent disappointing financial performance with the headline ‘Vampire squib.’ Above there was a cartoon of a giant squid hovering over Wall Street’s grandest buildings.

How The Economist editors decided this was an amusing way to categorise Goldman’s recent disappointments, I have no idea. But a moment of reflection and research would have told this was a terrible idea and could power up antisemitic prejudices against Jewish financiers.

Social media has provided a ready audience for such conspiracies.

The whole idea of the squid or octopus – to represent the power of Jewish financiers can be traced back to 1894. An attack on the Rothschild banking dynasty was orchestrated by the antisemitic polemicist ‘Coin Harvey.’

He displayed a cartoon of a giant Octopus, with its tentacles reaching to every corner of a map of the world – then name Rothschild at the core – under the title ‘The English Octopus: It Feeds on Nothing but Gold.’

The magazine’s choice of an ancient image with a terrible history to illustrate a modern business story totally is unworthy of the editors responsible.

In the current century it is Goldman which has inherited the mantle of ‘Jewish bankers’ as the epitome of New York investment banking. Rothschild still retains its eminence as a bank to be conjured with but tends to operate more in the shadows.

Few British publications enjoy the global prestige and sales of The Economist. It is to be found in the reception area of major corporations around the world and on airplanes and in the business class lounges frequented by executives.

The magazine’s choice of an ancient image with a terrible history to illustrate a modern business story totally is unworthy of the editors responsible.

Even if intended as clever and super-ironic it can only be construed as antisemitic and offensive.

One wonders what the Rothschild family, with a long connection to The Economist (the late Sir Evelyn Rothschild was chairman for 17-years from 1972), would make of the Goldman coverage. The Rothschild family still hold a small minority stake in the publication.

Niall Ferguson’s magnificent official two volume work The House of Rothschild deals at some length with antisemitism and the origins of the octopus squid metaphor.

Perpetuating it is a disservice to Jews feeding into ancient hatreds at a  moment of elevated antisemitism.

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