The American Jewish Committe says…
…yes, it is.
Here is the AJC's letter published in the New York Times on December 20, 2008:
To the Editor:
In “Standing Accused: A Pillar of Finance and Charity,” your Dec. 13 Business Day article about Bernard L. Madoff, arrested in a major fraud scheme, there was a striking emphasis on his being Jewish. It was not just once, or twice, but at least three times before the article continued inside. Why?
Yes, he is Jewish. We get it. But was this relevant to his being arrested for cheating investors, or so key to his evolution as a businessman that it needed to be hammered home again and again?
I have read several accounts in The Times of the shenanigans of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, yet have no clue what his religion is, nor, frankly, do I care. Why should I? Unless he was acting in the name of his faith, which I assume he was not, what difference does it make? And if a profile is warranted and the governor’s faith matters to him, mention it and move on.
But to refer to the “Jewish T-bill,” “the clubby Jewish world” and the “world of Jewish New York” within four paragraphs near the top of the article on Mr. Madoff was over the top.
David A. Harris
American Jewish Committee
New York, Dec. 13, 2008
Here is a link to the letter as posted on the AJC website under the title, "Breaking News: New York Times Publishes AJC Letter on Madoff." The letter is prominently linked on the AJC press releases page, as well.
Of course, the answer to David A. Harris' question should be clear: Bernard L. Madoff committed a crime called affinity fraud. To do so, he needed to belong to an identifiable group, people who he shared an affinity with. That group is the Jewish community. The affinity is Judaism.
Madoff primarily preyed on Jews and Jewish charities.
Therefore, mentioning Madoff's religion and his charitable affiliations is essential to telling the story.
I find it hard to believe David Harris did not know this when he wrote what has to be the dumbest letter ever written by an American Jewish leader.
Perhaps this was meant to be some kind of early Purim shtick.
More likely, it was meant to stake out fundraising turf.
Harris knows there are plenty of embarrassed Jews, some of them quite wealthy, many older, who view accurate reporting by the Times of the Madoff scandal in the same way they would have viewed Der Sturmer in the summer of 1939.
And those Jews now know where to send money – to David A. Harris.
If this letter was a fundraising gambit, in a strange way, Harris would be similar to Madoff, raising money to fight nonexistent media antisemitism rather than raising money to invest in nonexistent investment funds.
The truth is, the American Jewish Committee has long outlived its usefulness. So has the American Jewish Congress, which ironically Madoff may have killed, and so have many other national Jewish organizations that long ago had value but now are redundant.
The money wasted on these organizations could be better spent fighting the real problems Jews now face: our own ignorance; an educational system far too expensive for most Jews to use; a stagnating religion that does not speak to most of the people born into it; and the rise of our own fundamentalists who exploit that ignorance, exclusivity and stagnation for their own ends.
Instead, the alphabet soup of redundancy busies itself with issuing press releases and writing letters like Harris'.
Yes, there are many good Jewish organizations – American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee come quickly to mind, and of course there are others, including old age homes and aging services, and anti-poverty programs and food distributions.
But the Jewish community needs a major rebooting.
Perhaps the one good thing Bernard L. Madoff will have done in his evil life is set that process into motion.