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The crusade against Wonga is in danger of resurrecting the stereotype of the avaricious Jewish moneylender

by Brendan O’Neill

Something about the moral crusade against Wonga is making me feel uncomfortable. It isn’t the fact that people are criticising a payday loan company; most such outfits are pretty unpleasant and we must be at liberty to ridicule them and take them to task. No, it’s the fact that Wonga is being singled out above all other modern loan sharks, and that the Wonga-bashing sections of the media are rather salaciously obsessing over the lavish lifestyles allegedly led by its “greedy” bosses. Wonga, you see, is owned by two Jewish immigrants, Errol Damelin and Jonty Hurwitz, and their venture capital backers. And I think we are in serious danger of resurrecting the old racial stereotype of the avaricious Jewish moneylender.

Just look into the underbelly of the internet, if you dare. There you will find neo-fascists and anti-Semites leaping with naked glee on to the anti-Wonga bandwagon. On the far-right white nationalist Stormfront website (I’m not providing hyperlinks), Wonga’s owners are referred to as “modern-day hook-nosed pawnbrokers… usurious swine in the most extreme form”. A self-styled Aryan campaign group says Wonga is an “insidious parasitic company of usury” and says no one will be surprised to discover that it is “the brainchild of two Jews”. It refers to Wonga’s “Dracula-esque” sucking-up of non-Jewish people’s money. Elsewhere in the Hitler-worshipping parts of the web, Wonga is said to be made up of “Jewish shysters” and its behaviour is said to be typical of the Jews, who can only “steal, cheat and sue people”.

Of course, such foul anti-Semitism is not present in the mainstream Wonga-bashing of various media outlets and politicians. However, there is, at times, an awkward crossover between the increasingly popular mainstream crusade against Wonga and the nasty racist attacks on Wonga’s owners in the darker parts of the internet. So Stormfront joyfully provides links to tabloid articles about Wonga’s bosses and their penchant for “hot tubs, tennis courts and BMWs”. Indeed, some sections of the media seem weirdly obsessed with the alleged greed and indulgences of the Wonga “fat cats” who live in “astonishing homes” <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2207554/The-astonishing-homes-Wongas-fat-cats-tripling-profits-4-000pc-payday-loans.html> , as if these men are single-handedly responsible for the fact that some poor Brits live in economic hardship. Elsewhere, broadsheet commentators describe Wonga as “the ugly face of predatory capitalism” and as “corrosive parasites” <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/as-benefits-dry-up-wonga-will-prosper-2013-could-be-the-year-of-the-payday-lender-8436932.html> , unwittingly echoing old, dodgy views of so-called “Jewish capitalism” – that is, banking and moneylending – as being more predatory and parasitical than “normal capitalism”. It is sometimes the mainstream media’s handwringing over Wonga’s “parasitical” nature which fuels the Aryan losers’ claims that Wonga is “Dracula-esque”.

The view of Wonga as some kind of foreign carbuncle on the British capitalist body was unwittingly summed up in a recent Sun cartoon. Following Archbishop Justin Welby’s intervention into the Wonga debate, the Sun depicted Welby as a Christlike figure in a temple yelling “Out, moneylenders!” at a fat, ugly man in a Wonga jacket <http://img.thesun.co.uk/aidemitlum/archive/01771/SNN2604CAR1–_1771731a.jpg> . Jesus’s driving of moneylenders from the Jewish temple has for centuries been used as evidence that Jews are shysters who will even try to make a buck on holy ground. Of course, the Sun is not remotely anti-Semitic, and neither are the other mainstream campaigners against Wonga. Nonetheless, the media and campaigners’ myopic focus on Wonga above all other payday loan companies, alongside their depiction of Wonga’s bosses as predatory and utterly devoid of feeling as they build their comfy piles on the backs of other people’s suffering, does have uncomfortable echoes of the age-old stereotype of the predatory Jewish moneylender.

In the early twentieth century, August Bebel <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Bebel> , the German Marxist, referred to certain Lefties’ obsession with so-called “Jewish capitalism” as “the socialism of fools”. To wring one’s hands over moneylenders, many of whom happened to be Jewish, represented a twisted and vulgar critique of capitalism, said Bebel, with some sad Leftists preferring to launch moralistic assaults on the stranger practices of capitalist society over offering up a serious critique of capitalism’s structural failings. Well, this Saturday, the People’s Assembly, the new anti-austerity left-wing outfit founded by journalists and trade unionists, is encouraging its supporters to occupy Wonga premises and other payday loan companies that are “targeting the poorest in society”

<http://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/event/take-action-against-legal-loan-sharks/> . Has the left learnt nothing in the past hundred years? The open anti-Semitism has gone, but nonetheless, a socialism which obsesses over a symptom of the economic downturn rather than putting forward ideas for how to create a new and wealthy society is still pretty foolish.


If the cap fits….[Admin]




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