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Janet Yellen Is Poised To Be the Third Jewish Fed Chair in a Row. Where Are the Anti-Semites?

Decades ago, her predecessor Eugene Meyer was targeted as a ‘moneylender’—but now Jews are celebrated for financial prowess

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Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board and President Obama’s nominee to succeed Chairman Ben Bernanke, waits for the beginning of a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to discuss the so-called ‘Volcker Rule,’ Dec. 10, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Greenspan, Bernanke, and Yellen have never faced anything like the anti-Semitic tirades that Meyer endured. And the sense of everyone being OK with Jewish bankers isn’t restricted to the United States: Even as anti-Semitism flares up in Romania or Bulgaria or Iran, it hasn’t been targeted at these central bankers.

It’s not because the Fed has lost its allure as a target of populist malcontent. Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and erstwhile Republican presidential candidate, declared after winning the Iowa caucuses in 2012, “We’re all Austrians now!” He was not referring, of course, to the Nazis who stomped on my ancestors, but to the Austrian economists he loves: figures like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, whose theories are interpreted by Tea Party enthusiasts as arguments against the expansionary monetary policy wielded by the Fed and other central banks.

Nor is it because Israel has replaced bankers as the chief object of international anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering. Indeed, perhaps the most famous and notorious anti-Semite of the contemporary era, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, famously threatened to wipe Israel off the map. But it’s silly to suggest that anti-Semites can’t target the Fed because they have a bandwidth problem: Ahmadinejad also hosted Holocaust denial conferences, which suggests a hunt for extra outlets for expressing his anti-Semitism.

It seems, rather, that the perception about Jews and money may have actually been inverted—a phenomenon we see most clearly in Asia, the region where Jews are least present. As many anecdotal examples from Asia’s modernizing economies have shown, Jews are almost a mythical people there; see, for example, this excellent video the JTA produced in 2008 asking people in Beijing what they thought of Jews. South Korean executives look to the Talmud for business lessons, and last year, a Chinese business owner set out to improve his company’s international credibility by hiring a Jew, preferably one with a degree from Harvard or Yale.

These countries are interesting because they’re rare examples of places on earth where Jews haven’t been demonized, persecuted, or slaughtered en masse, though there weren’t ever enough Jews around to be worth the trouble. And yet, the longstanding story of Jewish competence in areas of finance and commerce has pervaded popular culture and been turned on its historic head, to the point where some firms feel the need to hire Jews and millions of people try to find the secrets to worldly success in ancient Jewish texts. It’s clearly the kind of anti-Semitism that the ADL would call out, and yet it’s also just as clearly devoid of the kind of violent intent or nostalgia for violence that we’re so used to.

So, what does all this mean for Janet Yellen? She’ll be allowed to do her job, and however she fares, she won’t have to worry about whether her performance is good or bad for the Jews—just about whether it’s good or bad for everyone.

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Janet Yellen Is Poised To Be the Third Jewish Fed Chair in a Row. Where Are the Anti-Semites?

Decades ago, her predecessor Eugene Meyer was targeted as a ‘moneylender’—but now Jews are celebrated for financial prowess

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