The Levene cov­er­age stinks

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - ALEX BRUMMER

IN SOME re­spects it has not been a bad fi­nan­cial cri­sis for Jews. Af­ter all, sev­eral of the he­roes who re­built the sys­tem post the great panic — in­clud­ing the Fed­eral Re­serve chair­man Ben Ber­nanke and In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund boss Do­minique Strauss-Kahn — have been drawn from our com­mu­nity. But if you fol­lowed the me­dia, this would have barely reg­is­tered.

What a con­trast with the cov­er­age of the al­leged bad guys. The con­victed fraud­ster Bernard Mad­off, who lost an es­ti­mated $50bn of in­vestors’ funds, is now a house­hold name. What is also known, be­cause the me­dia con­stantly re­mind us of it, is that his vic­tims were mainly Jewish char­i­ties and in­di­vid­u­als. It may have been im­pos­si­ble to tell the Mad­off story without some ref­er­ence to his back­ground. Nev­er­the­less, it was rubbed in our faces.

In much the same way, the bank­ruptcy and in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the af­fairs of the fi­nancier Nick Levene, on this side of the At­lantic, have re­ceived much the same treat­ment, with the Tele­graph among those to re­fer to him as a “Bri­tish Mad­off”.

A por­trait of Levene’s life­style in the Sun­day Tele­graph opened with a scene of a lav­ish barmitzvah for his sec­ond son at Bat­tersea Park on the South Bank of the Thames.

The or­gan­is­ers, we were told, were Ba­nana Split, the peo­ple be­hind Si­mon Cow­ell’s 50th birth­day bash. Levene was part of the “fast-rolling set of north Lon­don busi­ness­men”. He trav­elled on the “coat-tails of su­per-suc­cess­ful friends such as Sir Philip Green, the re­tail ty­coon; Richard Car­ing, the owner of Annabels; and the Tchen­guiz broth­ers”.

“North Lon­don” is sub-ed­i­tors’ short­hand for “Jewish”, and the list of friends is meant to sug­gest that his was a flash Jewish set. Of course, it was far more com­pli­cated than this. Levene also hap­pens to have had a re­spectable fi­nan­cial CV, had worked among the blue bloods in the Square Mile and has served on a sub­sidiary board of M&G, the in­vest­ment arm of the Pru­den­tial, and one of the City’s more in­flu­en­tial fund man­agers. His clients were just as likely to be drawn from the up­per ech­e­lons of the FTSE100.

Among those to lose money when Levene went down were the Scot­tish trans­port mag­nates Brian Souter and his fam­ily, known for their deeply felt Chris­tian moral val­ues.

Whether it is fail­ure, as in the case of Levene, or suc­cess, eth­nic­ity is of­ten an im­por­tant part of me­dia cov­er­age. In the case of New York­based in­vest­ment bankers Gold­man Sachs the dis­grace, as it is seen, is that the firm is mak­ing too much money. It might be thought that at a time when so many banks have be­haved rashly and lost for­tunes that the me­dia would hail suc­cess.

But not a bit of it. Gold­man is dis­par­aged for mak­ing too much lolly even though it is vow­ing to give record sums to good causes through its char­i­ta­ble trust.

The firestorm was ig­nited in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine when writer Matt Taibbi wrote that the bank was “a gi­ant vam­pire squid wrapped around the face of hu­man­ity, re­lent­lessly jam­ming its blood fun­nel into any­thing that smells like money”.

This in­fe­lic­i­tous and widely re­peated de­scrip­tion was lighted upon by Do­minic Law­son, writ­ing in the Sun­day Times, who noted that given Gold­man’s Jewish ori­gins it was “dis­taste­ful and close to Hitler’s ac­cu­sa­tions in Mein Kampf” which talks about Jewish fi­nanciers squeez­ing and suck­ing the blood again and again.

Law­son notes that th­ese phrases have a di­rect echo of the blood li­bel against the Jews, when in fact Gold­man is “just a fe­ro­ciously driven mer­i­toc­racy”.

One can be over sen­si­tive about th­ese mat­ters. But the ten­dency to scat­ter around de­scrip­tions which are likely to lead to racial stereo­typ­ing has been very much present through­out the great panic.

It is pos­si­ble to write about Levene, for in­stance, without men­tion of north Lon­don, friends in the Jewish com­mu­nity or bar­mitz­vahs. The FT, among oth­ers, has man­aged it. Un­for­tu­nately, too of­ten the press finds it dif­fi­cult to show re­straint. Alex Brummer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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