US Vice President Biden Apologizes for ‘Shylock’ Jibe at Bankers

September 18, 2014  

Using the term “shylocks” to describe unscrupulous bankers who prey on servicemen and servicewomen deployed overseas was a bad idea, US Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday. Biden made the apology a day after Jewish groups blasted him for using the Shakespearean character to draw an analogy with bankers who set up soldiers with loans they knew the borrowers could not pay back, giving them an opportunity to take their homes.

In a speech to a lawyers’ group Tuesday, Biden described his the experiences of his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, when he served in Iraq. Biden’s son told the Vice-President numerous stories of soldiers who had taken out payday loans with high fees and hidden costs, and ended up having their homes foreclosed to satisfy the debts.

“That’s one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year,” Biden said. “That people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas.”

Several groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, complained, with ADL head Abraham Foxman saying that “Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The Vice President should have been more careful.”

Shylock, a main character in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, is portrayed as a greedy usurer who lends money at high interest rates, with no compassion for those in financial trouble. In the play, Shylock, clearly portrayed as a Jew, mercilessly demands a “pound of flesh” from the merchant who defaults on a loan. Scholars believe that Shakespeare, who lived in 16th century England, may never have met a Jew, because Jews had been expelled over two centuries earlier, and were not readmitted until 50 years after his death.

Biden’s office had no comment, but Foxman said the Vice-President apologized in a phone call. “Clearly, there was no ill intent here, but Joe and I agreed that perhaps he needs to bone up on his Shakespeare. There is no truer friend of the Jewish people than Joe Biden,” Foxman said in a statement. “Not only has he been a stalwart against anti-Semitism and bigotry, but he has the courage and forthrightness to admit a mistake and use it as an opportunity to learn and to teach others about the harmful effects of stereotypes. He has turned a rhetorical gaffe into a teachable moment.”

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