A few weeks ago, I attended the celebration of the 150th birthday of US investment bankers Goldman Sachs at a grand event at the Victoria & Albert Museum, hosted by its new chairman David Solomon. Guest of honour was Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Goldman Sachs is a global phenomenon. Among its alumni are the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi and American Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Other policymakers have included recently-retired chairman of the New York Fed, Bill Dudley and Trump’s first director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn.
Given this list of the great and good, it is understandable why it might be suggested that Goldman, founded and often headed by Jews, plays an inordinately powerful role in global finance. Among the explanations offered by the organisation is that Goldman bankers become personally comfortable early in life, giving them capacity to give something back to society through public service.
Nevertheless, it is still disturbing to see antisemitic tropes about Goldman playing out in mainstream media. I have to admit a double take when I looked at the cover story in the latest edition of Spears, a magazine that caters to the aspirational and wealthy. The cover celebrated with a giant birthday cake for Goldman, upon which was sprawled a friendly looking, giant squid or octopus.
Doubtless the illustrator and the editors of Spears, a magazine created by journalist Bill Cash, intended the cover to be clever and ironic. It was a play on the theme of the great vampire squid, the feature of a critical Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-09.
When the subsequent ‘occupy’ movement erupted in the US, the vampire squid cover fuelled protests against the power and influence of Goldman Sachs, including some antisemitic slogans from the protesters.
Goldman employees in southern Manhattan were the subject of personal and racist abuse as they made their way to work.
The use of a squid or octopus creature to depict the power of Jewish bankers has a history. The antisemite, ‘Coin’ Harvey, used it as an illustration in Coin’s Financial School in 1894 under the title The English Octopus: It Feeds on Nothing but Gold. It shows a giant squid-like creature sprayed across the globe reaching to every corner including the US, Canada, Russia and Australia. Above its head is the word ‘Rothschild’. In a novel A Tale of Two Nations the same author wrote of a plot to destroy the US by demonetising silver designed by a Baron Rothe.
In the minds of some of the old-style antisemitic leftists who have resurfaced in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, the images of the Rothschild as bankers and financiers controlling the world never has died. What is deeply disturbing is that 125 years later, the image first conjured up Harvey is being invoked in mainstream media and applied to the more ubiquitous Goldman Sachs.
It is accepted that illustrators and cartoonists have more freedom to exploit stereotypes than other parts of the media. But it is the association of Jews with blood that is most offensive, dating back to the ancient libel perpetuated in the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Spears cover in no way strays into this territory. But the ‘vampire’ squid imagery from Rolling Stone on which it is based certainly does. The Spears squid may be a smiling creature on a birthday cake but to anyone familiar with the offensiveness of this symbolism, it crosses a line.
Goldman Sachs was furious when it was used by Rolling Stone. The bank is none too pleased to see the mythology propagated again, even in a mild form.
All that does is give succour to left-wing antisemites who bracket Jews and the perceived evils of global capitalism as one and the same.