Bloomberg, the Irish and the Jews

The New York Post called it "Irish Stew." The Daily News headlined it as "Bloomy's Blarney." However you say it, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempted quip about the Irish and the drink has bogged him down again in what is turning out to be a mediocre third term.As the News reported:

Hizzoner drew jeers when he tried to joke about the Irish's fondness for booze in an impromptu speech to the American Irish Historical Society.

He noted he lived near the Irish society's Fifth Ave. home, and, on St. Patrick's Day, was used to seeing "a bunch of people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window waving," a transcript of the event shows ...

After making his "inebriated" comment, Hizzoner seemed to realize he overstepped the bounds of decency.

"I know, that's a stereotype of the Irish," Bloomberg said to jeers. "Nevertheless, we Jews from around the corner think this."

The remark about what "we Jews" think about the Irish was a colossal error when you consider that uniting the "three I's" - Ireland, Italy, Israel - was a key strategy for any politically successful New York mayor. It was also not a good idea for the mayor to stereotype the Irish at a time when he is trying to reduce pensions that were negotiated with the police and firefighters' unions.Since I have been researching a history of the relationship between New York's Irish and Italians, I've also done some reading recently on each group's connection with the third "I." The mayor should read Ronald H. Bayor's "Neighbors in Conflict: The Irish, Germans, Jews and Italians of New York City, 1929-1941" (Johns Hopkins, 1978), which has an excellent section on intense Irish-Jewish rivalry in the 1930s. As I recall, the book ascribes the conflict to economic rivalry - both groups sought the same types of jobs (but not the Italians at that point, leaving them as bystanders to the Irish-Jewish conflict). The author sees a reflection of this animosity in the great support the anti-Semitic broadcaster Father Coughlin received from Irish Catholics in some neighborhoods, such as Flatbush in Brooklyn.Today, there are plenty of examples of Irish-Jewish harmony in the New York business world and elsewhere, but you can still hear a faint echo of the bad old days occasionally - for example, when Catholic spokespersons complain that Jews aren't criticized as freely in the media as Catholics are.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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