dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

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.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

I think of a rhyme we had in Chicago back when I was a commodity trader, about the Chicago Board of Trade:Roses are reddishViolets are bluishIf it weren't for the IrishThe Board would be JewishSince it seemed like traders (especially the old ones) were one or the other.Regarding Bloomberg's comment, I have already seen on one Irish blog (in Cork) that speculated that the reason that some Irish got offended was because of the word "totally". No good Irishman would be considered totally drunk that early in the day, what with the bars still being open for many more hours.

As a child in the forties we used to chant: "Guns for the Arabs Matzos for the Jews." When it is incorporated in the childhood language it shows how pernicious it is. The truth is that in non Jewish groups prejudice and ridicule of Jews is pretty widespread. Cliches still abound abound which reflect this prejudice. The more sophisticated mask it better. Many Hollywood stars would have never made it if they used their proper Jewish names.

From a Bloomberg speech in Sligo, Ireland, 2006:"You really have given me such a warm welcome, I feel right at home here. Of course, there's a reason for that: The leader of New York's City Council is Christine Quinn, my Police Commissioner is a fellow called Kelly, and his deputy is named - and I'm not making this up - Michael Collins. (In fact, I'm pleased to say that his wife - Maureen Collins - is a member of my security detail, and she is here with us this morning.) I also receive advice from a politico named Cunningham and a Deputy Mayor named Sheekey, who are both here with us today. (Sometimes I think they've both kissed the Blarney Stone one too many times.)..................And, on a private note, if it wasn't for O'Flanagan's Pub on Manhattan's Upper East Side, I don't know where I would have spent my Friday nights as a young man.http://www.nyc.gov:80/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1... was in Sligo three years after this speech and the local merchants were still marvelling at the lavish purchases of clothing Bloomberg made for his entourage.About an earlier New York period of Irish - Jewish friction Daniel Patrick Moynihan argues that it was always relatively mild: A clue to the nature of McCarthys influence on the New York Irish is that it did not bring out the worst in them. New York Communism was primarily a Jewish affair, but Irish anti-Communism in the postwar period never became anti-Semitism ... McCarthy got his largest response from the New York Irish when he attacked the institutions of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment.Glazer & Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot

Interesting quotes posted by Patrick Molloy, as is often the case. Having gone through Catholic schools in Brooklyn in the 1960s (with the name Moses), my perspective on how mild this friction was may differ a little from that of the Hon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Paul, what Catholic schools do you go to in Brooklyn?

Yes I too remember in the forties 'Guns for the Arabs' being yelled in the Bronx by my Irish American classmates at old Jews on the park benches. My Irish Am family had close associations with Jews and I remember remonstrating to no avail.

I have a Jewish friend who as raised in the Bronx in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He said that he and his Jewish friends learned early on that the prudential thing to do over Holy Week was to "lay low." Otherwise they were often-times chased by good little Irish and Italian parochial school boys, called "Christ killers" and, if caught, punished accordingly.

Paul Moses -- since you're working on NYC Irish-Italian affairs, I'll pass on a story, for whose truth I cannot vouch. The source was a lawyer at the top of the hierarchy in one of New York's most famous firms, a staunch Catholic (convert through marriage, I think), but otherwise ethnically and culturally a thorough-going WASP. He told me, many decades ago, that he had been passing a construction site somewhere in Manhattan, and had heard two of the crew arguing loudly with each other. At the end, one said to the other, in a broad NY-Irish accent, "You say the Pope's an Eyetalian? I'll kill ye for that!"Back in the 1950s also, there was a visit to NY by Robert Briscoe, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, who was Jewish, and Mayor Wagner's response was "I'm glad I'm not running against you in this city." No doubt he remembered the hold that the Jewish Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (the Little Flower) deservedly had on NY's affections in the late 1930s and early 1940s. (I doubt if LaG would ever have allowed himself anything like Bloomberg's gaffe.)

It's one thing when the Irish criticize themselves (Nuala O'Faolain tells the story, possibly true, that Mary McCarthy hated Ireland so much she wouldn't even land there to change planes), but quite another when an outsider does.I remember telling an Irish correspondent once about how much I detested my mother's lugubrious and alcoholic Irish family. He knew a little bit about my family history, and he upbraided me quite strongly for failing to understand the circumstances under which the family left Ireland and the come-down in fortune they must have had endured. A therapist friend who takes an ethnic approach to her work noted that it often takes immigrant familes three or four generations to recover from these types of things, and that a melancholy sometimes pervades Irish families without the original causes really being understood.It didn't make me like them any better, but it explained some things.

"I remember telling an Irish correspondent once about how much I detested my mothers lugubrious and alcoholic Irish family. He knew a little bit about my family history, and he upbraided me quite strongly for failing to understand the circumstances under which the family left Ireland and the come-down in fortune they must have had endured."Coming from one of these families myself, I am finding it hard to understand why you wouldn't be able to understand their circumstances and detest them at the same time.

The contribution of Irish Catholicism to the Catholic Church in the US and New York in particular has been both major and outstanding.Charles Morris's "American Catholic" covers a lot of that history.Of course, here in the Southwest where the Spanish Misionaries brought Catholicism long before the Church of New York, etc. was the center of US Catholicism, therei s some doubt about the relative cultural impact of the faith being spread here. Still, if you vist the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, the impact of the Church as both unifying and dividing is evident across the history.So, in New York, long ago in the 40's, 50's talked about here, there was the Irish Catholic power structure with "token" Italian auxilliary bishops, for example, to keep ethnic Church groups appeased.With the browning of the American church, especially in urban areas, I think the day of that kind of leadership (despite the appointment of now Abp. Dolan, who will be made a Cardinal I guess in the proximate furture) will become more of an anamoly.I also think that in the past, to speak of Irish catholicism in New york univocally was inaccurate: I clearly remember some Irish friends complaining about the BICs (Bronx Irish Catholics) - the narrow minded and often bigoted catholics who feared the latino invasion as it spread forth from Brown Place and St. Jerome's north through the Bronx(a problem exacerbated by the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway) and a dim view of blacks and a bare toleration of Ita;ians, Germans. etc.I hate tos ay it, but from a distance, it strikes me there's still vestiges of BICism in William donahue and his "Catholic League" and I'm sorry the Abp. embraces him -though I suspect finacial support for the church influences that hug.As for Irish jokes, I do think the Blomberg matter is just another making a mountain out of a molehill.