GOP Hopeful Praises Jewish Culture, Wallets

By Jennifer Siegel

Published April 20, 2007, issue of April 20, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

According to Republican presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson, making money is “part of the Jewish tradition” — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin pursuing a long-shot bid for the White House, made the remark Monday during an address in Washington at the convention of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“I’m sort of a reform public servant, 38 years in the government,” Thompson said, in what some attendees described as an attempt at humor. “I’m in the private sector, and for the first time in my life I’m earning money. You know that’s sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that.”

After concluding his address, witnesses said, Thompson was pulled aside by the RAC’s director, Rabbi David Saperstein, and then he returned to the podium to issue an apology.

“I just want to clarify something because I didn’t in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things,” Thompson told the crowd. “What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding businesspeople, and I compliment you for that. And if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that.”

One Democratic source who attended the address, at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, told the Forward that although the audience was “aghast” when Thompson made his initial remark, they clapped in response to his clarification.

According to the Democratic source, Thompson made several other off-kilter remarks during the address. Thompson reportedly boasted of being the governor of the first state to buy “Jewish bonds,” presumably meaning to say “Israel bonds,” and he referred to his friend, Marty Stein, as being a supporter of the Jewish Defense League, a notorious militant group, when he probably meant to name the Anti-Defamation League.

While some bloggers and other Internet pundits poked fun at Thompson’s comment regarding Jews and money, the head of the ADL believes that it is no laughing matter.

“It’s a very sinister, dangerous compliment, because it builds on a stereotype that has been very costly to the Jewish people,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. “What’s troubling is to realize how deep this stereotype has developed throughout the years, for how many people Jews [are synonymous with] money, Judaism is money.”

Thompson left public office in 2005, after serving four terms as the governor of Wisconsin and as secretary of health and human services under President Bush. He announced his run for president earlier this month.

So far, leaders at the RAC have sidestepped the controversy over Thompson’s remarks.

“We are pleased that Governor Thompson made time in his schedule — like many other policymakers — to address the 2007 Consultation on Conscience,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the RAC, in a statement issued to the press.

The three-day conference brought together Reform activists with politicians and policymakers in Washington.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.