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.