Vanity Fair’s October issue contains its annual list of “the world’s most powerful people,” 100 of the bankers and media moguls, publishers and image makers who shape the lives of “billions.” A Jewish editor in Chicago has decided to count the number of Jews. It tops fifty percent. At a time when two writers seem to have a blockbuster book on their hands pointing out that the Jewish lobby is really powerful in Washington, now a Jewish editor is pointing out that the Jews do, indeed, have a disproportianate amount of control over media and banking in America. It’s embrace your stereotype month! Women and blacks have been doing it for years. Why not Jews?!
It’s an exclusive, insular club, one whose influence stretches around the globe but is concentrated strategically in the highest corridors of power.
More than half its members, at least by one count, are Jewish.
It’s a list, in other words, that would have made earlier generations of Jews jump out of their skins, calling attention, as it does, to their disproportionate influence in finance and the media. Making matters worse, in the eyes of many, would no doubt be the identity of the group behind the list – not a pack of fringe anti-Semites but one of the most mainstream, glamorous publications on the newsstands.
Yet the list doesn’t appear to have generated concern so far, instead drawing expressions of satisfaction and pride from the lone Jewish commentator who’s responded in writing.
Published between ads for Chanel and Prada, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, it’s the 2007 version of “The Vanity Fair 100,” the glossy American magazine’s annual October ranking of the planet’s most important people. Populated by a Cohen and a Rothschild, a Bloomberg and a Perelman, the list would seem to conform to all the traditional stereotypes about areas of Jewish overrepresentation.
Joseph Aaron, the editor of The Chicago Jewish News, thinks it’s a list his readers should “feel very, very good about.”
“Talk about us being accepted into this society, talk about us having power in this society,” Aaron wrote this week, in apparent reference to Jewish life in the United States. “Talk about anti-Semitism being a thing of the past, talk about Jews no longer needing to be afraid to be visible and influential.”
Even the scholar Ruth Wisse gets in a quote.
The magazine’s limited definition of power, then, constitutes areas in which Jews have long excelled, often by necessity, says Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University.
In her most recent book, Jews and Power, Wisse accounts “for the achievement of Jews through the centuries,” describing it, she says, “as a consequence of their having to develop their powers of adaptation to an extraordinary degree.”
But while they’ve excelled disproportionately in areas such as business and medicine, they’ve often also limited themselves – or been limited to – fields not connected to the public exercise of power.