Forget it, Jake. It’s New Jersey

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On first blush, last week’s round-up of New Jersey rabbis and pols looks like good old corruption-as-usual in the state where I grew up. That is, the Garden State cleaves to the ancient (back to the 17th century) Middle Atlantic tradition of community-by-ethno-religious group (see One Nation Divisible, chapter 2)–and, repeatedly, news reports have highlighted the fact that this story is about the “insular Syrian Jewish community” in the coastal town of Deal, where that community is 10,000 strong year round, and a lot bigger (thanks to vacationers from Brooklyn) in the summer.

A classic version of latter-day New Jersey ethno-corruption occurred a few years ago in the large South Asian community in Edison, 35 miles to the northwest. Then, a wheeler-dealer named Rajesh “Roger” Chugh put the arm on Hindus rich and poor to support the gubernatorial candidacy of Jim McGreevey–and was duly rewarded with an assistant commissionership in the secretary of state’s office. (Chugh later resigned in disgrace, as did McGreevey.)

But while the Edison story involved a new immigrant community’s move into the big world of state politics, there’s no evidence that this is what was going on in Deal. The wheeler-dealer in this case is Solomon Dwek, whose fraudulent real estate dealings permitted the FBI to turn him into an instrument for exposing 1) the alleged money laundering business of some rabbis; and 2) the fabled readiness of New Jersey public officials to take bribes from developers. So far, there no evidence that the Syrian (Sephardic) community as a whole was doing anything other than minding its own business; moreover, the alleged money laundering involved non-Syrian, Ashkenazi rabbis as well. To the extent that the rabbis were themselves involved in politics, it seems to have been Israeli politics.

There is doubtless much more to the story than has yet emerged, not least information on where all that laundered money came from, and what the rabbis were doing with their cut. But for now, the laundering and the state politics need to be kept separate.