WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday he used a poor choice of words when he referred to unscrupulous moneylenders as “Shylocks,” and a prominent group that fights anti-Semitism called it a teachable moment about the harmful effects of stereotypes.
Biden had been speaking to a legal aid group on Tuesday when he discussed the need for foreclosure mediation services, recalling how his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, heard about the problem from U.S. troops while he was serving in Iraq.
“People would come to him and talk about what was happening at home, in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being — these Shylocks that took advantage of these women and men while overseas,” Biden said.
Shylock refers to the villainous Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” who demands a pound of flesh from a debtor. The Anti-Defamation League, which works to combat anti-Semitism, chided Biden for using an offensive term that it said harbored a deeply embedded stereotype about Jews in society.
Biden responded Wednesday by praising ADL’s national director, Abe Foxman, as a longtime friend and adviser.
“He’s correct, it was a poor choice of words,” Biden said in a statement.
After a phone call with the vice president on Wednesday, Foxman said it was clear there was no ill-intent and that Biden had been a true friend to Jews and a stalwart against bigotry.
“He has turned a rhetorical gaffe into a teachable moment,” Foxman said, adding that he and the vice president had “agreed that perhaps he needs to bone up on his Shakespeare.”