Don Frew Asks:
Editor's Note: While Don Frew states, for the record, that he does not believe Gene Roddenberry consciously set out to depict the Jews in such an unfavorable light, he does think it is important for Star Trek viewers to understand the stereotypes that are being reinforced by these characters.
After speaking at length with a friend about the visible presence of religion in the sci-fi TV series Babylon 5--as opposed to the more secular Star Trek universe--I began wondering what happened to the Jews in Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future. First, I dismissed the question--after all, plenty of cultures and religions are noticeably absent from Star Trek. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jews are present in Star Trek in the form of the Ferengi, everyone's favorite greedy schemesters. And I was shocked to realize that the Ferengi fulfill just about every stereotype attributed to the Jews by Nazis.
Points about The Ferengi:
Short, swarthy and shifty-eyed
Noted for their over-sized facial features (1)
Walk with a bent-over, loping gait (2)
Widely known as crafty and cunning, rather than intelligent
All males wear distinctive headgear (3)
A wandering group of people (4)
Greedy and untrustworthy, obsessed with the accumulation of mercantile profit (5)
Merchants, money-lenders and tavern-keepers (6)
Follow an explicit, multi-point plan for the advancement of their group, generally at the expense of others (7)
Males lust after "human" women (8)
Repeatedly attempt to ingratiate themselves into "human" society through flattery and bribes
Suspected of cannibalism (9)
They are portrayed as a threat to "our" society, but this threat is not very credible and used primarily as an excuse to oppress and discriminate against them. (10)
The Ferengi are governed by a council of elders which is headed by "the Nagus." In Jewish history, the head of a clan or tribe, the head of the Sanhedrin and the President of the current state of Israel have all been referred to as "the Nasi."
The producers have almost exclusively cast Jewish actors as Ferengi.
The Ferengi are outsiders in Federation space. They are distrusted and, in many instances, hated. Jews, for their part, have endured much of the same treatment, especially at the hands of Arabs. The Arabic word for "foreigner" is "al-ferengi."
1 The Ferengi ears are referred to as "lobes" and are often substituted for "nose" in cliches such as "he has lobes for business." Therefore, the oversized feature = lobes = nose.
2 This original characterization of the Ferengi was abandoned in later depictions. Note that Jews were described as having a similar gait in order to reinforce their depiction as a beastly people.
3 With the exception of Quark, the most widely known Ferengi character, all other males seem to wear a head wrap.
4 The introduction of a Ferengi homeworld is a recent development. Original descriptions of the race listed them as wanderers forced to leave their homeland due to resource depletion.
5 This has always been a part of the European stereotype of the "evil Jew," but the acquisition of "profit" has never included the acquisition of land. In many countries, Jews have been forbidden to own land.
A common belief among many contemporary Jews, especially Holocaust survivors, is that it is unwise to put one's wealth into land. You can be driven off of land; wealth in portable form can be taken with you. While the Ferengi definitely pursue "mercantile profit," they are never portrayed as acquiring land (e.g. planets).
6 In A Lie and a Libel, Binjamin Segal noted that "the great majority [of European Jews] pursued marginal, 'obnoxious' occupations, such as moneylending, peddling, rent collection, and tavern keeping." The only other occupation attributed to a Ferengi is that of the military.
7 The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, fabricated by the Okhrana, the Russian Czar's secret police, was presented as proof that Jews were intent on world domination at the expense of everyone else. This multi-point plan advocates lying, seduction and murder in the name of the Jewish people. Similarly, the Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" provides an extensive multi-point plan for the advancement of the race. Some of the tenets are: 1) Once you have their money, never give it back; 10) Greed is eternal; 21) Never place friendship above profit; 34) Peace is good for business; 35) War is good for business; 60) Keep your lies consistent; 266) When in doubt, lie.
8 Refer to the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süss which describes the Jewish man's infamous lust for the Gentile woman.
9 According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual, background notes for the Ferengi include mention of their sharp teeth, which prompted "speculation among Federation [experts] that the Ferengi may practice a form of cannibalism, though no proof of this practice exists." Commander Riker referred to this in the pilot episode for Next Generation ("Encounter at Farpoint") noting that the Ferengi are rumored to eat their business partners. For centuries, a popular European folklore said that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make the Passover matzoh, leading to countless Passover panics and lynchings.
10 The "Jewish Threat" is an oft-repeated attempt to portray successful Jews as the reason for everyone else's misfortune. A common practice throughout the centuries.