Bigger Picture – The Big Ugly Defined

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Big Picture (9 parts)

In my last piece, I introduced some of Ruth Wisse’s ideas that explain why so many people avert their gaze from the true nature of the Middle East conflict (the very popularity of that generic, even-handed term, vs. Wisse’s more accurate “Arab War Against the Jews” demonstrating the phenomenon she talks about).  And in a previous posting, I discussed her concept of anti-Semitism as a full-blown political ideology, vs. just another form of bigotry.

But for purposes of this series, we need to take a look at why the ruthless (as described by Lee Harris) seem to find organizing in opposition to the Jew (either as a religion, a people or a nation) such an irresistible choice.

To explain why so many ruthless tyrants either begin their careers steeped in hostility towards the Jews, or pick up the meme during their reigns, we need to take a look at the notion of power, specifically the gap between the imagined vs. genuine power of the Jews and their state.

For in the mind of the anti-Semite, the Jew is all-powerful.  To the religious among them, Jews are allied with dark and arcane forces (including the devil himself), providing them a mystical strength which they use for self-serving and evil ends.  To the racial anti-Semite, instincts for covetousness and manipulation have been bred into the Jew, to the point where entire societies are threatened by the sinister plots the Jews are genetically driven to scheme and execute.

For today’s Israel haters, descriptions of the Israelis control of world events quickly degenerate into condemnations of “The Jewish Lobby” for manipulating the US to act against its own interests.  And from there, it’s a quick hop, step and jump to claims that “The Jews” control the media, the banks and Hollywood, through which they manipulate and control finance and public opinion.

An anthology edited by Robert Wistrich introduced me to the term “fictive Judaism” which describes the type of fantasies that have leapt from the mind of individual anti-Semites into broad public belief systems among certain societies.  For whether the Jews get their power and scheming nature from Satan, from their genes, or from their devotion to a murkily-defined “Zionism,” it is this fictional all-powerful Jew that the ruthless organize against, creating tools of repression (an oversized military, secret police forces and torture chambers) strong enough to battle this fictive threat which are ultimately used to put the ruthless into power and keep them there.

But as Wisse demonstrates in her book If I am Not for Myself (a theme she continues to develop in Jews and Power), the actual power of real-world Jews is not just limited, but what little power they have achieved is ephemeral.

For without denying the remarkable financial, cultural and academic achievements Jews have had in certain places at certain times (notably Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the US and Israel in the second half), these achievements have not translated to substantial or fixed political power (as the fate of Europe’s Jews in the 30s and 40s aptly demonstrates).

Even today when Jews have gained a comfort level organizing politically in support of their own causes (vs. hoping their contributions to society will encourage others to protect them – which Wisse refers to as “The Politics of Accommodation”), the political power of Jews remain highly limited, centered in just a few places (notably the US) and focused in just a few areas (notably the fight against anti-Semitism and support for Israel).  And even in the US, Jews continue to put more time and resources into supporting other people’s causes than their own, with a not-insignificant minority putting their energies into fighting against those who fight for the Jews and their state.

It is in this gap between the boundless power of the fictive Jew and the limited power of the real one that the ruthless spot opportunity.  For if you are organizing the violent force needed to battle the all-powerful enemy (even if only imaginary), there is no limit to how much power the ruthless must demand to win out against such a foe.  And, as noted previously, once the tyrant has run out of Jews to use this force against (presuming they were even around to begin with), there exists a whole society of non-Jews to be repressed using these same forces.

On a smaller scale, we see this gap exploited continually by anti-Israel activists in the BDS “movement” and beyond, who continually portray themselves as weak and helpless victims of vast and powerful Jewish/pro-Israel/Zionist (take your pick) forces ranged against them.

Which is why they feel comfortable with the wild language, accusations and behavior that they and no one else would tolerate if used against any other minority group.  For the sly mind of the BDSer understands full that – despite claims to be repressed by an all-powerful and vengeful “Jewish establishment” – Jews are least likely to hit back when punched in the face (just as the Jewish state is least likely to do what any other state would do when attacked and unleash unlimited force to destroy the attacker).

Lacking the tools the tyrant has at his disposal (for now, anyway), the local ruthless Israel hater must make do with bullying masquerading as courage, even though the gap between the fictive Jews they imagine and the real ones they actually fight just demonstrates their cowardice.  For the BDS bully knows full well that the consequences of “standing up to the Zionists” are minimal since, for whatever reason, we Jews have not developed the ruthlessness to treat them like they treat us.

I began this series promising to explain what “The Big Ugly” (the actual source of our challenges and troubles) constitutes, and Harris’ conception of ruthlessness coupled with Wisse’s notion of an exploitable gap between fictional and real Jewish power constitutes that explanation.  This is the problem we face today for the simple reason that it is the same problem we have faced for centuries, regardless of what language it uses and what it calls itself.

And so the question remains, what are we to do about it?


Series Navigation<< Bigger Picture – Ruth Wisse and the War Against the JewsBigger Picture – What the Big Ugly Teaches Us >>

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5 Responses to Bigger Picture – The Big Ugly Defined

  1. Stop BDS Park Slope January 18, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    And speaking of Ruth Wisse….
    Ruth Wisse: What the ‘Lobby’ Knows About Animus for Israel

    more on the war on Israel.


  2. Stop BDS Park Slope January 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    I am still processing what you writing. But, this is nothing new and used against Jews often, but unique. The same phemomonon was evident in the treatment of the Aremenians, Kurds and Greeks by the Turks in both modern and Ottoman times.

    Similarly, we can look at American racism and see its use as a political ideology.

    But most of all, the BDS supporters are not trying to control a government and impose their rule of over America or Britain. They have latched on to the political goals of fascist, imperialist Arab movements, yet they don’t believe that they have. They believe that they are “fighting for human rights.” I know some of these people. And they are “good” people who are out there volunteering to pick up debris after Hurricane Sandy or working in soup kitchens or spending their weekends on small cooperative organic farms, etc. What explains their failure to recognize what they are supporting?


    • fizziks January 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      The way you’ve described them, what explains their failure to recognize what they are supporting is the “third way to be anti-Israel” in the language of that piece from the other day – refusing to acknowledge evil in the world. They really want Arabs / Muslims (and others) to be good and wholesome, so they ignore evidence when they are not.

      That having been said, the anti-Israel people I encounter are definitely not good folks, the kind that would volunteer at a soup kitchen. Perhaps you have a different group back East.

      • JayinPhiladelphia January 18, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

        I know those types, and in fact I can (but I won’t here) name at least four names off the top of my head, of people I’ve met in person who are exactly this type, that you and I both know (or at least you’d recognize their usernames) from a certain Big Orange blog. Unfortunately. One I even initially met from being involved in a community garden program back in Portland, and another from volunteering with Sunday Parkways.

        And that’s what sucks most. I still do the same things I’ve always done, but now from my experiences with such types I can’t help but worry what lies just below the surface, as regards this one issue, of the person I’m spending a Saturday, say, digging up a vacant lot with to break ground on a community garden near McPherson Square.

        Sometimes I think that if they’re this naive and gullible then maybe it’s my job to turn them around, and they just need a quick nudge or three back to common sense? Other times I just feel life’s too short to even try to deal with such ugliness. I dunno.

        Regardless, understanding what the hell got them there in the first place would certainly help, of course.

  3. Mike Lumish January 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    This is very much worth a read.

    How I became an ‘unconscious fascist’ – by Fiamma Nirenstein

    She writes:

    The Left blessed the Jews as the victim “par excellence,” always a great partner in the struggle for the rights of the weak against the wicked. In return for being coddled, published, filmed, considered artists, intellectuals and moral judges, Jews, even during the Soviet anti-Semitic persecutions, gave the Left moral support and invited it to cry with them at Holocaust memorials. Today the game is clearly over. The left has proved itself the real cradle of contemporary anti-Semitism.

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