Contempt for Israel (and, in many cases, its inhabitants and co-religionists) is at the core of what I have been referring to “The Big Ugly.” But it is the many forms of irrational belief and behavior attached to this loathing that I have been discussing (imperiousness to facts, indifference to reason, belief in one’s own boundless virtue tied to the willingness to behave atrociously) that separates a representative of “The Big Ugly” from normal (if sometimes harsh) “critics of Israel.”
It is also no accident that those who have historically embraced this set of beliefs have also tended to embrace what’s worst about modernity (totalitarianism, propaganda, forced conformity) vs. what’s best (democracy, a free exchange of ideas, diversity). Which may explain why Czars, Commissars, Fuehrer and Jihadis whose ideologies might seem irreconcilable somehow find common ground in this one form of hatred.
It’s tempting to place this phenomenon into a single box, the most obvious one being anti-Semitism. For, as noted in the excellent Paul Berman article that Barbara pointed us towards, anti-Semitism seems to be the perfectly mutatable virus, one which blames the Jews for one crime and its opposite (religious belief and Godlessness, clannishness and assimilation, statelessness and statehood) with the added indictment that this criminal behavior (whatever it is today) stands in the way of creating heaven on earth.
But this requires us to accept our accusers claim that the issue really is about Israel and/or the Jews, which obscures how those aforementioned Czars, Commissars, et al have used various forms of anti-Jewish hatred and public incitement over the centuries as stepping stones to power. And while bigotry can be chalked up to irrational behavior, there is nothing irrational about using a tool that has proven so effective to achieve such power.
A second explanation for “The Big Ugly” ties into discussion we’ve had here over the last couple of months regarding Left-Right politics. For, given that today’s Israel hatred is primarily coming at us from what is labeled the political Left, it’s tempting to put the entire conflict onto this familiar continuum which serves as a template for political analysis of most other contemporary issues.
As the series I wrote on Robert Wistrich’s book points out, the role of anti-Jewish politics in the evolution of the political Left (particularly over the last 150 years) is too deep rooted to claim that today’s Left-based Israel hatred is just an aberration, the corruption of Leftist principles by a few unrepresentative “crazies.”
But a simple thought experiment can help dispel the notion that this “Big Ugly” I’ve been talking about is just another flaw in the thought process of one political camp. For if the problem is “The Left,” then Jews have an obvious solution: to abandon the Left and join “The Right” whose love for Israel is secure.
Or is it? For if you look at the same period of history covered in Wistrich’s book, you’ll find political anti-Semitism originating within nationalist and right-wing politics with much of the debate among the Left being whether to fight against or partake in a tactic that seems to bring such enormous electoral benefits to its practitioners.
In fact, the notion of Israel having a “natural” constituency among conservatives (including conservative Christians) is a very recent (and very American) phenomenon. And while I in no way want to minimize the enormous effort and historic achievement of political and religious groups shedding old hatreds, one need only look at today’s Eastern Europe where resurgent right wing parties are revising a classical anti-Semitic past to see that the “Big Ugly” virus is more than able to graft itself onto whichever political persuasion serves its purposes.
So if anti-Semitism and the Left-Right politics don’t provide us the framework needed to understand the challenges we all face, what does? To find an answer, we will have to go back further in time than the birth of Marx or even the birth of Moses. In fact, we need to go back to the period when civilization first formed in opposition to civilization’s (and mankind’s) oldest historic enemy – the ultimate source of “The Big Ugly.”