Bigger Picture – What the Big Ugly is Not

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series Big Picture (9 parts)

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.”


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15 thoughts on “Bigger Picture – What the Big Ugly is Not”

  1. 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 through 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.

    Jon, one need not join “The Right” in order to acknowledge that anti-Israel sentiment is mainly a progressive-left sentiment in today’s west.

    The truth of the matter, nonetheless, is that the conservative-right in the United States has done a very good job of ridding itself of anti-Semitism ever since William F. Buckley addressed the issue as early as the early 1950s when he resigned from The American Mercury under protest. Furthermore, as you well know, American polling consistently show that conservatives and Republicans, particularly Evangelical Christians, are far, far more friendly to the Jewish State of Israel than are liberal Democrats who, as a group, tend to disdain that country.

    The solution, if there is a solution, is not to join the conservative-right, necessarily, but to speak honestly about what is happening. The truth is that the progressive-left, as a movement, has betrayed its Jewish constituency through accepting anti-Semitic anti-Zionism as part of its larger coalition.

    Like it or not, this is true.

    What we do with that truth is up to each of us to decide, but I would suggest that pretending it isn’t so, as some do, or drawing some false moral equivalency between the large and rising tide of progressive-left anti-Zionism and some obscure and largely irrelevant right-wing movements in Europe or, say, from the Westboro Baptist Church in the United States, is an option that is both counterproductive and entirely disbalanced. Anti-Semitic anti-Zionism in the west is fueled by the left, by many Muslims, and in only in the most tertiary and marginal fashion from these obscure and tiny right-wing fringe groups.

    It has to be understood that part of the reason that the western left has become so comfortable with anti-Semitic anti-Zionism is because western Jewish progressives, including western Jewish progressive supporters of Israel, have so often confirmed their worst anti-Zionist assumptions. This is certainly true of progressive-left western Jews who rail at Israel for turning toward the conservative-right with Netanyahu or Lieberman or Bennett, or who tend to dislike and regret Israeli efforts at self-defense such as Cast Lead or Pillar of Defense, or who spit hatred at their fellow Jews in Judea and Samaria for daring to live with neither Barack Obama nor Mahmoud Abbas want them to live, or who continue to think that the failure of Oslo is mainly Israel’s fault rather than the fault of the PLO and Hamas.

    Again, until such a time as we truly convince ourselves that the Jewish cause in Israel is both right and just we can never effectively convince anyone else of it. The argument is not only between Jewish supporters of Israel and anti-Semitic anti-Zionists, but also between the Daniel Gordis’s of this world and the Peter Beinarts.

    Gordis is not “right-wing” (he voted for Jesse Jackson, for chrissake) but he understands that Beinart’s dislike of Israel has negative consequences for Israel and is more a reflection of Beinart’s ideological grounding than it is of the Jewish State’s behavior.

    1. After everything that’s been written about and discussed on this site over the last 2-3 months, I’d be surprised if you still were under the assumption that I’ve “got my head buried in the sand” regarding the role of today’s progressive Left in the anti-Israel megaverse. And (as this piece indicates) I’ve got nothing but admiration for any political or religious movement (including the ones we both cited) which have confronted their own historic bigotry and thrown that baggage overboard.

      The point I am trying to make is not that “The Big Ugly” does NOT include everything you describe, but that it is a third force – one that exists separately from the politics of Left and Right, as well as separate from any other specific religion or political orientation/institution.

      The through experiment I suggested was not meant to be a political recommendation, just a “mind-exercise” designed to prove a point. For if, as you suggest, our problems stem from progressive-left sentiment, then one sure way to make those problems go away would be to make the progressive-left IN ITS ENTIRITY go away. But if, under such circumstances (i.e., in a world where the Left in any way, shape or form no longer exists) Big Ugly sentiments still persist and find a home elsewhere (as they have in the past and the present), then by definition they must exist separately from what we just (theoretically) eliminated.

      The nature of this separate thing is what I have been struggling to understand over the last several years, and I hope you’ll get a better understanding of what I think it consists of by the time this series is done.

    2. Jon,

      I do not think that you have your head buried in the sand in regards the fact that the progressive-left is the major contributor to anti-Semitic anti-Zionism in the west today.

      Not by any means.

      And while The Big Ugly… I LOVE that, btw… may be a third force it is today primarily a force coming from a pretty specific political milieu. It should be reasonably obvious that anti-Semitism, throughout the centuries, has emerged out of any number of political movements, including ones going back throughout time that neither one of us have even heard of, but this does not change the fact that today, in the west, it is primarily a phenomenon of the left.

      I know that you are not denying that fact and I understand your point about a “third force.” Nonetheless, we have to face The Big Ugly where it is and today where it is, in the west, is the political left.

      My comments are not meant to be a refutation of your own, but parallel statements. My point is that pro-Israel Jewish advocates tend to bolster the case against us because they honestly believe that Israel is guilty of overarching crimes against the local Arabs. As you well know, ever since the 6 Day War Arab and Soviet propaganda has focused on the notion of Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian land and has turned the Arab “Goliath” into the Palestinian “David.”

      This idea is the bedrock of western-left hostility toward Israel. All I am saying is that the Jews of the Middle East suffered under the boot of imperial Islam for 13 centuries and that as soon as they gained their freedom they have been subject to perpetual war because the very notion of Jewish autonomy on any land that was once part of the Umma is considered a theological abomination for most the Arab-Muslim world.

      That is an historical fact and it is one that we must remind people of if we are going to make a case for Israel.

      Part of the problem that we have as advocates is that the progressive-left has convinced any number of well-meaning Jewish liberals that the “Palestinians” are essentially innocent and that the Jews are essentially guilty. Progressive-left Jews who believe this (and not all of them do) bolster hostility toward Israel.

      So long as we continue to use the language of our enemies and so long as we tend to think that maybe they kinda, really, actually have a point, then we can never win the argument.

      I am not claiming that you do this.

      I am claiming that the Gordis / Beinart debate grows right to the heart of the question.

  2. Interesting article here… Those who say the Right and the Evangelicals are not tied to anti-Semitism (or that it is a minimal problem) are out of their freakin’ minds. Check out this that was circulating among our troops courtesy of the Evangelicals…

    and a letter from a soldier:

    I’m not sure if it was deliberately placed under my bunk to build a case for plausible deniability, but it fits the pattern. Every day I showed up, more and more pamphlets were piled on my desk, and only on my desk. It was because of a Chaplain. He zeroed in on me because I requested he stop giving me pamphlets, as I am not a Christian. He said he “reserved the right to evangelize the unchurched.” I can’t link him or anyone directly to this Manga Messiah, because I received it in such a weird way (where I sleep rather than where I work).

    Unfortunately, anti-Semitism rears it’s head everywhere (both left and right) but it politically originates on the Right and eventually will return (as it is already) when Rightists realize they can hate Jews as much as they hate Arabs and Muslims.

    You are right that this is “the big ugly”

    1. No doubt you and others can pull out hundreds of examples of conservatives, “Right Wingers,” “Far Right Wingers” and religious Cristians doing something obnoxious or even anti-Semitic, but the challenge is to demonstrate that these generalize to the whole. In the broader scheme of things, mainstream conservative thinkers (at least in the US) have made an effort to eliminate such sentiments from their ranks, but this doesn’t mean such sentiments have been eliminated from the hearts and minds of everyone who considers themselves conservative. Nor does it mean that conservative support for Jews and Israel is permanent or that this American trend will necessarily propegate throughout right-leaning and nationalist politics globally.

      Similarly, one can find just as many examples of left-leaning individuals expressing sentiments that are just as ugly as those you site (even if their focus will be on Jews as killers of children vs. rejectors of Christ). But, again, do these data points generalize to the whole? And what if, as I am suggesting in this series, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments are part of a bigger phenomenon (what I’ve been calling “The Big Ugly”), one which has been with us since long before designations of “Left” and “Right” even existed, and one that will continue long past when such labels are forgotten?

      1. Very true… anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment transcends both Left and Right. THOUGH it has an origination on the Right.

        However, your point is well taken in the fact that it is a transcendent issue and infects every part of the political spectrum.

        Personally, I see a lot of blending between the Far Right and the Hard Left. They are becoming one in the same these days with regards to this.

        1. Indeed, the far right and the hard left do meet in that scuzzy dark alley in the back where they share tales of the International Jewish Conspiracy and compare their liner notes on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

          But to both VolleyBoy and Mike Lumish, let me suggest (probably pre-empting Jon’s next post…) that arguments both past and present about Left vs Right as the greater evil, or the root source, when it comes to Jew-hatred are both a waste of time and irrelevant. A generation ago it was the Right. Now it’s the Left. Maybe within my lifetime it will be back to the Right (depends on how the Islamists align themselves, as they are the driving force now rather than the European anti-Semitism of the 20th century).

          I would suggest that the best people to fight the anti-Semitism on the far left are other leftists. Just as the best ones to fight it on the right are other rightists. And they are the ones with the responsibility to rid their own movement of this virus.

          1. I can see the wisdom of your criticism Dr. Mike. I disagree with you regarding the Right BUT… I would say in the end…

            Fair enough.

          2. Close, Mike, but as you’ll see before the end of the week (I hope) the Islamists are just the latest example of the real enemy I’m talking about – one that pre-dates Left, Right, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, “The West,” “The East,” and – by definition, since it is civilization’s original enemy – any other civilization or element of civilization you can name.

          3. If only it was that simple, but that is not happening from the Left because of the Durban strategy that is part and parcel of the effort to rid the world of capitalist, imperialist, colonialist and nationalist effects, of which Israel, the collective Jew, represents the foremost example.

            Don’t know what is similarly driving the Right in this context.

          4. As an example, if you scan the antisemitic / anti-Israel comments that explode on any cnn and articles about Israel, they are a thorough mix and mash-up of left wing and right wing nuttery. Within one comment you can see someone bemoan the “rights” of the poor oppressed PalArabs and then talk about how Jews spread pornography and atheism in the next sentence.

            I think Jon is really on to something. Antisemitism is a constant of human history and pervades all ideologies and migrates between them. At the moment I admire the American Right for its dilligence in trying to keep antisemitism out of its public discourse, but there is no guarantee that is a permanent condition.

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