I won’t be adding anything new to the accounts of the recent hostage-taking in Colleyville, Texas, an incident that offers a paradigmatic example of today’s anti-Semitism in action (there’s brief summary at the end). An 11-hour synagogue stand-off, international terror connections, crazy recorded rants, a brave rabbi, a hostage escape, a SWAT raid: movie-of-the-week material, at least, if not an action blockbuster. But it was largely ignored or downplayed as it was taking place, got shrugged off by the media afterward, and has already disappeared from the news cycle and general awareness.
I also won’t be trying to convince anyone that what’s happening is really happening: that there is a worldwide increase in anti-Semitism; that the new variant of “the longest hatred” (Robert Wistrich) is anti-Israelism – from bad faith “criticism of Israel” and vicious anti-Zionism to terror and all-out war; and that the gravest threats come from Islamic supremacists, abetted by a self-deluding anti-Western political Left with growing mainstream dominance, followed by old-fashioned Christian and white supremacist Jew-hatred. Nor will I give other examples of blindness to anti-Semitism when the perpetrator isn’t politically useful, or of the worldwide acceptance of easily disproven lies.
In 1892, in an essay discussing the wide circulation of blood libels, Ehad Ha-am wrote that one of the common responses to Jewish denial was an incredulous: “Do you want me to believe that the whole world is wrong and the Jews are right?” In 2002, in response to Israelis denying that they had massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin, Kofi Anan, then Secretary General of the UN said, “Are you trying to tell me that the whole world is wrong, and the Israelis are right?” [Richard Landes]
To put it brutally: if you don’t feel in your bones the pounding echoes of previous anti-Jewish mobs, from medieval Europe to the Muslim Middle East, from Imperial and Soviet Russia to the Shoah, then I’m probably not addressing you—unless such a global pogrom, however implausible it may seem at first, is so horrifying that you feel compelled to consider and investigate the possibility.
Like my previous essay about anti-Semitism for White Rose Magazine, “Looking Left, Looking Right,” this is for anyone who would oppose it wherever it’s exposed, not for those who prefer to appease or hide behind it. But we are in a unique position today, however dire. We can see the thing for what it is: a 2,000-year-old scam, one big pathetic lie. Incident after incident, spin after spin, it’s the same move over and over. Armed with the long view, we have a lever with which to shift the world. And though no weapon guarantees success, true knowledge does truly empower.
A delusional anti-Jewish obsession has haunted the West since Christianity’s emergence, the Middle East since that of Islam, and even the modern world’s secular “progressivism.” And there are few areas of contemporary political culture that remain untouched, insofar as they’re influenced by these Christian, Islamic, and secular “progressive” forces; indeed, politics is often given over entirely to it.
This extraordinary fact, however, is totally counter to mainstream perception, where merely pointing out anti-Semitism often results in an instant and unrelenting barrage of denials and counter-charges. It is routinely dismissed (“That’s not anti-Semitic”), mocked (“LOL! You Jews are always whining about being the victims”), accused of bad faith (“You’re only saying that to distract from Israeli crimes”), condescendingly scolded (“Why don’t you learn from your own past suffering?”), and heartlessly attacked (“You Jews are the real Nazis today!”). This is epitomized in anti-Zionism, a structure of thinking that
… elaborates a whole system of political references (I dare not say political analysis, nor even political reflection) in which double standards and inverted terms are constant features. Should Israel be as much as mentioned, a machinery for the projection of obsessive hallucinations comes into play. The anti-Zionist thinks, or pretends to think, in black and white. [Jacques Givet]
The anti-Semite thinks in black and white, or pretends to think in black and white, or simply pretends to think. Why the pretense, though? Because adults know we’re meant to think. When we do come together, we know it’s best if we’ve arrived at an agreement, each of us following our own path to get there. So the anti-Semites must at least make a show of it, or we might reject them as mere childish bullies. Unfortunately, none of us is really grown up. Pretense can convince us, if we’re not ready to see through the smile to the dead eyes, if can’t discern the sick fear behind the self-righteous rage.
In his essay “Fairy Tale or Myth?” David L. Miller contrasts the one-sided stereotypes of fairy tales with the moral ambiguity of mythic figures:
In myth, for example, we see Aphrodite, who has a beautiful loving side as well as a bitchy jealous side. In fairy tale, on the other hand, the mother is not given a name. She is called simply and unambiguously the Beautiful Queen. If a bitchy side needs representation in the story another character is invented, for example, the Wicked Stepmother. … [T]he fairy tale’s wish is that variety … may all be one. The frog is a prince. The prince becomes king. The girl becomes a woman. And the two become one. Thus it is that the fairy tale fantasy takes hold of us not by any particular content, but by the strategy of its genre.
The mythic complexity Miller refers to is more realistic—provides a truer model of real life—than the fairy tale world, which we leave behind as we become adults. Fairy tales, he suggests, may even represent “remnants of rites of passage in which a youth attains an adult identity.”
Rite to Remain a Child
One needn’t personally “hate Jews” (as conventional anti-racism presumes) to perpetuate anti-Semitism; one has only to accede to the mentality that ends up demonizing them. Thus anti-Zionism, with its cartoonish visions of Jewish violence and rapaciousness, can’t even imagine the most basic human reasons for Israeli actions—no natural desire for self-defense, no understandable drive for self-determination, not even the traumatized response to repeated and near-genocidal persecution.
Denuded of its elaborate pretenses, the anti-Semitic mind can only answer the question “Why do Jews do these evil things you claim?” with “Because they’re Jews.” Why does the Wicked Stepmother act wickedly? Because that’s who she is, what she is, all she is. But no real person is defined by a single trait, no real-world actions are without authentic motivation, no real evil is without its evil sense—and no collective, no people, is composed of anything other than people. Unlike a child, who simply thinks childishly, an adult must cling to unconsciousness to demonize successfully. Anti-Semitic convictions are not simply mistakes. The double-standard for Jewish actions, more than mere repetition, has an aim, a function: to ritualistically invert reality, turn us away from the facts, distract from the real aggressors, present the opposite of truth, lock us into the lie of fairy tale thinking. Pretend thinking.
One could analyze the incident at Colleyville and trace the outlines of the fairy tale leading to the monstrosity: the hostage-taker’s background in an Islamic world saturated with fantasies of global Jewish power; his connections with a network of Islamists bent on their own fantasy of global power; the incident as such, in a setting unrelated to Islamist goals except by the fantasy of Jewish power; and the bizarre cover-up of the real, anti-Semitic power-players by our own representatives of public power and by those with the power to inform our self-understanding.
One might recognize, through all of this, a clear and singular drive, even on the part of ostensibly opposed sides: “to remove … fundamental ambiguity,” as Miller says of fairy tale thinking, “to make the life-story one-dimensional, replacing the ambivalence of the concrete images of daily experience with abstract ideas.” And one might see, in this commitment to childish fantasy, the pursuit of reality-shaping power, indeed the longing for total control – like a child!
None of this has gone previously unremarked. Others have dissected the immaturity, projection, paranoia, and power-lust of anti-Semitic thinking. And “demonization” is already part of our regular vocabulary to describe it. I wonder, though, if we recognize the truth shining through the lie. Falsehood feeds uncreatively on truth, and thereby becomes its unwitting, unwilling carrier.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s aim was true when he managed to hit the terrorist with a chair, giving the remaining hostages a chance to escape. In that moment, the whole of this story was given another twist—not just the Congregation Beth Israel story, but the ancient one that begins with “the Jewish people …” There are many others, but this story—a true story, about truth—does end up speaking to everyone. The Christians believed they took it over, then Islam thought it got the last word, and even rationalism, though lacking a deity, follows the same basic form: with its (1) singular truth, each variation (2) addresses humanity universally, (3) cutting across tribes, ethnicities, and cultures, and ideally forming (4) collectivity by (5) each individual’s acceptance of this truth—though it never quite works out that way, because (6) truth, in reality, always divides us.
One might say there’s a fairy tale notion of truth that unites us all happily ever after, and an adult version that moves through the real world in real time, with allies who stand by it and enemies who attack it. And though the war causes flesh-and-blood casualties, its theatre of battle is really thought. (Even “post-truth” is just another twist in the plot, a new foe come to test truth’s mettle. Like all of them, it’s ultimately futile: to defeat truth’s claim, it can only claim to be … truer!)
Truth is, not only did those Jewish people survive in Colleyville, not only do Jewish people survive despite Nazism’s attempted genocide, but the Jewish people survive. Yet history shows every aspect of this peoplehood targeted in turn: the religious dimension (“Christ-killers”), the geographic (exile and diaspora), the communal (ghettoization), the genetic (“racially inferior”), the cultural (“Degenerate Art”), the political (“Israel is illegitimate”). Taken together, what do these amount to but personhood itself? Thus each onslaught has been meaningful. We are each spiritual, biological, geographical, civil, social, creative beings—persons. (One needn’t share all the aspects to belong to “the Jewish people,” as there are genetically Jewish atheists and genetically diverse converts, any more than being a person requires embodying every dimension of humanity—there are apolitical hermits.)
The Big Truth is that the Big Lie—whether wielded by Judeophobic Christians, Nazis, Islamists, “progressives,” anyone—consistently generates not only specific lies, but the very opposite of truth. The Big Lie points nowhere else, because without truth it’s not only powerless and empty, but non-existent. This is clearer now than ever before, because we can take the long view: we can hold the whole story at once; we can spot the Jewish people’s enemies repeating the same old scam; we can see through it, as the accusers project their childish wishes and nightmarish acts onto innocents; we can identify personhood in all its complex reality, that they would replace with Demons and Demon-Fighters; and we can recognize their power-lust for what it is: a terrified and terrorizing immaturity.
A singular truth (what it means to be a person, to be people) addresses humanity universally (the patterns of anti-Semitism are objectively evident and revelatory), cutting across tribes, ethnicities, and cultures (all the “righteous among the nations” can see it), ideally forming collectivity (the anti-Nazi Resistance united people from all backgrounds and every walk of life) by each individual’s acceptance of this truth (one person at a time, there’s no other way). And being real, this truth divides: it is “us” versus “them.” But anyone can grow up.
The fight to defend the truth of the Jewish people—which, like the truth of Colleyville, exposes itself in every attempted cover-up and shines through every tell-tale dissimulation—is the fight for the possibility of truth itself. And the fight for truth is, in the end, always the defense of reality against those who would attempt to deny and overpower it. Fight back, throw the chair, wield the Big Truth and flip every little lie (they’re nothing but truth, inverted). The truth of reality is on your side, where the Jewish people placed themselves at the start of the story.
Summarized by the blog FirstOne Through: “A British Muslim flew thousands of miles to take Jewish hostages in Texas in an attempt to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a noted anti-Semite serving time for trying to kill American soldiers and plot a mass casualty attack in New York City. The hijacker, Malik Faisal Akram, yelled at the people praying on a Sabbath morning in synagogue, ‘Jews control the world, Jews control the media, Jews control the banks,’ and said that the Jews ‘can call President Trump and he will do it [release Siddiqui] because Jews control everything.’” The rabbi and hostages escaped after 10 hours, and the hostage-taker was killed when the FBI stormed the building. Stephen Pollard in The Jewish Chronicle captured, in one particular example, the common media and political reaction, which has left the Jewish community aghast: “I don’t think I have ever seen a more grotesquely skewed report of a major terrorist incident than last night’s BBC report, which could only have happened if all involved went through a series of intellectual contortions to avoid mentioning antisemitism.”
- FirstOne Through (blog), “New York Times Mum on Muslim Anti-Semitism”
- Givet, Jacques. The Anti-Zionist Complex (Englewood, NJ: SBS Publishing, Inc., 1982)
- Richard Landes, “Western Appetite for Lethal Narratives about Israel”
- Miller, David L. “Fairy Tale or Myth?” in Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought (New York, NY: Spring Publications, 1976)
- Stephen Pollard, “The BBC has a serious issue with Jews”