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July 16, 2005 8:45 PM   Subscribe

JewishHistoryFilter : Can anybody recommend a good book that dissects the common Jewish conspiracy theories and discusses their history? Extra points for readability.

I have a roommate that occasionally expresses ridiculous ideas about Jewish people. Specifically, he makes references to a "Jewish Conspiracy." Usually, I would completely write off someone like this. However, I think that my roommate says these things out of ignorance and not bigotry. He's a good person, and I wouldn't generally call him a racist. I should mention that he's really into conspiracy theories, and at times is prone to the attendant sloppy thinking.

It would be nice to find a book that was very readable, and wasn't written in too much of an "academic" style. Reason being that I actually want him to read it, and if it isn't very accessible, he might just put it aside.

I really want to educate him on this, because if I can't, there really isn't any way that I can continue to live with him.
posted by afroblanca to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Question: What are some specific ideas he's mentioning? Some Jewish conspiracies are easily debunked (e.g. the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"), others, particularly anything modern, cannot be conclusively debunked with the available information, much like you can't formally disprove any "Bush Conspiracy".

If his ideas are kind of vague, try to get him to nail them down, and he might see the truth on his own.

It's not directly what you're looking for, but it might take a roundabout way to get him to "see the light". I enjoyed Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, which uses the "The Holocaust Never Happened" conspiracy theory to show how to think rationally about these things. IMO, if he's interested in conspiracy theories, he should be interested in this book anyway.
posted by trevyn at 9:13 PM on July 16, 2005

The great Will Eisner's last work was The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I haven't read it yet (it's on my shelf,) but it describes one of the biggest vectors for the vast Jewish conspiracy theory.

But, y'know, facts are tremendously unpersuasive when someone Knows something is True.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:38 PM on July 16, 2005

Umerto Eco's novel Foucalt's Pendulum
posted by hortense at 10:45 PM on July 16, 2005

Umerto Eco's novel Foucalt's Pendulum

How is that in any way an answer to this question? At least make an attempt to be helpful; this isn't a "what novels do you enjoy?" thread.

You might try Dan Cohn-Sherbok's The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism (London: HarperCollins Religious, 1992) If your roommate expresses the idea that the Russian Revolution was a "Jewish plot," this page might help, as might this. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on July 17, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for their help. Here is some more background -

This all started when, several months ago, he trotted out the "Israel caused 9/11" line. At first, I thought that he had to be joking. As it turns out, he was serious, but only in a sense - he just generally enjoys throwing around wild, unprovable assertions. Were he on MeFi, we would just call him a troll and be done with it. Anyway, either I was able to convince him that Israel did not, indeed, cause 9/11, or I was able to shame him into a concession.

Ever since then, whenever I try to pin him down on the details of this "Jewish conspiracy," he gets all sketchy and philosophical, and starts talking about how every ethnic group has some sort of conspiracy going on.

This is where I think that he is coming from a position of ignorance and not bigotry. He simply doesn't know the effect that the words "Jewish conspiracy" have on Jewish people. I also think that it shows the essential flaw in his thinking. There's a big difference between having a natural suspicion toward the human race, and throwing out wild, unprovable, offensive assertions.

I should mention here that I'm Jewish, and he's African-American. He's also spent his whole life in NYC. I know that there have been clashes in NYC between the African-American and Jewish communities, especially with the Hasidim (see: Crown Heights), and it is possible that his views are being clouded by this. I have tried to tell him that, had he not grown up in NYC, he probably would have never even met any Hasidim. Still, he has an image in his mind of these super-insular Jewish people who try to keep all of their money in the community, and only mix with their own kind. I guess it doesn't matter to him that I'm Jewish-born and am about as secular as it gets.

Anyway, thanks to everybody for their book suggestions, and please keep them coming. I will be checking into these titles, and hopefully will find one that will do the job.
posted by afroblanca at 7:34 AM on July 17, 2005

There are archives of programs by Dave Emory on WFMU
that deal with the very complex issues surrounding 9 11.
perhaps listening to some of these programs could dilute
your roomie's fixation on the Jews.
posted by hortense at 10:22 AM on July 17, 2005

I have a few background readings that might be useful for you but that don't address these points specifically. Mark Kurlansky's book A Chosen Few: The Ressurection of European Jewry [my review] discusses the generations of Jewish people post-Holocaust in a few major world cities as well as their migrations to the US. Some of what he discusses touches on why people seem to think they have some sort of stranglehold on [for example] the banking and entertainment industries based on their quick and successful and high profile moves into some of those professions in the US.

There has been some interesting discussion of historical Jew/Black animosity on a few blogs I read that has some pretty serious depth and might be interesting to read. Specifically Blacks and Jews Part One and Two loosely on the subject of "blaming Jews for everything" and this response. Both are written by Jewish hip-hop scholars that are trying to make some sense of the same issues you and your roomate are. Apologies if that's a bit off topic.

Also, languagehat, Foucault's Pendulum, though fictional, is pretty on topic for this question.
posted by jessamyn at 10:26 AM on July 17, 2005

I've read Foucault's Pendulum, which is why I instantly dismissed the suggestion (a bit too harshly, I'm afraid; apologies to hortense): yes, it's all about conspiracies, but it doesn't specifically address the point in question, it's extremely difficult reading, and it's inconceivable that pressing it upon one's conspiracy-spouting roommate would have any effect except perhaps to quiet him down for a bit while he struggled with it. Your Dan Charnas links, on the other hand, are perfectly on target despite your disclaimer and might do some good... if the roommate can get past the fact that they're written by a Jew.

May I indulge my extremely off-topic curiosity by asking why you use underline rather than ital for titles? I'm sure you have a good reason, I'd just like to know what it is.
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on July 17, 2005

You want to buy a copy of The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies, which both catalogues and pokes fun at everything from the Blood Libel to 9/11. The authors are writers for Heeb magazine. The book has gotten mixed reviews, with the main complaint being that most people think it should have been funnier.

Also, I second Will Eisner's graphic novel The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2005

I should mention here that I'm Jewish...I guess it doesn't matter to him that I'm Jewish-born and am about as secular as it gets.

Are you Jewish, or just Israeli? I was raised Christian, but I am not "a Christian". I couldn't care less what people say about Christianity, or any other religion for that matter.

In other words, it might be better for both of you if you dissociate yourself from Judaism, if you're not actually Jewish anymore. Religions of all varieties tend to engender an "us vs. them" mentality. It's easier to get along with someone you identify as "a fellow person" than "a Jew" or "a Christian".

And anytime he makes accusations, ask for concrete evidence. He should realize pretty soon that he sounds like a fool if he just throws stuff out without being able to back it up.
posted by trevyn at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2005

why you use underline rather than ital for titles

laziness, it's two less characters to type: u vs. em, it's like old typewriter bibliography style I guess.

posted by jessamyn at 1:02 PM on July 17, 2005

Response by poster: trevyn says : In other words, it might be better for both of you if you dissociate yourself from Judaism, if you're not actually Jewish anymore.

If your mother is Jewish, that means that you are Jewish as well. Thus, Judaism is an ethnicity first, and a religion second. So, although I am agnostic, that doesn't change the fact that I am Jewish.
posted by afroblanca at 2:24 PM on July 17, 2005

Are you Jewish, or just Israeli?

What afroblanca said, and unless he's mentioned it elsewhere, I'm not sure why you'd think he's Israeli. Israeli is simply a nationality, just like American or British. So asking "Are you Jewish, or just Israeli?" of someone who lives in NYC and hasn't provided any more information doesn't really make sense.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:49 PM on July 17, 2005

A great book is "They Never Said It". Lots of fake anti-Semitic quotes attributed to Ben Franklin and others...a good introduction.
posted by johngoren at 1:42 AM on July 18, 2005

laziness, it's two less characters to type: u vs. em

Don't you have the [B I link] thingie underneath the comment box? If not, why not just type i instead of em? That's how I get itals.

posted by languagehat at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2005

After mentioning it, I went and took The Plot off my shelf and read it, and now recommend it moreso: it's very accessible, very thorough, and goes beyond just the history of the Protocols to the history of its debunkings (dating back to 1921) and some coverage of the illogic of people that cling to it anyway.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2005

So the original poster chooses to be ethnically Jewish but not religiously Jewish? Can anyone enlighten me as to the differences?
posted by trevyn at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2005

Ethnically Jewish means (in the US) that you go to shul once a year instead of church (or, if you don't go at all, it's shul rather than church you're not going to), you like deli and Chinese food, and you lost family members in the Holocaust. (Some or all may not apply.) Religiously Jewish means that you believe in at least some of those 613 commandments, go to shul more often than once a year, and probably at least make an attempt to keep kosher. And if you get married there will be a rabbi there, even if it's one of those interfaith weddings that your Aunt Sadie complains about constantly. In either case, I don't think you'd be comfortable with an anti-Semitic roommate.
posted by languagehat at 12:41 PM on July 18, 2005

Trevyn, Judaism is a culture as well as a religion. You can choose to participate in the cultural aspects of Judaism without necessarily subscribing to the religious aspects.
posted by amro at 1:52 PM on July 18, 2005

Them: Adventures with Extremists is a great read and not entirely off-topic.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 6:30 PM on July 26, 2005

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