August 31, 2006
Fighting Fire With Satire
The anti-Semitic fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks so appalled alternative journalists Joshua Neuman and David Deutsch that they went scurrying to their keyboards.
They didn't fire off letters to the editor or pen learned treatises documenting that the Jews in fact were blameless for transforming a swath of lower Manhattan into a smoldering graveyard.
Instead, they conspired to register their anger and reveal the truth through other means: They chose satire to expose what they called the "utter ridiculousness" of the various Jew-blaming canards concocted immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
"The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies," published in April 2005 by St. Martin's Griffin, is a compendium of Jewish conspiracies through the ages as seen through the eyes of, say, Woody Allen or Mel Brooks.
"We don't know what goes on in the minds of people who really believe in Jewish conspiracies," the authors say in the book's introduction, "but we feel pretty sure of one thing: They don't like to have those beliefs laughed at."
Mocking every conceivable anti-Semitic stereotype, the book "reveals," for example, that the Jews poisoned the wells of Europe in order to create a market for bottled water, that a Berlin pharmacist actually fomented World War I and that psychoanalysis was invented as a way to hypnotize wealthy and powerful non-Jews.
As for Sept. 11 itself, the book discloses that Rabbi Chaim Schnitzelbaum of lower Manhattan orchestrated the whole thing because the World Trade Center was blocking his view of New Jersey.
Acknowledging that some might find the book to be in bad taste, its co-authors -- Neuman is the editor and publisher of Heeb magazine and Deutsch is its humor editor -- stress in the introduction that their motives were pure and that "the subjects satirized in this book are indeed serious ones."
They also concede that using satire to ridicule anti-Semitic conspiracy theories could backfire if "some idiot" were to read the book and think "he had unearthed a piece of serious scholarship."
Contacted shortly before the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, Neuman said he was dismayed that the "delusional pronouncements" triggered by the terrorist attacks have continued unabated.
"We had hoped that the book would signal the end of some of these ridiculous notions," he said. "Unfortunately, it coincided with an explosion of conspiracy theories about Jewish machinations."
Does poking fun at these theories and their propagators ever help? Perhaps, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
"Satire and ridicule can sometimes damage the credibility of these people in the eyes of their followers," he said. "Although the bulk of this needs to be addressed factually, at some point you're left with satire and not much else. At some point, factual arguments become almost pointless.''