The Subtleties of Jewish Humor

Dr. Lasha Darkmoon

In response to a recent article by Edmund Connelly on Jewish self-mockery, Kevin MacDonald had this to say: “The question is, what about media pieces that have an obvious anti-Jewish sub-text? Jews control the media, right? So why do we find clips like ‘Overcome stress by visualizing a greedy, hook-nosed race of creatures.’”

“The Jewish sub-text,” MacDonald points out, “is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of negative stereotypes of Jews. Connelly doesn’t really know the answer, and I don’t either. That’s why we are asking for suggestions.”

Having spent quite a lot of time pondering Jewish noses and negative stereotypes — I once devoted an entire essay to the subject  —  I hope I may be allowed to suggest an answer to this riddle.

It’s a case of Jewish irony. If you don’t get it, it’s not because you are irony deficient. This is not meant to be a criticism of your sense of humor, still less of your intelligence. No way! It’s just that you have failed to understand that an extremely subtle sense of irony is the hallmark of Jewish humor. It is so nuanced, so rarefied, that you are often not even aware it is irony. Jews get the joke, but the goyim usually don’t. They’re not meant to get it. That’s the whole point.

The apparent self-mockery of the Jew is actually an inverted way of patting himself on the back. Woody Allen and Sarah Silverman specialize in this sort of black humor. Jewish comics make a habit of poking fun at Jews and their supposed faults in order to convince us of the sheer absurdity of anti-Semitism.

Let me give you some examples.

A few years ago, when I was a schoolteacher, I set up a cartoon competition for the students in my class. One of the entries was sent in by a boy called Cohen with a chip on his shoulder 2000 years long. It was a picture depicting a massive billboard on a major motorway. It showed a hideous, bald-headed man who looked like he’d just stepped out of a Der Sturmer cartoon:  a monstrous beak of a nose, a bile green complexion, and a mouth coruscating with gold teeth. The caption read: “WARNING!!! WATCH OUT FOR ALIEN ABDUCTION!!! Green-eyed monsters, Martian ghouls, and men with funny hooked noses could come knocking on your door offering to sell you encyclopaedias!”

You see what I mean? This apparent self-mockery was actually a sneer at the goyim for being so out of touch with reality that they still—even after the Holocaust—didn’t seem to get the message that Jews are just like everyone else: a pretty harmless, well-meaning race that the rest of the world have ganged up against for some inexplicable reason.

Of course, if such a billboard as featured in Master Cohen’s cartoon should ever become an actual  billboard one day, a large number of irony-deficient Jews would scream “Anti-Semitism!” And an equally large chorus of irony-deficient goyim would undoubtedly join the same shrill choir.

But consider this: a large number of Jews who were in on the joke and who were NOT offended by the cartoon would also, at this point, raise tongue-in-cheek cries of “Anti-Semitism!” These are the pranksters. The incorrigible pisstakers. You see, it’s a huge mistake to assume that every Jew who complains of anti-Semitism is one big angry Jew. No, he’s often pretending to be angry. His rage is ersatz. He’s putting on the fury, secretly snickering up his sleeve that you should be so dumb as to take him seriously.

Incidentally, I gave Master Cohen first prize for his cartoon. I had no choice.  If I’d given him second prize, he would have complained of anti-Semitism!

You can’t win.

*          *          *

Now consider this cartoon by the famous British cartoonist Steve Bell depicting Ariel Sharon eating a baby. Ask yourself: would this cartoon have won a major competition in a politically correct country such as Britain if organized Jewry had been up in arms against it? Of course not. No, the Jews let it win for two reasons: (1) It proved that “free speech” was alive and kicking in Britain and that we actually live in an intensely anti-Semitic world in which Jews, ever the victims, are totally helpless to stop people saying bad things about them. (2) The cartoon, on another level, was also saying: How absurd that anyone should regard cuddly old Ariel as a “baby eater” when President George W Bush apparently thought the world of him. I mean, wasn’t this charismatic war hero, so adulated in Israel and Brooklyn, actually a “man of peace”?

It has to be asked: was Ariel Sharon upset or angry at Bell’s cartoon depicting him as a child-eating ghoul?  No, I am reliably informed that he was delighted. He was tickled pink. This reminds me of the story of French poet Charles Baudelaire who, in order to improve his image as a monster of depravity, began to circulate the story that he ate babies for breakfast.

The point about anti-Semitism is this: when people who are neutral to Jews — and that includes most people — are presented with gut-wrenchingly distasteful displays of anti-Semitism, the seed of philosemitism is sown in their hearts. Their first reaction is: How unfair this is to the Jews, how needlessly cruel.

Here lies the supreme paradox: Philosemitism can actually be manufactured through ironical and over-the-top displays of anti-Semitism. It’s all a part of social engineering.

*          *          *

A point worth bearing in mind is this: a Jew is permitted to tell an outrageous anti-Semitic joke that a non-Jew would be crucified for relating. Recently, National Security Adviser General James Jones gave a key note speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and started the ball rolling by telling a joke depicting Jews as greedy merchants. He clearly meant no harm. He probably thought it would be obvious to his audience that he was merely sending up the silly anti-Semitic “canard” that Jews were just a bunch of moneygrubbing Shylocks.

 “I’d like to begin with a story that I think is true,” General Jones begins, somewhat tactlessly.  “A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban, the jokes goes on, begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea.  Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant. They can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: ‘Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.’”

Frankly, I think that’s funny. And if a Jew starts grinding his teeth with rage at such an innocuous joke, there has to be something seriously wrong with him. But sure enough, the joke was condemned by Jewish groups everywhere. Abe Foxman thought it “inappropriate”, and  the  Jewish Forward thought it “insensitive”. (See also here).

I have an anti-Zionist Jewish friend who told me this hilarious joke, adding a few embroideries of his own. He found it on a Jewish website, filed under “Israeli humor”. (See here). It’s the best example of Jewish self-mockery I’ve come across. I retell the joke in my own words, more or less as my Jewish friend told it to me.

If General Jones had told this joke, he would have been hanged, drawn and quartered.

This Israeli Jew arrives at Ben Gurion airport with two large suitcases. His name is Baruch and he’s been living in the United States. The customs agent opens up the first case and finds it stuffed with dollar bills. “How come you have all this money?” he asks.

Baruch grins and taps his hooked nose.

“Listen, I’ll tell you one way you can make a huge fortune in America. You just go into a public washroom and you see a guy having a pee. All you have to do is grab hold of his penis and say, ‘If you don’t donate ten bucks to Israel — for illegal settlements — I’m gonna cut off your goddamn penis!’ It’s fantastic, the amount of money you can make for Israel!”

“Wow, that’s cool!” says the customs agent. “So what’s in your other case?

Baruch shakes his head sadly.

“You just won’t believe,” he sighs, “the number of people in America who refuse to support Israel.” 

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