Encounter With A Meshuge

Once upon a time I had a very odd encounter on the bus. A foreign man asked me to move my bag so he could sit next to me, rather than on the many spare seats elsewhere. No problem in itself, but he said he was doing this because he knew me. I was positive I had never seen him before. To make sure, I asked him where he came from. He claimed to be from Israel. That made me even more positive, because there are almost no Israelis in this city. That was true, he said: “There are five of us, we have our own rabbi, at such-and-such a place”. And then without further ado he launched into a rant about anti-Semitism: “Everyone hates us because we like money, but what’s wrong with liking money?” Nothing, when you’re a WASP financier, I do take his point; but how did we get here from five Israelis with their rabbi? I thought the abruptness of the rant was strange, and then he launched into a diatribe about Muslims in London, sounding just like the EDL – or Anders Behring Brevik. I asked him what he expected me to do about that, and he started getting offensive, suggesting that I was a member of Breivik’s old party, the xenophobic Progressives – which by his lights ought to have been a compliment, except that I felt he knew I was a multicultural type and was trying to bait me. He was fishing for something he could use to become offended, and being far too personal for a chance-met stranger. I told him he was being rude and should shut his mouth. Whereupon he immediately went off somewhere behind me in the bus and started the same routine on someone else, I couldn’t see who; that is, claiming to know them. When he got to his stop the driver had to tell him to get off, because he was so caught up in whatever emotional scam he was running on the other passenger that he had forgotten where he was supposed to be going.

I tried to understand what that scam might be. Was he recruiting for a terrorist cell, or at least an action group to vandalise mosques? Something he had said about the Hebrew language that was just plain wrong suggested that he wasn’t even an Israeli. It would not take much to bluff a Norwegian that you were a Jew when in fact you were an Arab. But if he were in fact a jihadi pretending to be a Breivik, say, what was the game? Who was supposed to be taken out? I couldn’t see the bottom line.

OK, back to the drawing-board; suppose he were an Israeli who was very lonely, not least because he was so obnoxious. But what I think was going on was something deeper: he was simply an asshole, but an asshole who needed to believe that everyone hated him qua Jew, so that he could keep on giving himself permission to be an asshole. And to escalate, he could provoke further hatred by acting like a public nuisance, so as – in his own mind at least – to create a horde of anti-Semites where there were none before.

Why not, you will say, just write him off as a jerk, without reference to his ethnicity. Indeed that is what I would, ideally, like to do. But I think his game was about not letting me consider him merely as an unpleasant and probably demented individual. The personal is the political, as someone said.

I have encountered jerks before, from all nations. The two biggest liars I have ever met were a Turk and a Ghanaian, but I don’t hold them against Turks and Ghanaians in general. Nor would anyone expect me to, or make a big deal of this fact in any direction. It’s just not interesting. But when this weirdo baits and badgers a perfect stranger on the bus until told to shut up, he will surely now be adding another “anti-Semite” to his little list – and the like-minded will be cheering him on. Who knows, perhaps he’s already sent my name to the Anti-Defamation League. What else is he going to do – admit to himself that he’s a jerk? People invent ideologies precisely in order to prevent that terrible fate.

Now, what other groups can we think of that makes a habit of annoying other people so that they can triumphantly proclaim, “Look how they hates us, they hatesss ussss forever!” and feel that metaphysically motiveless hatred somehow proves their wonderfulness? This is where they learned it.

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