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The tropes of jewish antisemitism

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The concept of the ’self-hating Jew’ has been dignified with a pseudo-psychopathology by those keen to suppress dissent

By Antony Lerman

(source: the

From the moment he took the job heading the UN Human Rights Council`s mission to investigate human rights and international humanitarian law violations during the Gaza conflict, it was inevitable that Judge Richard Goldstone, born into a South African Jewish family, would be labelled a `self-hating Jew` and a Jewish antisemite. Immediately on the release in September of his findings, which concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes, Israel`s finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, couldn`t wait to make this accusation.

He certainly wasn`t alone. The charge is so popular these days that people who use it must have felt as though they had won the lottery when they were presented with such a high-profile target like Goldstone. They were probably still savouring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s outburst in August when he railed against the two senior and Jewish aides of President Obama, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, calling them `self-hating Jews`

If anything finally shows up the concept as bogus and bankrupt, it should be the use of it against Goldstone. Jewish self-hatred means rejecting everything about yourself that is Jewish because it is so hateful to you. As a description of Goldstone, nothing could be further from the truth. A life-long Zionist and a Governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Goldstone believes bringing war criminals to justice stems from the lessons of the Holocaust and that the creation of Israel symbolised what the postwar human rights movement was all about. But to those who level the accusation, the real degree of Jewish affiliation of the accused is irrelevant.

Now it`s quite obvious that calling someone a self-hating Jew in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict is intended as a demeaning political insult, a way of delegitimising the views of Jews with whom you violently disagree. But one of the reasons why the charge is so ubiquitous and is impervious to evidence and argument that proves it to be bogus is that it`s not just used as an epithet. To some scholars and serious commentators, Jewish self-hatred is a proven psychopathological condition, an academically respectable category, and exponents of it can be found throughout history. Their testimony helps to underpin the accusation.

Professor Robert Wistrich, who heads an antisemitism research centre at the Hebrew University, accepts the concept without question and taught a course on it. Lord Sacks, Britain`s mainstream Orthodox Chief Rabbi, endorsing the concept in his last two books, says it was born in 15th-century Spain. A recent convert to this way of thinking is David Aaronovitch, the Times and Jewish Chronicle columnist, who `discovered` that there was such a thing as a genuine self-hating Jew after encountering the virulently anti-Jewish writings of Otto Weininger, the brilliant young Viennese Jew who converted to Christianity in 1902 and killed himself a year later. And Robin Shepherd, of the Henry Jackson Society, in a thoroughly wrong-headed book out this month subtitled Europe`s Problem With Israel, uses the concept to explain why leftwing Jews `publicly turn against Israel`.

This is sheer intellectual laziness, or an ideological or political predisposition dressed up in academic language, or both. In fact, the way all of the key historical figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who are used to prove the existence of Jewish self-hatred – Weininger, Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus, Heinrich Heine – related to their Jewishness has been shown to be far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation.

Moreover, the perceived antisemitism in their writings was mirrored in the writings of Zionists, especially the founder of political Zionism Theodor Herzl. He painted the weak ghetto Jew, in his 1897 essay `Mauschel`, as `a distortion of the human character, unspeakably mean and repellent`, interested only in `mean profit`. Far from being the antithesis of Jewish self-hatred, it is arguable that Zionism was actually a display of it.

The Jewish self-hatred accusation assumes that there is a correct manner and degree to which people should express their Jewish identities in public; and that there is a particular set of core values and institutions which one should favour. Neither of these assumptions is justifiable on the basis of Jewish teachings or Jewish history. The accusation also assumes that Jewishness `is or should be a primary identity`, and therefore to reject it or criticise it is somehow unnatural and wrong.

Yet, criticising an aspect of one`s identity does not automatically imply criticism of that identity per se. Implied in the concept of Jewish self-hatred is the notion of a Jewish essence. But the long history of the Jews – integral to which is conversion, assimilation, a wide variety of sometimes clashing Jewish identities, the understanding that Jewishness can be any one of or any combination of religion, ethnicity or culture – makes nonsense of such an idea.Those who use the accusation sit in judgment on the Jewishness of others. This might be understandable (though insulting) if you are, say, an Orthodox Zionist Jew. But it`s clear that many prominent accusers are not of that persuasion. They are, rather, people who would object very strongly to Orthodox rabbis sitting in judgment when they claim the right to determine who is a Jew.

When the self-hating Jew allegation is levelled at someone with the degree of integrity of Judge Goldstone, who takes such pride in his Jewishness, and is orchestrated by the Israeli government and prominent Jewish leaders and commentators, the ugly desperation of the accusers is laid bare. Regrettably, given the appalling state of public debate about antisemitism and Israel-Palestine among Jews, no matter how clearly and how often the charge of Jewish self-hatred is shown to be nothing more than a political and personal insult that demeans the accuser and demonises the accused, it won`t be going away any time soon.