In one word, no.
Amidst the back and forth between Jewish Voice for Peace and myself, I received a number of supportive replies — which I appreciate greatly. In one such reply, an Israeli leftist was accused of being “self-hating.” I thought about this for the last few days, and want to share why this makes me uncomfortable.
I disagree with JVP on a number of crucial points. Sometimes (oh okay, often) I am exasperated with the positions they take and the alliances they make. Despite this, I feel that JVP is us. That is, JVP is part of כלל ישראל Klal Yisrael (a rabbinic phrase meaning the collectivity of the Jewish people) and as such they are my Jewish brothers and sisters. Further, because I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over two decades, working as Middle East Affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Council, I came into frequent contact (and conflict) with JVP. And, in the course of twenty years, I met many of their members, befriended some and shared Shabbat meals with a few.
The people I know personally in JVP are not “self-hating.”
I am not saying “self-hatred” among Jews doesn’t exist. It may be that some members of JVP and similar groups are drawn to join because they are in fact self-hating of their Jewishness. But, I have no way of knowing this, so it is inappropriate for me, or anybody else, to hurl that accusation.
Self-hatred is not just a Jewish matter. It can refer to a strong dislike of one’s own race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other corporate group of which one may be a member. Often self-hatred is the result of internalizing a dominant culture’s negative stereotypes of a minority culture. In this context it is generally defined as hatred of one’s identity and a desire to distance oneself from this identity. Because Jews are a minority everywhere except Israel, and because negative stereotypes of Jews persist in non-Jewish societies, it is not unreasonable to expect that some people born into Jewish families have internalized anti-Jewish stereotypes and would thus reject their Jewishness.
But, I don’t have a degree in psychology, nor do I have the ability to read minds. What motivates an individual, let alone an organization, to take certain political positions vis a vis Israel cannot, and should not, be written off so easily as “self-hatred.” Referring to someone as a “self-hating Jew” in a political exchange may feel good because it allows you to avoid engaging with the object of your accusation, but that is all it does.
I strongly disagree with JVP’s positions and in my next blog I will go into details. My focus in this posting is about keeping things civil and respectful, of how the epithet “self-hating Jew” ends discussion and cuts off human contact between Jews.
It cuts both ways, of course. Those who do not want to engage with Israelis and Zionists hide behind their own shop-worn slogans of “Zionism is racism” or “Apartheid Israel.” Looking further afield, Arab nationalists accuse Arabs who support normalization and peace with Israel in similar terms, such as “traitors.” I have even seen the phrase “self-hating Arab” hurled about (see here for what Professor As’ad Abu-Khalil says about Professor Fouad Ajami).
To reduce those with whom you disagree to one-dimensional cardboard cutouts is a universal human trait. Just think of the following denunciations: “feminazi,” “knee-jerk liberal,” “war mongering neo-con,” “unbeliever,” “fundamentalist,” etc. Maybe it starts in kindergarten? “You have koodies!” “You are yucky!”
Confession time: I’ll cop to my having used the epithet “self-hating Jew” in years past when confronted with Jews promoting ideas with which I profoundly disagreed. It was comfortable to build my psychological fortress in this manner, it made “them” not part of me and thus gave myself permission to avoid real engagement.
What is a “real engagement?” It means a willingness to open your own strongly held views to challenge, while demanding the same from your interlocutor. It means being willing to engage not only with those miles apart from me in belief, but also to engage in critical self-examination.
None of this is easy. But, who ever said being Jewish was easy?