In defense of self-hatred.
“To label dissenting Jews as Self-Hating is to equate them with the most violent and racist enemies of the Jews. This, of course, is precisely the point.“
The most bellicose of the Zionist establishment has spent considerable time and money creating a mythology of self-hatred. This mythology centers on the conviction that any statement against Israel is a statement against Jews. Thus, like a two-headed monster, dissent against Israel becomes dissent against Jews. Stamped with the moniker of self-hatred, Jews who seek to dislodge themselves from our hijacked spiritual identity, find little room to be Jews. Rather, we are offered an identity centered on racism, military might and occupation. We forfeit, according to the keepers of the self-hatred mythology, our right be Jews.
Self-hatred is a particularly hateful attack amongst Jews. The popular history of Jews is a long history of hatred inflicted by others. Hatred is the Jewish historical thread that links previous generations to now. Jewish history is told as a history of hatred. To label dissenting Jews as Self-Hating is to equate them with the most violent and racist enemies of the Jews. This, of course, is precisely the point.
Notwithstanding the succinct rebuttal of the ideas of powerlessness in Jewish history leveled by such luminaries as David Biale, Jews have cornered the hatred market. Hatred of Jews stands as the pinnacle of hatred. Hate is one thing, but anti-Semitism occupies a Zeus like position upon the throne of misery and pity. We Jews are the self appointed kings of misery. We sit, thrown like, scorning all analogy and solidarity as if kinship with other suffering might serve to detract from a “legacy of suffering” that forms the foundation of modern Jewish identity. This legacy serves as a main foundation of Zionism and the founding of the State of Israel.
Zionism developed in the 1890s amongst the intellectual and moneyed classes of the growing bourgeoisie finding its foothold in the early stages of industrialization. It did not develop in a vacuum. Rather, it developed alongside and in contradistinction, to revolutionary socialism. From the late 1800s through the end of WWII, Socialism and Zionism battled for the hearts and minds of Jews in Eastern Europe and America. As early as 1920, Winston Churchill published an article entitled: Zionism versus Socialism: A struggle for the sole of the Jews. In it, Churchill claimed that a majority of the leading Russian Soviets were Jewish and comprised an internationalist and terroristic form of Jewry that was, other than being atheistic, an enemy of Zionism. Zionism, Churchill claimed, was “in violent contrast to international communism”.
Socialism and Zionism represent two divergent aspirations for Jews. One on hand, Socialism holds out the promise of a place for Jews in the international revolutionary efforts of working people and as equal citizens of their home countries. On the other hand, Zionism is escapist, narrow, nationalistic and divisive. It holds that the only hope for Jews is in their own segregated country.
The Zionist idea must be seen in the context of the ideas upon which it has declared war. It is in this context that we confront the moniker of self-hatred. It is my contention that self-hatred is a libratory effort. I believe that it is only through an embrace of a form self-hatred that Jews can reclaim the rituals, customs, and ideas of the humanistic Jewish traditions.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has pointed out, there are some things to which we must be passionately maladjusted. It is maladjustment to a Judaism of segregation, occupation and racism that is labeled self-hatred. I offer three streams through which Jews can extract themselves (to become maladjusted- to self hate). It is through this maladjustment that we can return to the humanistic and Universalist tenets of history (tenets that developed from a profound maladjustment to successive centuries of struggle and oppression). I contend the current stance of the dominant Jewish establishment is anti-Semitic and self-hating. The Jewish/Zionist conflation has become the biggest enemy of the Jews. We face an enemy bent on defending its own interest and sacrificing the whole. This establishment, it appears, would rather have a Jewish State than Jews.
Jews can reclaim being Jews. It will not be easy. The entrenched economic and political interests of the Zionist state are extravagant. There are steps we can take. The most obvious, of course, is honoring the right to self-determination of the Palestinians. The current state of affairs is particularly anti-Semitic. For thousands of years, Jews built our identity on ideas of self-determination. For some this meant Zionism, but for millions of others it meant revolutionary socialism and unity with the downtrodden of the world. In modern times, it put Jews on the side of oppressed people the world over. Jews filled the ranks of anti-fascist efforts, of solidarity movements and of the intellectual space that helped interpret it all. Now, under the suffocating hood of Zionism, we are asked to stand against the self-determination of an occupied people in favor of a nation-state armed with nuclear weapons and the committed support of the largest military power on earth. There is no other instance of this kind of stance in Jewish history. Judaism has always asked Jews to be on the side of the “least of these”. Now we are asked to develop a schizophrenic Judaism devoid of soul and love and oppressing the most occupied people in the world. We are asked to do this not as Israelis, but as Jews.
Our historical struggle for our own self-determination has culminated in the most violent and longstanding occupation on earth. This is done not just in our name, but also in the name of all of those who struggled for the ability for Jews to live amongst the nations of the world. Moreover, it has made Jews the enemy of the people. It has put the entire religious birthright in service of fascism and occupation and has served to liquidate the historical and spiritual standing of Jews as the foot soldiers of solidarity and justice. The hatred engendered in response to this position cannot be seen as the cause of it. Rather, it is the position itself that gives rise to the hatred.
Second, Jews must embrace the dual historical legacies of Yiddish and Arabic Judaism. Zionism declared war on these histories. In its drive to hebraicize the entire Jewish experience, Zionism sought to erase all linkage to land, experience, god, culture, literature and ritual that did not fit into an ancient, biblical, Palestine based expression. Thus, a thousand years of Yiddish culture was wiped off the map. Hitler played a role, but it was the Zionists that signed the death sentence. Rather than take the whole of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe, the Zionists wiped clean the slate and replaced it with a wholly hebraicized lens. This lens was profoundly biblical, messianic and ancient in it perspective. It did not make a sufficient language on which to build a cultural tradition. Rather, it lent itself to the narrow, siege-like mentality of Zionism and pre-state Palestine. It must also be noted that the Yiddish culture on which the Zionists declared war was the language of eastern European socialism and the revolutionary Jewish trends. It represented an alternative Jewish perspective, one rooted in the experience of Jews in the land of their birth. The Zionists played up the myth (also preyed upon by the Nazis) that this culture was dirty, poor and represented a low point, not a revival of Jewish life. And yet, the Zionist myth that Jews would never be accepted in any land but their own was challenged everyday by the expressed and practiced cohesion of Yiddish and socialism. The war on Yiddish was, thus, a continuation of the Zionist war against socialism.
The Zionist war on the Arab Jew was equally as successful. Prior to 1948 Jews had lived in Baghdad for a 1000 years as fully integrated citizens. They held public office, ran businesses and lived as Iraqis in their homeland. Beginning in the years leading up to 1948 the Zionists began a destabilization campaign designed to stoke fear and hatred between Jews and Muslims in Iraq. This effort culminated in “terrorist attacks” perpetrated by Zionists and aimed at heralding Iraqi Jewish immigration to Palestine. It worked. Not only were the Zionists successful in driving the Jews from Iraq, but also they were equally as successful at wiping the Arab Jews from history. This genocidal act serves to make Arab Jews a footnote in history rather than a major factor in the rise and fall of the Muslim empires of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. This effort wiped an important and alternative Jewish experience from the history of Jews and replaced it with a further entrenchment of the “we will never be safe anywhere but here” mentality.
As we begin to disown our Zionist heritage, we will do well to turn back to the Yiddish and Arabic experiences as a means of understanding what it means to be a Jew in the world as opposed to a Jew in our own world. It is my contention that Jews will find a vastly more rich and meaningful cultural and religious expression in the historical identities than in the modern, militarized world of Zionism. These cultures developed authentically over hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years. They represent the best of the Jewish experience.
Third, Jews must recognize that the opposite of Zionism is correct. Jews have always been more protected, safer, and more vibrant when they have become integrated members of the society in which they live. This is true in the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, the Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and 20th and 21st century America. It is Zionist recipe of separatism that leads to violence, hatred and genocide. It must be noted with a deep sadness that the two main forces of the 20th century who sought to separate Jews were the Nazis and the Zionists. This is not to fully equate the two. There are obvious differences. But, both sought to single out the Jews, to show them as special and in need of segregation. They both contributed to the death of Jews. Most importantly, they both have sequestered Jewish identity in a militarized, confrontational and racist corner.
We can do better. We can liberate ourselves. The legacy of Jews is not a legacy of hatred. It is a legacy of social and political uplift, of survival and unity with others. These lessons must be reclaimed and but into practice. Let us start today. Let us begin to dislodge ourselves from the idea that we must be separate to be us. Let us turn away from hate and from violence and turn to one another and to the world. Let us return land, history, culture and power to the Palestinian people. And, finally, let us turn away from Zionism and towards Judaism.
Youth and Family Coordinator
The Institute for Community Leadership