Adam Levick of CiFWatch has a meditation on the problem of what I’ve called “hyper-self critical Jews.” Since I’m about to participate in a panel at the YIISA Conference on global anti-Semitism at Yale University later this month, I would like to encourage readers to comment so I can incorporate some of their ideas in my presentation.
The Guardian’s anti-Israel Jews, and a letter to my teenage nephew
August 11, 2010 in Uncategorized | Tags: Antisemitism, Antony Lerman, Comment is Free, Guardian, Hamas, Hezbollah, Nazi Analogies, Neve Gordon, Richard Silverstein, Seth Freedman, Theobald Jew | by Adam Levick
CiF’s Jewish Israel defamers
When joining the team here at CiF Watch, and attempting to understand why Jewish writers for the Guardian are often among the most vociferous in expressing their contempt for Israel, and so willing to demonize the state’s Jewish supporters, I had to get up to speed on the term “Theobald Jew.”
I soon learned that:
According to the Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth in his The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich (1173), it was an apostate Jew, a certain Theobald, who, swore that Jews had killed twelve-year old William, a tanner’s apprentice, to fulfill their “Passover blood ritual” in the fateful year of 1144—the first recorded such episode in a long line of murderous defamations.
The CiF contributors I refer to include Naomi Klein, Neve Gordon, Richard Silverstein, Antony Lerman, Seth Freedman, Tony Greenstein, among others. These Jewish writers don’t merely critique Israeli policy, but routinely engage in hyperbole, vitriol, and gross distortions. Their rhetoric is often spewed with hate towards the Jewish state, all but ignoring the behavior of her enemies – the terrorist and reactionary movements who openly seek her annihilation. Such commentators often infer that the democratic Jewish state (the most progressive nation, by far, in the region) is almost always in the wrong, is usually motivated by a hideous malevolence, and represents a national movement which they, as Jews, are ashamed to be associated with.
Freedman, for instance, has suggested that Israel is a theocracy – one which is on moral par with Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Gordon has on several occasions accused Israel of ethnic cleansing – once advancing such an ugly calumny in the radical anti-Zionist magazine, Counterpunch. Tony Greenstein has ardently defended the ugly comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, typically advanced by extremists. Richard Silverstein has called the behavior of Israelis serving in the IDF “subhuman“, and has defended Hamas from “charges” that they are an extremist movement. Naomi Klein actually accused Israel of being so cruel and sadistic as to “bury children alive in their homes.”
While, for the Guardian, employing the services of Theobald Jews serves to inoculate them from charges of anti-Semitism, such Jewish writers, in return, receive the progressive and universalist credentials they so eagerly seek.
The Misnomer of the “Self-Hating Jew”
To be fair, I always found the term “self-hating Jew” to be at best misleading, at worst a complete misnomer. First, because we typically have no way of knowing these writers‘ inner-thoughts. But, more importantly, I never thought that it was an apt description of the anti-Zionist Jews I’ve met over the years. If anything, most seem to possess a belief that they are indeed “better Jews” for being hyper-critical of Israel, opposing their own community, and rejecting the very idea of a Jewish nation-state.
Many seem singularly focused on being seen as a “progressive”. And, as the progressive movement has moved further and further away from identification with Israel – and, to some degree, further away from identification with Jews as such – the need to be seen as progressive (“righteous”) in the eyes of others, has taken precedence over the seemingly parochial desire to identify with, and defend, their own community.
I have thought long and hard about the phenomenon of Jews who oppose their own community, have read and written about it, and there appears to be four dynamics worth exploring:
1. Moral Vanity
I was particularly inspired by Anthony Julius’s long two-part essay published at the American Jewish Committee site, Z Word. The piece was called Jewish anti-Zionism Unravelled: The Morality of Vanity. (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2). Julius also rejects the notion of such Jews as being “self-hating”. Instead he refers to them as moralisers who continually desire affirmation from the non-Jewish world as to their righteousness.
The moraliser makes judgments on others, and profits by so doing; he puts himself on the right side of the fence. Moralising provides the moraliser with recognition of his own existence and confirmation of his own value. A moraliser has a good conscience and is satisfied by his own self-righteousness . He is not a self-hater; he is enfolded in self-admiration. He is in step with the best opinion.
In his book, Trials of the Diaspora, Julius calls them “scourges,” a term I prefer because it relates to their self-anointed role as prophets, whipping the wayward Jewish people into line.
2. The Temptation of Innocence
Ruth Wisse, in her book Jews and Power, identified the tendency of some Jews to vociferously oppose their own community as a dynamic which she, in part, attributes to a Jewish uneasiness with the projection political power and a tendency to almost fetishize the Jews’ history of powerlessness. Wisse concludes that Jews who endured, or know the history of, the powerlessness of exile are in danger of mistaking it for a requirement of Jewish life or, worse, for a Jewish ideal. This puerile desire not to be corrupted by the complexities, and occasional compromises, necessitated by possessing moral agency is described by Pascal Bruckner as “The Temptation of Innocence.”
3. Jewish Fear: Assimilation and Altruism as an Inoculation from Harm
More recently, Barry Rubin, director of the GLORIA Center (Global Research on International Affairs), in an illuminating and penetrating piece, entitled “Explaining Jewish Political Behavior“, said:
[historically] Jews were attacked for allegedly having too much power, even when they had little or none, the emphasis was on being eager to make concessions, not to gain victories through threat or pressure.
…How would this strategy try to succeed? By proving Jews were good citizens, by showing they were unselfish and sought nothing for themselves, by demonstrating their willingness to dissolve the bonds and customs of their own community…and by showing that being nice to them would benefit everyone or almost everyone. In other words, altruism was a central element in the strategy
“…A key element of the assimilationist doctrine has been to deny there was a [Jewish] collective communal interest, and to avoid making collective demands.
Rubin, who, it should be noted, fleshes out his argument more fully in his book, Assimilation and Its Discontents, continues:
large parts of the Jewish elite are proud to stand aloof from their own people and deem it virtuous to abandon it and reject any notion of communal interests (including Israel and religion). Indeed, they think they can best prove their credentials by championing the causes of other groups even–sometimes especially–those in conflict with Jewish interests.
…The elite Jew’s emphasis is often to escape identification with the community, proving he is a cosmopolitan with a universalist identity, being the first to demand the dissolution of any community loyalty and viewing the embodiment of Jewish peoplehood—Israel—as an impediment to those goals. While antisemites charge that all or almost all Jews in positions of power pursue a distinctively Jewish interest, the exact opposite is the truth. This explains how left-wing Jews extol multiculturalism and self-determination for other peoples even as they hold the exact opposite attitude toward their own people, whom they are determined to show are not their own people.
…many Jews, particularly in elite positions, are eager to prove their credentials by criticizing their own people or Israel.
4. The Adversarial Jew: Skepticism and relativism disguised as reasoned political thought
I think there’s one last dynamic at play – an insight I came upon as a result of an email exchange I had with my 16-year-old nephew recently.
He reached out to me to seek my advice on this phase he was going through. It seems that he’s going through an early “existential crisis” of sorts – a frame of mind (I warmly noted to him) that most don’t arrive at until college. He mentioned that, lately, he’s been questioning everything – every social convention, everything he’s ever been told, and wondering whether the wisdom, mores, and customs he‘s been brought up by his parents to believe in and abide by are indeed worthy. He said that, since this struggle, he wasn’t misbehaving, but had resigned himself to merely “going through the motions” – but wasn’t really buying into what he always believed to be true. He wanted to know what I thought.
In my reply, I assured him that what he’s going through is perfectly normal, and was a sign that he possessess a vibrant, active, and healthy mind – and, that, indeed, such existential crises were the inspiration for great works of poetry, literature, and philosophy through the ages. I said that I also went through a similar mental orientation – that I, during the first couple years of college, questioned everything ever taught to me by my parents and my community. I even looked down on the adults in my life, and their seemingly conventional thinking. In my arrogance, I said, I believed that I saw things they didn’t see…had arrived at answers to questions that had perplexed not only my a parents and relatives, but the most brilliant minds in my time and in generations past.
However, I also told him that I eventually learned to have a bit of humility about it all, and eventually realized that I didn’t know much about life, at that early stage in my life, at all. And, that my parents, the older I got (and as my adolescence receded) seemed to become wiser and wiser with each passing year – in what I increasingly identified as their decency, sobriety, and plain common sense.
So, I asked my nephew if he would at least try to avoid the audacity of imagining that he alone possessed the wisdom and insight that has eluded his community – the Rabbis, sages, political, and community leaders – in his generation and though the ages. I asked that he not assume that because his father claims that something is true, that the opposite must indeed be what’s actually correct. I asked that he be patient and assured him that, with time and experience, he’ll eventually not be so quick to question the intentions of those who guide him. I expressed confidence that he will come to see that a healthy skepticism about “conventional thinking” is indeed normal, but that he’ll eventually understand that such thoughts need not devolve into a knee-jerk rejection of all the traditions and values of those who have come before him and have guided generations of Jews through often dark and harrowing times.
Julius, in his Z Word essay, dissected the potential moral pathos of many such renegade Jews:
He holds that the truth is to be arrived at by inverting the “us = good” and “other = bad” binarism. He finds virtue in opposing his own community; he takes the other point of view. He writes counter-histories of his own people. It is not enough for him to disagree, or even refute; he must expose the worst bad faith, the most ignoble motives, the grossest crimes. He must discredit.
My nephew is a smart, decent, and level-headed young man. And, I have no doubt that he’ll maintain his bearings during this intellectual “crisis” and not allow himself to surrender to hubris, nor develop a malevolence towards the family and community that has supported, nurtured, and guided him through the complexities of everyday life – those who love him dearly and have tried with all their heart to provide a path to protect him from the maddeningly complicated world he lives in.
It’s a simple lesson perhaps, but a vital one. And, its wisdom that many of the Jews who write for the Guardian, quite shamefully, don’t even meagerly possess.
As Anthony Julius put it so pungently, “they’re proud to be ashamed to be Jewish.” Honor-Shame culture turned on its head. And when hooked up with Arab scapegoating gives us the toxic marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism. World, beware Jews who bears the gifts of loathing their own people. Nothing good can come of it, for Jews or for the other nations.