... As a formal psychological category, the term ‘self-hatred’ was first used by Sigmund Freud in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1916–17). But according to Professor Gilman, the term ‘self-hating Jew’ comes from a disagreement over the validity of the Jewish Reform movement between neo-Orthodox Jews of the Breslau seminary in Germany and Reform Jews in the nineteenth century. Some neo-Orthodox Jews viewed Reform Jews as ‘inauthentic Jews’ because they felt that the Reformers identified more closely with German Protestantism and German nationalism than with Judaism.
... the term ‘Jewish self-hatred’ [originally] arose from ... the attempts by Jews to assimilate into German society.
By the 1900s the formal emancipation of German Jews was complete and they had achieved a very high degree of assimilation. But the more they demonstrated their desire to be the same as everyone else, they more they were acutely reminded of their otherness. The more they distanced themselves from their Jewish identity the further away seemed the prize of complete acceptance. Coping with this double bind was not easy. One response — intended to help overcome those barriers — was to lay the blame, in whole or in part, at the feet of Jews themselves, to see weaknesses and faults in Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish mannerisms, Jewish ways of behaving and so on — to cultivate the notion of group inferiority. On the one hand, this was an intensification of the lively, and valued, self-criticism among German Jews that had been developing for some time. On the other hand, the fact that it was sometimes couched in Anti-Semitic terms suggested that Jews were internalising the negative images society imposed on them, stemming from the increase in public Anti-Semitism, and seeking to appease their persecutors in order to finally gain acceptance....
Use of the term ‘Jewish self-hatred’ was very prevalent during the years immediately preceding the First World War, when German Jews continued to experience the dilemmas of wishing to become completely assimilated into German society. Theodor Lessing’s book Der judische Selbsthass (Jewish Self-Hate) appeared in 1933 and supposedly charts Lessing’s journey from Jewish self-hater to Zionist.
But the dilemma that led to the phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred came to an end with the Holocaust, so there seemed little reason for it to remain current.
In most post-Holocaust centres of Jewish life, especially the United States, assimilation, though striven for, was a less anxious process, and Jews were not alone in their quest to integrate. And after the establishment of the state of Israel, losing your identity in order to become part of the national story was no longer the only option for a Jew who felt uncomfortable in the host country. Zionism seemed to represent the ultimate resolution of this identity problem: in Israel the Jew was the national story.
But the concept did not disappear from the lexicon.
As the centre of Jewish life shifted from a devastated Europe denuded of Jews to the United States, where there were far fewer barriers to assimilation, so too the concept of Jewish self-hatred migrated to the New World, was reborn and took on additional meanings.
Hugely influential in this rebirth was Kurt Lewin, until 1932 professor of psychology at the University of Berlin. He emigrated from Germany in 1933 after Hitler had come to power. In 1941 he wrote an essay, ‘Self-hatred among Jews’, published in an American Jewish Committee-sponsored journal, which was much cited and frequently quoted. Lewin was the leading exponent of the study of group dynamics in the United States and a highly regarded social psychologist. He reinterpreted the problem as one mostly affecting the group rather than the individual. Not surprisingly, given the threat to Jews at the time, and his view of the failure of German Jewish leaders to give public support to Jewish institutions, he argued that criticism of the group weakens and endangers it, and those responsible for that criticism are unable to adjust to the group’s problems. The result is ‘neurosis’ manifesting itself as self-hatred.
A similar theory — ‘Negro self-hatred’ — had developed in relation to black Americans, also promoted by social psychologists like Lewin who had become highly influential in American society in the 1940s. With both theories being fuelled by conclusions drawn from investigations into growing anti-Semitism and anti-black racism, a ‘convergence zone’, as Susan Glenn described it in Jewish Social Studies (2006), was created ‘in which the figure of the “self-hating Jew” and the “negrophobic negro” were imagined […] by Frantz Fanon as “brothers in misery”’.
The concept of Jewish self-hatred gained wide theoretical currency in the 1940s, and as Glenn writes: ‘During and after the war, individuals and groups across the intellectual, social, cultural, religious and political spectrum deployed the term variously, inconsistently, and with conflicting social and political agendas.’ The 1940s and 1950s were ‘the age of self-hatred’. In effect, a bitter war broke out over questions of Jewish identity. It was a kind of ‘Jewish Cold War’: ‘a contentious public debate [intra-Jewish war] revolving around the question of Jewish group loyalty, Jewish group “survival”, and Jewish nationalism’.
Broadly speaking, this ‘war’ was a response to the success of assimilation. Those Jews who saw assimilation resulting in estrangement from Judaism and distaste for one’s Jewish identity diagnosed the problem as Jewish self-hatred. The cure was ‘positive Jewishness’, or ‘living Judaism’, as the influential Rabbi Milton Steinberg referred to it in A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem (1945). Critics of this movement accused it of promoting ‘narrow-minded ethnic chauvinism and ideological intolerance’.
These debates over Jewish self-hatred continued to the end of the 1970s but eventually died down, losing their force and urgency. But the concept reemerged with new polemical force in the 1980s in debates over Israel, debates which eventually spread to virtually every other western Jewish community.
In the United States, Glenn says, giving financial and moral support to Israel came to constitute ‘the existential definition of American Jewishness’. Which meant that the opposite was also true: criticism of Israel came to constitute the existential definition of ‘Jewish self-hatred’. So writers like Philip Roth were vilified as self-haters for not wanting to put pro-Israelism at the centre of their lives and left-wing Jews like the controversial journalist I. F. Stone were similarly derided for their ‘weakness’ for universalism.
The sharpness of the US exchanges was not mirrored in Britain, and even though Jewish criticism of Israel grew particularly from the 1982 Lebanon war on, the term ‘Jewish self-hater’ was rarely used. It is only relatively recently that Britain has caught up with the United States and Israel in this regard.
The self-hatred accusation ...has moved ...to embrace whole classes of people whose one common denominator is ...their willingness to connive in [Israel's] delegitimisation out of a misguided sense of guilt for what Jews have done to the Palestinians.
Both of these accusations come together in the contempt with which the Israeli promoters of the 1993 Oslo Accords are now held... Examples are legion.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a major promoter of such views, published an article by Kenneth Levin of the Harvard Medical School, which seeks to explain how Israelis duped themselves about Oslo: ‘the phenomenon of segments of the community embracing the indictments of the besiegers and seeking relief through self-criticism and self-reform recurs constantly in the history of the Jewish Diaspora. […] some have seen it as a specifically Jewish pathology, a unique Jewish self-hatred.’
Steven Plaut, professor of business administration at Haifa University, asks: ‘Who […] could have dreamed that the fulfilment and realisation of Zionism would be accompanied by the emergence of the most malignant manifestations of Israeli self-hatred and Jewish anti-Semitism?’ In online journal Nativ, Shlomo Sharan, professor emeritus in psychology at Tel Aviv University, argues that the ‘“new” self-hatred […] preaches that living in Israel is immoral because Jewry stole the land from the Arabs’.
It would appear from these and many other writers that self-hating Jews, whether in Israel or the Jewish Diaspora, are not just responsible for taking Israel down the wrong path at Oslo but threaten the very existence of the Jewish people.
Netta Kohn Dor-Shav, a US-born clinical psychologist now at Bar Ilan University in Israel, warns: ‘It is fair to say that the plague of Jewish self-hatred is more dangerous for the survival of the Jewish people than any outside threat.’ In a paper for the Ariel Center for Policy Research, titled ‘The Ultimate Enemy — Jews Against Jews’, she says: ‘This self-hatred fuels a vicious cycle that can lead to disaster and dissolution of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.’
The strength of feeling about the ‘self-hatred’ accusation burst into the open on both sides of the Atlantic early in 2007. In the United States, the New York Times brought to public attention growing controversy about a pamphlet by Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, Director of the Institute for Jewish Culture and the Arts at Indiana University, titled ‘Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism’, published in December 2006 by the American Jewish Committee (publisher of Kurt Lewin’s 1942 Jewish self-hatred paper), one of America’s leading Jewish defence and advocacy groups, which has become increasingly vociferous in its defence of Israel over the last decade. In Rosenfeld’s own words, the essay takes ‘a hard look at Jewish authors whose statements go well beyond what most reasonable people would see as legitimate criticism of Israel and who call into question the very essence of the Jewish state and its right to continued existence.’ Rosenfeld made no explicit accusation of self-hatred against his ‘progressive’ Jewish targets. But many people believed that was exactly what his text implied...
In Britain, a network of a hundred or so progressive Jews critical of Israel’s policies for abusing human rights launched Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in February 2007. They signed a declaration of principles, published in The Times, the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle, asserting their right to speak out and arguing that established Jewish organisations fail to represent the diversity of views among the Jewish population, especially on Israel, and inviting others to sign. This provoked a storm of vitriolic criticism from many Jews...
...Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips called the signatories ‘Jews for genocide’ in her online diary on 8 February, and ‘the British arm of the pincer of self-destruction’ in the Jewish Chronicle on 16 February. And in an obvious reference to Jewish self-haters through the ages she wrote: ‘One of the most painful aspects of all of the Jewish tragedy is that, throughout the unending history of Jewish persecution — from the medieval Christian converts to Marx and beyond — Jews have figured, for a variety of reasons, as prominent accomplices of those who wished to destroy the Jewish people. These signatories are firmly in that lamentable tradition.’
... Professor Robert Wistrich, who now heads the Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University, speaks of Jewish self-hatred as ‘a pathological phenomenon’ and Jewish self-haters as being ‘driven by hate and anger against their own people’. Interviewed for his institution’s website, Wistrich excoriates ‘Israeli and Jewish intellectuals who think Israel is to blame for all the problems in the Middle East and even in the world in general. […] They rant on about the Jewish lobby, the Christian lobby, the foreign policy of the United States. Those are often worse than Arab anti-Zionists. In fact I prefer an open-minded Arab intellectual, even if he or she is anti-Israel, to the Chomskys, the Finkelsteins and Ilan Pappes of this world for whom I have no respect at all. They are much more dogmatic, sarcastic, narcissistic and self-righteous than most Arabs I know.’
Edward Alexander, professor emeritus in English at Washington University, [co-edited] ... a book of essays with Paul Bogdanor, "The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders". Interviewed about the book he said: ‘The rhapsodising over Islamic suicide bombers that one finds in such Jewish haters of Israel as Canada’s Michael Neumann or England’s Jacqueline Rose, breaks new ground in the long history of Jewish self-hatred’.
Writing about IJV in The Jewish Chronicle, Liberal Rabbi Sidney Brichto called them ‘enemies of the Jewish people’ who ‘must be condemned’. ‘The time for debates between Jews over Israel is over.’ Wicked enemies and worse than Arabs: can self-hating Jews sink any lower?...
...Melanie Phillips: ‘The history of the Jewish people has always been punctuated by Jews with a troubled relationship with their own ethnic identity who have gone along with or even become the prime instigators — see Marx or Freud, for example — of diabolical calumnies against their own people’.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, Director of the AJC’s Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, tells us: ‘The Jewish intellectuals’ […] crusade against Israel is less about justice for the Palestinians than about coming to terms with their own tortured Jewish identity’. He speaks of ‘their effective alienation from Jewish life, Jewish values and Jewish communities’.
Similar sentiments were expressed by key figures associated with the Engage website (set up by a group of mostly left of centre Jewish academics to combat the proposed academic boycott of Israel and unmask people alleged to downplay the strength of current anti-Semitism) in an open letter to the organisers of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), excoriating them for appearing to justify Hezbollah’s anti-Semitic statements — vehemently denied by JfJfP.
Shalom Lappin, professor of computational linguistics at UCL, Eve Garrard, a senior lecturer at Keele University, and Norman Geras, professor emeritus in politics at the University of Manchester, wrote:
‘We are confident that when the history of this period is written and the widespread loss of political reason that characterises our age is finally recognised, your group will be properly consigned to a footnote in the long and dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility that has polluted the margins of European Jewry over the generations’