February 8, 2007 10:00 AM
There is one charge against Jews who criticise Israel that seems to me
particularly misguided, and that is the charge that we are self-hating Jews.
Whenever confronted with this challenge, I am always inclined to ask: "What
kind of Jew do you want me to be?"
For those of us who are parents, we only have to turn to our relationship
with our children to recognise how useless, not to say harmful to them, and
rightly distrusted by them, we would become if, when we recognise that we
have made a serious blunder which affects them deeply, we refused to
criticise (and indeed sometimes to hate) ourselves. Criticism and dissent
are an essential part of love. In the film version of Roald Dahl's James and
the Giant Peach, there is a terrifying moment where one of the two monstrous
aunts, her distorted face held in grotesque close-up, turns on the little
boy and says: "How dare you disagree with me!"
Rather than attacking Jews who criticise Israel for self-hatred, we should
therefore be asking ourselves what love - a love that is creative rather
than self-deceiving and suffocating - can and should bear to tolerate in
itself. To demand only love is autocratic. At the very least such autocracy
- the demand for one line only - goes against the spirit of Judaism which is
endlessly open to the different meanings and interpretations invited by the
I hate neither myself nor Israel when I criticise the policies of the state.
I hate what the Israeli government is doing, and has been doing for a very
long time, to the Palestinians and to itself. At the memorial for Rabin this
November, David Grossman mounted one of his strongest and most despairing
criticisms of his government, at the same time as he described his love for
Israel as "overwhelming", "unequivocal" and "complex". Is Grossman a
When Hannah Arendt was accused by Gershom Scholem of lacking Ahavat Yisrael,
or love of the Jewish people, after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem
in 1963, she famously responded by citing these words spoken to her in a
conversation with Golda Meir: "I do not believe in God, I believe in the
Arendt was dismayed that this great people who had once believed in God, and
"believed in Him in such a way that its love was greater than its fear", was
now to believe only in itself. "What good," she asked, "can come out of
that?" Those who charge us with self-hatred are asking for a dangerous
idealisation that robs us of all accountability.
In his recent book, The Seven Sins: A Partial List, Israeli philosopher Aviad Kleinberg adds the eighth sin of self-righteousness, and gives as his
example Meir's famous claim that she would never forgive the Palestinians
for what they were forcing her to do to them.
Traditionally, self-hatred refers to the internalisation of anti-Semitic
stereotypes by the Jew. In fact we can see this process taking place in one
of the founding myths of the Israeli nation: in its hostility to the
diaspora Jew as weak and abject, and its glorification of the new, strong,
Of course, the history of persecution and the trauma of the genocide in
Europe led to a belief in the right of the Jewish people to national
self-determination and militant self-defence. But one could also argue that
the hateful image of Jewish passivity, and fear of that image, has never
gone away and that the attempt to defy it is still playing its part in
Israel's disproportionate aggression towards the Palestinians.
"As soon as the Jewish people starts to walk with its head held high,
upright," stated one of the Gaza evacuees in 2005, "the Arabs will lower
their heads." Why should one people's dignity be at the cost of another?
In the past few weeks, the pressures not to criticise Israel have taken a
new and alarming turn. Tony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish
Policy Research, has been castigated for saying that "Zionism and the Jewish
state had been failures", and there has been pressure for his dismissal. In
fact he was misreported, since he spoke of the "failures" of Zionism not of
Zionism as failure.
And a Jewish Chronicle leader has accused Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle
East editor, of partiality for including in an internal briefing, amongst
other things, a reference to the "non-stop pressures of the Israeli
occupation" on the Palestinians. Have there been no failures in Zionism? Is
Bowen's observation not simply true?
In such an atmosphere, I am proud to be part of Independent Jewish Voices.
Our desire is to foster a new atmosphere of openness and debate. To defend
Israel uncritically is a form of denial based on fear.
To anyone who wishes to charge us with self-hatred, I would reply that it is
not those who can withstand the pressure of internal and external criticism
who hate themselves.
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