PALESTINA  DOSSIER

DOSSIER INDEX • CIE-INDEX

The myth of self-hatred

Jacqueline Rose


February 8, 2007 10:00 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jacqueline_rose/2007/02/hold_jewish_voices_6.html

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 Bible.

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 self-hating Jew?

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 Jewish people."

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, Israeli Jew.

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.

Click here for a full list of articles in the Independent Jewish Voices debate: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/category/independent_jewish_voices/

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jacqueline_rose/2007/02/hold_jewish_voices_6.html
DOSSIER INDEX • CIE-INDEX

Web MasterUPDATE:  February 14, 2007