Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jewish Self-Hatred

It's common in anti-racism to talk about internalized oppression. When Bill Cosby gave this controversial speech, a lot of people, including many anti-racists, said it was a manifestation of internalized prejudice. In talk about the Log Cabin Republicans, it's not uncommon to hear that they're voting against their interests as gay people. These, I think, are complicated examples, but there are other examples that are considerably less complicated. Phyllis Schlafly was, at one point, perhaps the most prominent anti-feminist. "By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape." Then there's Ted Haggard and Larry Craig. Haggard has been to rehab a few times to try to get over his habit of having sex with men; Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in a airport mens' room; yet both are outrageously homophobic. Although it can, at times, be difficult to address, internalized oppression is an important concept in anti-racism. For some reason, when it comes to Jews, the rhetoric is different. I don't come across anti-racists who would insist that other Blacks should be ignored because of Cosby. I do come across anti-racists who think they can choose who are the "good Jews" whose views should be promoted by anti-racists.

And I do come across anti-racists who would deny that Jews suffer from internalized antisemitism. Contemporary examples of antisemitism in Jews are not hard to find. Perhaps the most dangerous antisemite today considers himself an "ex-Jew." (I won't name him, because that would be an invitation for his participation here.) Not too long ago, I stumbled across this article, wherein Jews are "the enemy of the people." Self-identified anti-racists often defend and even repeat such expressions on the grounds that it is unimpeachable because the source is a Jew. Oddly, I am never seen as unimpeachable.

Anthony Lerman writes in the Guardian on Jewish self-hatred (via). First, he claims it doesn't exist.
If anything finally shows up the concept as bogus and bankrupt, it should be the use of it against Goldstone.
Now, for the record, I buy Dan Fleshler's take on Goldstone's psychology. [Update: here's the link.] I'm not going to argue that Goldstone is a self-hating Jew, but Goldstone is merely the occasion for Lerman's article, not the point. After saying that self-hatred in Jews is "bogus and bankrupt," Lerman goes on to say Zionists may be self-hating Jews. That's pretty confused.
This is sheer intellectual laziness, or an ideological or political predisposition dressed up in academic language, or both. In fact, the way all of the key historical figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who are used to prove the existence of Jewish self-hatred – [Otto] Weininger, Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus, Heinrich Heine – related to their Jewishness has been shown to be far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation. Moreover, the perceived antisemitism in their writings was mirrored in the writings of Zionists, especially the founder of political Zionism Theodor Herzl. He painted the weak ghetto Jew, in his 1897 essay "Mauschel", as "a distortion of the human character, unspeakably mean and repellent", interested only in "mean profit". Far from being the antithesis of Jewish self-hatred, it is arguable that Zionism was actually a display of it.
The major thrust of Lerman's article is about who gets to speak for Jews. Given the charges he levels at Zionism, it's hard to avoid the impression that he seems to think he does, but explicitly, he doesn't think the Jewish community should be able to silence him with the "a way of delegitimising the views of Jews with whom you violently disagree." He's half-right; truly, no one gets to speak for all Jews. All Jews are equally entitled to their own individual views, even if those views are ugly antisemitism or just plain wrong. But then, neither can contrarian voices, like Lerman's, be given prominence by non-Jewish institutions like the Guardian to speak over the majority or plurality views of Jews worldwide. Sometimes, we call that colonialism.

Neither should people be given space to spout nonsense. Weininger, for example, was genuinely self-hating. Lerman's claim otherwise is based on the notion that self-hating is either absolute or not at all. If a Jew doesn't aim to be Hitler, so it seems, they're not self-hating. As Lerman writes,
Jewish self-hatred means rejecting everything about yourself that is Jewish because it is so hateful to you.
Here's a bit from Wikipedia:
In a separate chapter, Weininger, himself a Jew who had converted to Christianity in 1902, analyzes the archetypical Jew as feminine, and thus profoundly irreligious, without true individuality (soul), and without a sense of good and evil. Christianity is described as "the highest expression of the highest faith", while Judaism is called "the extreme of cowardliness". Weininger decries the decay of modern times, and attributes much of it to feminine, and thus Jewish, influences. By Weininger's reckoning everyone shows some femininity, and what he calls "Jewishness".
Here's what Richard Newman says (in a series I recommend, despite differences) about Weininger:
In 1903, Otto Weininger, a baptized Jew, published Sex and Character, a highly influential book in which he rendered the conceptual parallels I have just outlined in concrete biological and psychopathological terms. Human psychology, Weininger argued, existed along a continuum running from the Jewish mind on one end to the Aryan mind on the other, and this continuum, he asserted, runs parallel to another one, defined by masculinity and femininity. The connections Weininger makes between these two continuums are many. Neither Jews nor women, he says, possess true creativity; both are congenitally dishonest, lack a genuine sense of humor, and each exists without fully believing in the authenticity of that existence.
To call this "far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation" is odd, to say the least. Especially when Weininger was claiming that Jews are congenitally self-hating! His definition is so strict that one could declare Jews to be uniformly, morally inferior, but still not be considered "self-hating" because of a love of bagels.

Also, although Lerman is right that there is some similarity, what Zionists said was quite different from what Weininger said. (But again, odd that Lerman would quote Herzl as saying, "a distortion of the human character, unspeakably mean and repellent," when Lerman is intent on denying Jewish self-hatred exists.) While Weininger converted to Christianity to try to overcome his congenital Jewish inferiority (and eventually committed suicide), Zionists claimed it was a consequence of Diaspora. As I'd put it today, though I'm not certain whether Herzl would have agreed, a consequence of Jewish oppression in which Jews were (are) dependent on antisemitic neighbors for insuring Jewish safety.

And that's the real rub. When Jews are not taken seriously on Jewish oppression - and Lerman is part of this process as he is often presented as a "good Jew" in order to silence those of us who are "bad Jews" - our options for insuring our safety are either to conform to outside injunctions that immediately subordinate us or to try to separate ourselves from that position of needing allies. In the case of the Goldstone report, originating from an institutionally antisemitic UNHRC, these issues of Jewish autonomy are poignant. I won't say Lerman is a self-hating Jew, because, like all ad hominem attacks, it would be pointless. Besides, I think all of us have various kinds of harmful, internalized beliefs, so that it would be pointless to single Lerman out that way. Even if, in another article, he were to say something truly offensive, I would hope (though it is, admittedly, difficult in such cases) to see him sympathetically as a victim of a colonial oppression. Despite being quite clearly wrong in a very basic way he's entitled to his views, but it remains vital that Jews generally are entitled to critique that which affects us, especially antisemitism, regardless of the source. Lerman's article is an attack on that basic right.

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