Long History of Jewish Self-Loathing
As a long-time Zionist, I was exposed years ago to Jews who seem to think Zionists are evil incarnate. I have resisted using the term, self-loathing, to describe these members of the tribe. Guess I just don’t like to think about people hating themselves.
Jewish self-hatred has not attracted an enormous amount of attention among the academic research community. A recent Google Scholar search (2 April 2016) resulted in a list of 13,600 articles and books: there were 80 publication before 1950, 370 items between 1950 and 1969, about 4050 between 1970 and 1999, and 8290 published pieces from 2000 until 2015. Some of these numbers may be somewhat inflated as they may not concern Jewish self-hate per se, but only refer to it while in fact studying another group or a slightly different topic.
I wonder if anyone but Jews care about self-hating Jews. Well, perhaps the antisemitic non-Jew can be said to show an interest in self-loathing Jews because they can be exploited to bolster whatever form antisemitism is taking at the moment. Today, for example, that would be in the war against the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
In 2010, clinical psychologist Steven Baum wrote a short piece outlining a brief history of Jewish self-hate. Here are some examples:
- Josephus Flavius records the murder of 50,000 Jews of all ages in 68 C.E. by two Roman legions under orders from the Jewish governor of Alexandria, Tiberius Julius Alexander.
- Theodor Lessing wrote a book in 1930 in which “Viennese journalist Arthur Trebitsch likened Judaism to leprosy.”
- Heinrich Heine, the poet, called Judaism “not a religion, but a disgrace,” and writer Moritz Saphir said that “Judaism is a birth defect, corrected by baptismal operation.” Both later converted to Christianity. (My note: At the end of his life, Heine reconnected with his Judaism with pride and perhaps that is what allows him to be honoured in Israel today.)
- Karl Krause, called an anti-journalist because of his brilliant satirical attacks on journalism and journalists, has long been considered a self-hating Jew. A most biting comment he once made was: “The blood that they have was not siphoned from the body of a Christian, but rather from the human intellect.” (My note: The book, The Anti-Journalist, by Paul Reitter calls into question whether he was a self-hating Jew, suggesting that he was critiquing the assimilation of German Jews into German society.)
- Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “Even the greatest of Jewish thinkers is no more than talented (myself for instance).”
In the ancient world, one section of the Jewish population invited a foreign power to murder their co-religionists from a different sector of the population, as per the first example above and also the Hanuka story. Today we seem to have returned to this vile Jewish antisemitism in the form of Jewish organizations and prominent individuals who implore foreign governments to boycott Israel. While they do not call for murder, they do call for economic strangulation of Israel, Israel being today’s excuse for the “blood libel”. Just as the Jews of the intelligentsia in Europe downplayed their uniqueness and talents (to put it mildly) today’s self-loathing Jew scorns the achievements of Israel as nothing to be proud of against the backdrop of her imagined crimes, “crimes” the UN loves to vote on ad nauseum.
Baum talks about the tendency to associate Jewish self-loathing with the psychological phenomenon known as identification with the aggressor, with attempts to assimilate with the surrounding majority population in order to belong, and with emotional insecurity. These are not mutually exclusive issues and they are certainly not unique to the Jews. The research is still sparse and underdeveloped.
Understanding the psychological and sociological processes behind what is often referred to as “self-hatred” among Jews would help us understand how to combat it today and how to prevent it in the next generation. It might also help us come up with a term that accurately represents the phenomenon. I hope the research starts to catch up with the need.
Baum, S.K. (2010). Jewish antisemites? Journal of Antisemitism, go to page 163. – no longer available online but I have an ecopy if anyone is interested.
As a Jew living in India I see some of the same among Hindus. I try to understand it. The model I think about is autoimmune response, where suddenly the body sees its own cells and foreign and wants to get rid of them. That doesn’t really explain it, but the model helps me explore it.