NATIV Online        

 Vol. 8 / Oct. 2005 / Tishrei 5766           A JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND THE ARTS


Assimilation, Normalcy and Jewish Self-Hatred

Shlomo Sharan

 About two centuries ago, Enlightened Jews (Maskilim) in Western Europe acceded to the claim made by non-Jews that Jews were abnormal or deviant. The message of the Gentile world to the Jews was that only when you change your behavior and appearance would you be granted entry into European society. Since that time, the majority of Jews have assimilated culturally into their social environment. But, many of them also adopted the notion that other Jews, or for that matter the entire Jewish people, are not “normal”. Some Jews expressed attitudes and opinions that are known as Jewish “self-hatred” or as Jewish anti-Semitism. Both of these latter phenomena, of Jewish self-hatred and the notion that Jews are not normal, are no longer peripheral as they were at one time, and it is important to recognize that they occupy a prominent position in the roster of antagonistic ideas with which contemporary Jewry must cope (Gilman, 1986; Kaufman, 1936; Lessing, 2004/1930).


Dimensions and Types of Assimilation

Two dimensions of assimilation can be identified, each of which has two or three subtypes, respectively. The two dimensions are cultural and national assimilation, and their five subtypes are assimilation with or without Jews believing that other Jews or the Jewish people are deviant, and with Jewish self-hatred. The famous scholar of Jewish intellectual-national-religious history, Yehezkel Kaufman, wrote about these two major dimensions of assimilation as early as 1930 (Kaufman, 1930-32, vol.1, 439 ff). Both the sense of Jewry being abnormal, and the phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred, can best be understood against the background of assimilation.

Cultural assimilation, unaccompanied by national assimilation, has two subtypes (items 1 and 2 as presented below), whereas the dimensions of cultural and national assimilation that manifest themselves at one and the same time (in the same person) have three subtypes (items 3, 4 and 5 in the model below). The reason for the lack of symmetry between the two dimensions of assimilation is because the phenomenon of cultural assimilation in and of itself, without its national counterpart, is not accompanied in real life by a sense of other Jews being abnormal and by Jewish self-hatred, although one cannot completely rule out exceptions to this rule. It is also the case that national assimilation is always attended by cultural assimilation, which is its natural precursor. Jews who reject their identity as belonging to a national or ethnic group have long assimilated culturally into the social environment.

The dimensions and subtypes of assimilation are, therefore, as follows:

  • Cultural assimilation:

  • Assimilation through the adoption of some or many elements of non-Jewish culture without relinquishing Jewish national identity and without any sense of Jewish abnormality.

  • Cultural assimilation without relinquishing Jewish national identity,

  • Assimilation that is accompanied by a sense of Jewish abnormality and by a search for normality. This subtype has three further subdivisions discussed later.


Cultural and National Assimilation

  1. Cultural and national assimilation without any sense of Jewish abnormality.

  2. Cultural and national assimilation with a sense of Jewish abnormality and with a search for normality.

  3. Cultural and national assimilation with a sense of Jewish abnormality that entails a rejection of the Jews or even antagonism toward them,

  4. Toward Judaism or toward Israel.

  5. The latter subtype has been identified as Jewish self-hatred or Jewish anti-Semitism (Demakovsky, 1978:Gilman, 1986).

In the author’s estimation, these five types of assimilation form a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is the least intrusive or corrosive form of assimilation, and 5 is the most severely intrusive and corrosive type. As yet, there is no empirical proof that these types do in fact constitute a scale of the degrees of assimilation.

Cultural assimilation type 1 serves as the basis and background for the other types of assimilation presented above. Jews can be profoundly assimilated culturally without entertaining any notion of Jewish abnormality and without any sign of self-hatred. A sense of Jewish abnormality undoubtedly provides fertile soil for the emergence of Jewish self-hatred, but in many cases it is not accompanied by expressions of self-hatred toward other Jews as persons or as a group or nation.

The model presented above does not mention religious assimilation. In the contemporary world, religious conversion by Jews to Christianity or to Islam is quite rare. That is due to the far-reaching secularization of Western societies where assimilation simply does not require religious conversion as a prerequisite for social-economic acceptance. Very few Jews remain in the Moslem world. Religious conversion among Jews was rampant in 19th and early 20th century Germany where it was demanded as an entry permit to many occupations, professions and positions in government service. Only when that form of discrimination against Jews was annulled did conversion in Europe come to a halt. Intermarriage remains the main avenue of religious “changeover” that continues to be active in Western countries. In such cases, the offspring of an intermarried couple frequently will follow the father, whether he is a Jew or a non-Jew. Intermarried couples may attempt to remain disconnected from religious affiliation to circumvent any decision that might generate conflict between them. Offspring of intermarried couples may also encounter the need to determine at some time if they are Jews or not. A variety of events or family figures can intervene over the course of years to influence that decision. Some families celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays so as not to “impose” a religion or a specific identity on their children. Jewry’s minority status in the Golah makes it more likely that the offspring of intermarried couples will not be Jews.



Assimilation is a universal phenomenon that is natural and foreseeable. Cultural assimilation involves the adoption of cultural elements from some other group or society such as its language, dress and other features from amongst the thousand patterns of behavior typical of the time and place. Only a small minority of Jews in the Golah read and understand Hebrew, so that Jewry outside (and to no small extent even inside) Israel does not have access to its own written culture except through translation. Jews who attend synagogue also number among the assimilated, as do Jews who have become alienated from it. The extent of a given person’s assimilation is not directly dependent upon his or her religious convictions. Cultural assimilation manifests itself among religious as well as among non-religious Jews. In Germany before the advent of Nazism, many religious Jews were completely immersed in German culture, as were non-religious Jews. From that point of view, German Jewry, and later certain sectors of Polish and even Russian Jewry, can be cited as a precedent for what would later appear among Jews in the United States. Many religious Jews in the United States live as totally American. They view themselves, and wish to be perceived by others, as American patriots in terms of their national identity, without necessarily rejecting their Jewish historical-ethnic identity. Joseph Lieberman, a religious Jew, was recently (2000) a candidate for the vice-presidency of the United States. Many American Jews consider their contribution to the UJA or some other fund that assists Jews in Israel as sufficient demonstration of their Jewish national allegiance. Monetary contributions or investments in Israel can be evidence of the extent to which the national assimilation of American Jewry has not yet been fully consummated. By all accounts, the financial support of Israel by Jews in the United States is declining rapidly, as is the support for Jewish organizations and institutions within the United States.


Conscious and Unconscious Assimilation

Many Jews assimilate without being aware of what is happening to them or of what will happen to their children as Jews. Perhaps one of the more grave manifestations of Jewish assimilation in our time is that Jewish identity does not occupy a salient place in the consciousness of many Jews. Nevertheless, assimilation cannot be totally beyond the awareness of its subjects, regardless of the extent to which Jews might ignore it, knowingly or unknowingly. At many “choice points” in life, people must make existential decisions that affect their future as Jews: Will they espouse the norms and manners of the Gentile environment, or will they invest energy in resisting them, and to what degree? In recent years it has become more obvious that the very same question can be asked about many Jews who live in Israel.

Jewish history affords many instances in which Jews resisted the adoption of Gentile mores and manners that threatened to undermine or destroy Jewish culture. Yet, Jewish history also demonstrates the powerful assimilative power of the Galut that thoroughly transformed Jewish life, and often consumed it to the point where it was on the verge of collapse (Kaufman, 1930-32; Vago, 1981). One of the significant signs of assimilation was, and is, the strikingly high percentage of intermarriage in the United States (Jewish population of approximately 5¼ million) where it encompasses about 55% of all marriages of Jews, and 40% of all Jewish marriages in Buenos Aires, Argentina (with a Jewish population of about 187,000 Jews).


Assimilation as Ideology

Alongside the often-unconscious assimilation of many Jews there emerged an ideology of assimilation. That view highlighted the notion that the United States and other Western democratic nations fulfilled all of the conditions necessary for facilitating the cultural and political assimilation of Jews into the non-Jewish environment without any requirement of religious conversion. That point of view was succinctly formulated by Rabbi Jacob Agus in one of his many statements on the subject published in 1954: is altogether possible for the American Jew to achieve that fullness of integration with “the people of the land” that was denied to the Jews of Central Europe. Here the Jewish immigrant may well strive to become part not only of the “political” state that is America, but of that popular matrix of sentiments, ideals, memories and dreams, traditions and even prejudices that constitute the American nation (Agus, 1954, 505).

In our day, it is no longer necessary to articulate this point of view that has subsequently become the unequivocally accepted doctrine of Jewish life in the United States and elsewhere. That doctrine asserts that Gentile society has ceased to constitute Exile for Jewry. The condition of being in Exile, in earlier periods of history, resulted from the forced alienation of the Jews in many societies in the West and in the Middle East. Assimilation has proceeded to the point where Jewry in the Western world no longer perceives its condition as one where it has lost or relinquished its ethnic-national identity (Halpern, 1956; Kaufman, 1930-32). Jews have become an inherent part of Gentile society and, consequently, they participate automatically in its national identity.


Emigration from Israel as an Expression of Assimilation

Thousands of Israel-born children grew up with a minimal positive consciousness of their Jewishness, many with decidedly anti-religious attitudes. Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation is taken for granted, and it seems that no small numbers of them are quite willing to leave Israel, with their children, and to live in other countries. In the country where they settle, these émigrés continue their lives as if nothing fundamental has changed in the wake of having left their country, with its Jewish majority that controls its own public institutions, to reside in a country where they constitute a distinct minority. Of course, that minority has no political representation because most nations do not have, or may not even countenance, the existence of ethnically based political parties. Recent newscasts in Israel noted that Israelis living in Germany resented the fact that they were forced to pay a Jewish tax to the German government because the monies fund the salaries of religious functionaries (rabbis, cantors, etc.). Clearly, the sabras do not comprehend the social-national condition of Jews outside of Israel as living in a state of Galut. Nor can they perceive themselves as part of a religious community, which is their publicly acceptable status however they may conceive of themselves. Galut Jews are perceived as abnormal by expatriate Israelis because Galut Jews are not fully integrated into the society in which they live. Their insistence on maintaining separate religious institutions emphasizes their unassimilated position in the body politic of the nation, from the point of view of the group with political and social sovereignty. Much time will elapse before the sabras living outside Israel understand that they too have become part and parcel of “Galut Jewry”, that they have ceased to be part of the sovereign majority, and that they are now confronted by the very same dilemmas with which Galut Jewry always had to cope. These are quite similar to the dilemmas that confronted Jewry in the Exile for many centuries. Willy-nilly, this state of affairs brings the expatriate sabras to the point where they will find it important to join their Jewish brethren and become part of the Jewish community “in Exile”.


Assimilation and Intra-Jewish Conflicts

Assimilation has generated conflicts between Jewish groups with varying degrees of cultural and national integration into the non-Jewish society. In any given city in the West with a significant number of Jews, one will find all five types of assimilation. On occasion, groups or individuals who advanced far along the scale of assimilation have expressed opposition to other Jewish groups who are perceived as being “too Jewish”. The latter are viewed as placing obstacles on the road to complete acceptance by the Gentile environment by reminding Jews and non-Jews alike that the Jews are a separate, identifiable national-ethnic group. Assimilated Jews wish to be accepted by non-Jews as patriotic citizens of the country, and as such they are quite different from the “separatists” who cling to their tribal Jewish identity and whose assimilation is restricted primarily to the cultural realm. Inside Israel these Jews wish to be identified as having a cosmopolitan ethic that derives from an earlier socialist orientation in contrast with the “nationalistic” or “chauvinistic” Jews whose views stem from a repugnant militarism.

In the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, two outstanding examples of the anti-nationalism of assimilated Jews were two well-known figures in their day, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, and Lessing Rosenwald, whose family owned the Sears-Roebuck chain. They, and their colleagues from the American Council for Judaism headed by Rabbi Elmo Berger, fought a relentless war in favor of a universalist non-national Judaism against Zionism and against some religious groups. In today’s world, we have witnessed the emergence of Jewish groups inside and outside of Israel who are heirs to the so-called “universalist” tradition and who strongly oppose Jews who are allied with the national strivings of the Jewish people (Belfer, 2004; Schoenfeld, 2004; Sharan, 2003).

The primary struggle within the Jewish people today is no longer between religion and secularism as it was during the past few centuries, until lately. Secularism has become firmly rooted in the Jewish people in our time, and is now a permanent part of Jewry’s social reality. There is a solid basis for the observation that American Jewry is more secularized than any other ethnic group residing in the United States, such as the Italians, Germans, Irish, and so forth (Ritterband, 2000). The struggle presently going on within the Jewish people is between the forces of assimilation and the lack of involvement by many Jews in Jewish life, secular or religious, on the one hand, and on the other hand the forces in and outside of Israel invested in Jewish historical-ethnic-national-religious survival, culturally and politically.

The millions of Jews who arrived in Israel over the past 54 years brought with them their way of life and attitudes acquired in their countries of birth where they were profoundly influenced by the processes of assimilation that prevailed there. In Israel they were not suddenly reborn, imbibed with the spirit of modern Hebrew national culture. Decades will pass before the population of Israel will participate in the Hebrew-national civilization that developed first in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then in Israel over the past 80 years. In fact, relatively few Jews generate, and are consumers of, the written Hebraic culture of Israel because Israel is a nation of “new olim” (immigrants) socially and linguistically. Furthermore, many Jews who came to Israel before 1948 brought with them a socialist ideology whose main features are still evident among politically Leftist groups, including their anti-religious attitudes (C’na’ani, 1976; Dotan, 1966; Kantzler, 1979; Lord, 2000; Sharan and Birnbaum, 1999; Schoenfeld, 2004; Shiloah, 1991; Stav, 1997). These attitudes endure in the Israel society of today and are not likely to vanish in the foreseeable future (Belfer, 2004; Bat Ye`or, 2004; Epstein, 2005; Karsch, 2000).



Several of the subtypes of assimilation that appear above (types 2, 4 and 5) refer to those Jews who entertain the notion that other Jews, or the entire Jewish people, are not “sufficiently” normal. This notion, expressed by non-Jews or by Jews, actually reflects one or more of the following views:

  • Jews as individuals are psychologically vulnerable to abnormality,

  • Jews as a group are abnormal because they remain separated from their social environment (in countries outside of Israel) and do not disappear in the wake of assimilation,

  • The behavior of Israel as a nation is not normal compared to the standards of behavior accepted by the other nation-states in the world.

The distinction between normality as a characterization of an objective condition of Jewish life in the Galut or of Israel’s behavior as a nation, compared to that of other nations, and as a quality of personality, is a decisive distinction frequently ignored when people become embroiled in self-hatred or in anti-Semitism (Kaufman, 1952). Abnormal political behavior of Israel belongs to subtype 2 (see above, page 2) of assimilation unaccompanied by national assimilation.

The idea that Jews are unbalanced or deviant quite possibly stems from anti-Semitic stereotypes. Generations of Jew-hatred and persecution embedded its mark on many Jews and implanted in them the belief that the entire Jewish people was abnormal due to its strange status in the world. One manifestation of this view appeared in the discipline of Psychiatry. Famous figures in Psychiatry, including Jews, adopted the basic assumption from German and French psychiatrists that Jews were particularly vulnerable to mental illness. This idea was accepted by some of the “stars” of late 19th and early 20th century psychiatry such as Charcot, Kraft-Ebbing, Bleuler and others (Gilman, 2000). In the political domain, Sir Alan Cunningham, the High Commissioner for Palestine during the British mandate, announced to the British government in 1947 that the Jews were psychologically abnormal as reflected in the irrational ideas of Zionism. Not long before the establishment of Israel, the behavior of Jews devoted to achieving Jewish national independence was branded as abnormal compared to the behavior of Jews who did not support Zionism. Cunningham could not possibly have foreseen that his assertion about Jewish abnormality would echo, some 40 to 50 years later, in the post-Zionist ideology of some Israelis (Karsch, 2000, 187).

In the modern era, Jews sought to be normal in the sense of being accepted into European and American culture. Jews were not content with being different and not part and parcel of Western society. Groups of Jews clung to the notion that, if they are considered to be different, they are not normal. Members of other ethnic groups, with or without a country of their own, located in places anywhere from Russia to South America, and who developed cultures that are distinctly different from the main stream of Western civilization, never perceived themselves as abnormal. True, they do not bear the historical inheritance of the Jews.

It is reasonable to conjecture that the drive to demonstrate successful integration into the non-Jewish environment motivated many Jews to achieve excellence in a wide range of fields in Western society, in commerce, science, the professions, the arts, and so forth. In the annuls of almost all other ethnic groups that immigrated to the United States (Ritterband, in preparation), the saga of success of so many Jews in the United States is unprecedented and unparalleled. Ironically, Jews sought to excel in their fields to be more completely integrated into their social environment while their extraordinary achievements themselves clearly reflected how different they were from other groups.

As late as the 19th century, the Christian accusation levied against the Jews as Christ killers did not lead Jews to believe that they should be ashamed of being Jewish. The loss of religious-ethnic-national self-esteem on the part of the Jews over the past 200 years in the wake of persecution and assimilation has impacted on Jews in the form of making them more sensitive to the terrible effects of anti-Semitism.

Nor can we disregard the horrendous impact of the Holocaust. In our day, and it seems for a long time to come, Jews will carry with them the sense that it is not merely difficult to be a Jew, as the Yiddish expression goes (es iz schwer zu sein a Yid), but absolutely dangerous to be Jewish (compare Fackenheim, 1978). That sense has propelled many Jews to strive all the more to become normal in the eyes of Gentile society (Vital, 1999). Assimilation in general seeks to change Jewry’s alleged national abnormality as a people in Exile. Now and then, in addition to Jewry’s abnormal condition as a collectivity, one hears undertones of the earlier assertion about the Jews’ pathological personality as individuals.


The Pathological Search for Normality

During much of the first half of the 20th century, Zionists and non-Zionists alike searched for ways to bring about a greater degree of normalcy for the Jewish people. “Much of the theory of Zionism has been concerned with making the Jews into a normal nation in Palestine like the Gentiles of the lands and the families of the earth.” (Magnes, 1930, in Hertzberg, 1959,. 447) The Hebrew writer, Chaim Hazaz, placed similar ideas in the mouth of Yudke (the Galut Jew), the hero of his story, “The Sermon” (Hazaz, 1946/1976). However, according to Yudke, Jewish abnormality was embodied in Jewry’s lack of control over its own history, as asserted by Zionism. Contrary to the claims of various authors, Zionism was not critical of Jewish culture or of the Jews’ personality and character (Kaufman, 1930-32; 1952). A reform or improvement of Jewish character was not one of the goals of political Zionism.

Many nations around the globe have adopted elements of American material culture. But these nations did not relinquish their unique historical traditions and identity and did not cultivate a sense of being abnormal (Huntington, 1996). The sense of abnormality expressed by Jews inside and outside of Israel is rooted in a palpable loss of historical-national-religious consciousness, in the loss of self esteem as Jews and in the assimilation of Jews into the value systems and views of the non-Jewish world (Kaufman, 1930-32; Sharan, 2002; Sharansky, 2003).


Israel’s Political Behavior as Abnormal

On the level of the individual and of the Jewish people as a historical-social entity, our unequivocal position is that they are completely normal psychologically. Of course the condition of the Jewish people as a nation in Exile was, and still is to a large extent, abnormal because expatriated ethnic groups assimilate completely in their social environments while the Jews thus far have not, due to a confluence of historical-religious-social factors that have been discussed by other authors at length (Kaufman, 1930-32). There is still another, third level of Jewish existence, the level of the abnormality of Israel’s behavior as a sovereign nation. In this author’s view, it is an error to consider the political behavior of a nation as consisting of the sum total of the behaviors of its citizens as individuals or even as groups, or to think that each individual incorporates or represents the behavior of the nation as a whole, as some writers and poets have remarked. The nation as a political unit displays behavioral features that go far beyond, or at least are significantly different than, those features displayed by people as individuals. Even the behavior of an individual while alone at any specific time cannot serve as a basis for predicting just how that person will behave when he/she is in public or a member of a group. The interaction within a nation of groups, governing bodies, organizations and people of varying interests, produce consequences that cannot be anticipated on the basis of our knowledge of any given group or individual, even if that person is the prime minister (except, of course, in nations ruled by a dictator). The behavior of nations can be more readily predicted on the basis of its own earlier behavior as a nation in similar circumstances to those prevailing at a given time. A nation’s behavior can be evaluated as normal or abnormal by comparison to that of other nations. The criterion for evaluating a nation’s behavior can be determined only by reference to the behavior of other nations, and not on the basis of the behavior of individuals or small groups.

The behavior of Israel as a nation has frequently created the distinct impression of being dictated by the demands made upon it by other nations and that, as a result, Israel has not always protected its own citizens or acted in accordance with its best national interests. The more Israel has been influenced by foreign nations, the less it has behaved in a fashion that can be called normal. Europe has warned Israel not to protect itself and its citizens in ways typical of the behavior of other independent and democratic countries because the EU makes demands on Israel that are consistent with its own best interests, not with those of Israel. It is up to Israel to accede to, or reject, these demands in accordance with its most reasoned judgment as to its own best interests. What precisely constitutes a nation’s best interest will always be a subject of controversy in a democratic nation, and the parties to the controversy will invoke every conceivable justification for their decision, explicitly or implicitly.

Even assuming that the citizens of Israel are as normal as the citizens of any other country, the behavior of Israel as a political-national entity can still be considered as abnormal. The following examples illustrate this position:

  1. Israel signed an agreement (the Oslo Agreement) with the leader of a terrorist organization (the PLO) and supplied weapons to its gunmen, after hundreds of Israel’s citizens were murdered by that very organization. Arab terrorists murdered over 1,500 Israeli citizens since the Oslo Agreement.

  2. Israel refrained from attacking the terrorist bases with the intention of eradicating them, and it continues to refrain from actions of that kind to this very day, with the one exception of Operation Defensive Shield.

  3. Large tracts of land are being relinquished to the Palestinian Authority despite the lack of any basis in international law for the notion that Arabs possess a claim to that soil.

  4. Israel is actively participating in the effort of another group of people (who call themselves Palestinians, a term not used before the 1967 war between Israel and Arab nations) to establish a sovereign nation for itself on soil officially allocated by the League of Nations to the Jewish people as the territory for a Jewish homeland. Moreover, Israel persists in this effort at the same time that the PLO/Palestinian Authority continues its murder of Israel’s citizens through terrorist acts and continues to express its uncompromising devotion to the eventual destruction of Israel.

  5. Israel disregards the persistent smuggling of arms by, and through, Egypt into Israel’s territory for the express purpose of arming terrorists operating in Israel’s territory.

  6. Israel remains silent in the face of massive Arab anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda efforts (Bat Ye`or, 2004; Taguieff, 2004). Egypt and the PA are the largest disseminators of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic literature in the world, including the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Arabic translation.

Israel’s behavior as a nation-state in respect to the topics mentioned above, and regarding other subjects of equal importance, contradicts the fundamental principles accepted by the world’s nations as proper behavior for a sovereign state. Israel’s search for normality brings to mind the behavior of Jews in the Galut where, lacking political sovereignty anywhere in the world, they eagerly sought acceptance by their Gentile environment. That approach in the conduct of Israel’s national affairs embroils the nation in a political-existential morass from which it becomes increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves and to restore national dignity to some acceptable level (Shalit, 2004). What Jews pursued in the Galut as individuals, as a community or even as an ethnic-religious group, must not serve as a precedent for the behavior of Israel as a sovereign nation.

Israel’s abnormal behavior as a nation-state can be construed as a reaction to the many anxiety-provoking factors affecting the people of Israel, such as: the fact that Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab nations that block all connections over land to other countries, the Mediterranean Sea being its only neutral border; it’s perpetual state of security alert despite the many “agreements” with the PA and the continued carnage wreaked on Israel’s citizens by suicide bombers, kassam rockets, and other instruments of murder and destruction; the isolation of Israel in the international arena along with the constant exertion of pressure by many nations to submit to Arab demands (Bayefsky, 2004; Bat Ye`or, 2004; Bukay, 2004); the anxiety and horror of the Holocaust that has not ceased to inject Jews with fearfulness for the safety and integrity of the Jewish people and of Israel, so that Jews keep repeating the mantra of “never again” which, in some measure, is intended to pacify themselves (Fackenheim, 1978); and many other terrifying factors that will not be invoked at this time that generate a huge amount of pressure for Israel and its citizens. One final factor that bears mention here: Through the 18 centuries of Exile, Jews learned how to organize effective communities, study our legal-religious tradition and sacred literature, produce vast amounts of the highest quality poetry, prayers, legend, books on law, philosophy, mystical thought, medicine, history, and so forth; and to find ways to elevate Jews to higher plains of spirituality. But Jewry did not acquire the skills needed to govern a territory and assume responsibility for political sovereignty. In this latter field, Israel’s political behavior is akin to a young city dweller wandering confused and bewildered in a jungle.


Our Difference is Our Independence

Cultural assimilation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for believing that other Jews are abnormal. The sufficient condition is the presence of some weakness or lack of will to tolerate ourselves in terms of who we are, of our being different. Israel today is perceived as a nation that does not identify with the opinions and views that prevail in Europe (Gerstenfeld, 2003; Schoenfeld, 2004; Sharansky, 2003). Our weakness is expressed in our conviction that the Jews must eliminate the differences that separate us from the non-Jewish world in order to be normal. The search for normalcy is the cardinal expression of our pathology.

A nation does not abandon its historical tradition for the purpose of eliminating differences between it and other nations. Nations of the world do not believe that their differences that distinguish them from one another indicate something abnormal about them. Cultural differences the size of an abyss separates Mongolia from Sweden, for example, but neither of them experiences a sense of abnormality when compared to the other. To be different from other nations is a universal condition of each and every nation, and it is normal by definition. There is no better description of normalcy than the universality of differences between nations. Jews internalized the expectations associated with assimilation, which is the hard-core legacy of Jewry’s centuries in the Galut, particularly of the past two centuries. The Jews were scattered among and within many nations where they sought complete assimilation and integration. History demonstrates that the Jews survived in the Galut (apart from those who were slaughtered) as Jews because we were different. It is not the case that Jews became different from other nations because we lived in the Galut.


Like Other Nations or Different and Normal?

The Hebrew writer A.B. Yehoshua asserted:

The Jewish people is a people like all others. I am amazed to see how much that basic truth does not appear to be simple in the eyes of many people (Yehoshua, 1984, 64).

Is the Jewish people like all other peoples? That “truth” is not true at all but a radical distortion of the truth. The phenomena, events and substance that distinguish Jewry from other peoples are salient and common knowledge. There is no other nation that experienced a history with the slightest similarity to that of the Jews, whether it is in terms of religion, culture or political life. No other people was persecuted for hundreds of years, accused by Christianity of deicide and of rejecting Mohammed by Islam, when these religions are themselves the offspring of Judaism.

No other nation lived two millennia in Exile that involved frequent forced migration and yet managed, contrary to all reasonable expectation, to survive and to return to its original homeland, while 60% of the Jewish people still remains scattered abroad. Mention was already made of the extraordinary achievement of Jews in many fields of endeavor that is without parallel among other ethnic groups. It is abundantly clear that even when Jews are striving to reach a more complete level of assimilation, they do not behave in a manner similar to that of non-Jews. These factors emphasize the unique character of the Jewish people that is both remarkable and sometimes tragic.

In order for the Jewish people to be like the other nations, it must divest itself of its own history in all of its manifestations. Disengagement from the past, namely complete and thorough cultural and national assimilation, means no less than historical suicide for the Jewish people. The short story by A. B. Yehoshua called Summer-1970 (published in 1972 with the grotesque illustrations of the self-proclaimed Jew hater Yigal Tumarkin who lives in Israel) is a blood-curdling scream demanding a negation of the Jewish past, much like some of his other short stories and his novel about the Jewish maniac (Mr. Mani, Yehoshua, 1990: see; Feldman, 2004; Oren, 2003; Weiss, 2003). Many Jews understand quite well the meaning of this demand to divest ourselves of the past as an expression of the “suicidal impulse” in the words of Aharon Meged (1994), and they summarily reject its message. The famous scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, wrote:

I always affirmed that the cause of secular Zionism was legitimate, but I never accepted the imbecile idea (that the Jews were) a nation like all other nations. If that idea would become a reality it would spell the end of the Jewish people. I adopt the position of Jewish tradition that even if we wanted to be like all the other nations we would not succeed. If we would succeed, that would be the end of us (Scholem, 1976, 41; See also Belfer, 2004, 165).

Like all nations, the entire past lives in us in the present.

Eliezer Schweid formulated the matter thus:

Judaism cannot be understood, nor can one exhaust its unique and unifying essence, on the basis of dogmas...only on the basis of the fullness of its history (can Judaism be understood –sns): Judaism is the history of the People of Israel as documented in its literature (Schweid, 1997, 41).

“Who is like Thee who has performed mighty acts, who is like unto Thee” is recited as part of the daily prayers (the 18 blessings) directed at God. This very same conception can be applied to the Jewish people itself with considerable validity. The Jewish people believed that it is worthy of being different and was proud of being who it was. In a religious or in a poetic sense if you wish, God symbolizes the difference between the People of Israel and the Gentile nations over the past 3,500 years. Many Jews in our day, compared to earlier generations, have little capacity left to tolerate the fact that we are different from other nations. Our reduced tolerance for accepting ourselves as different has led many Jews to accept the anti-Semitic idea that the Jewish people is not normal.



Assimilation can ultimately lead to self-hatred or to Jewish anti-Semitism. The expression “self-hatred” does not mean that someone hates him or herself. Rather, that expression refers to:

  1. A negation of your tie to the group to which you belong.

  2. A negation of your tie between your group and its historical-cultural identity. When Jews deny their identity by rejecting their historical heritage, when they negate the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish people, or if they defame or reject the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish nation, they should be perceived as expressing Jewish self-hatred. Jews who attribute the source of anti-Semitism, in our day or in earlier periods of history, to the Jewish people itself, also belong to the category of self-haters.

The remarks of A.B.Yehoshua (2005) border on this approach. Several authors recently cited numerous examples of Jewish self-hatred in Israel (Alexander, 2003; Epstein, 2004; Haetzni, 2004; Stav, 1997; Sharan, 2003;Taguieff, 2004).

These definitions do not exhaust all of the possible phenomena of self-hatred. One example of a topic not covered by these definitions is the realm of treason in Israel. That subject cannot be properly presented and explained here. The identification of treason can be the subject of controversy due to the polarization of political opinions current in Israel. In 1953, David Ben-Gurion leveled accusations against Mapam and Hashomer Hatzair that clearly implied that they committed acts of treason against Israel in favor of the Soviet Union (S.S. Yariv, 1953). Since then, the flow of mutual accusations by one side of the political map against the other has not stopped. Treason is often accompanied by self-hatred.

Self-hatred is not included in self-criticism intended to improve Jewish life. The defamation of the Jewish people or of Israel that undermines their legitimacy or questions one’s affiliation with them is self-hatred, not self-criticism. Individuals, groups or nations that retain self-respect do not negate their relationship to their own people’s history, and their right to exist is not subject to debate. That kind of negotiation contradicts the fundamental assumptions of their identity and survival.

Jews who engage in those kinds of discussion express self-hatred and not self-criticism. The Arab nations and the PA, some nations of the EU, and a number of anti-Semitic groups in various countries, eagerly seize on examples of Jews who express self-hating remarks. There is no possible name except self-hatred for the Jews who broadcast the message that the Jewish people and/or Israel should commit historical suicide by disappearing from the face of the Earth (Gilman, 1986, 317, 333, etc.).


Anti-Semitism and Self-Hatred

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe (Taguieff, 2004). In part it is powered by Arab propaganda and finance. The enormous growth over the past 30 years of the Muslim/Arab population in Europe, particularly in Germany, France and the UK, exerts considerable influence on the governments of the EU countries and on their policies toward Jews and Israel. One historian has called Europe today “Eurabia” (Bat Ye`or, 2004). However, Arab anti-Semitism found a willing partner in their European allies as a continuation of its prolonged and chronic history of anti-Semitism (Gerstenfeld, 2003; Schoenfeld, 2004; Sharansky, 2003; Wistrich, 2005). Despite official pronouncements and contrary to the hopes that many people pinned on the power of democracy to finally vanquish anti-Semitism following WWII, European countries persist in exhibiting antagonism toward the Jewish people. After observing the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961, the writer and well-known intellectual, Hannah Arendt, asserted that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism was no longer within the realm of possibility precisely because of the Nazi atrocities. All that remains to be said is that few people live long enough to see their pet theories demolished by the unfolding of history.

A.B. Yehoshua wrote (1964) that the Jews must reform themselves and their views as a precondition for acceptance by the non-Jewish world. The substance of Yehoshua’s projected reform is, of course, a redefinition of Zionism that will not arouse antagonism toward Israel from other nations. Moreover, redefining Zionist goals will actually contribute to reconciliation between Israel and Arab nations. In his book entitled In Favor of Normality Yehoshua wrote:

Clarification of the concept “Zionism” will lead, in my opinion, to a decrease in the wave of recent attacks on it, and is even capable of resulting in the renewal of the historical sympathy that the world displayed toward the process of Jewry’s normalization (Yehoshua, 1984, 136-144).

This quotation is actually another formulation of the old doctrine that the Jews should strive to achieve normalcy because we are still in a state of abnormality. Becoming more normal will allow us to enjoy a more sympathetic attitude on the part of other nations. Yehoshua and his cohorts obviously still believe that other nations refuse to accept Israel due to its abnormality expressed by the position of Zionism regarding the Jewish people’s historic and legal right to the Land of Israel. Shades of Lord Cunningham in 1947! For Yehoshua, the Jews in the countries of the Galut are automatically abnormal because the Galut is an inherently neurotic condition for them.

Apart from its quaint and antiquated character, Yehoshua’s point of view seems impervious to the nature of modern Jewish life in the Galut. The Western countries where Jews resided in modern times became increasingly normal in terms of Jewish life. It is precisely this normality that swallowed up Jewish culture and civilization, making them superfluous, even intolerable for many Jews in their search for integration and assimilation. Once normality had developed to the point where Jews felt secure and deeply rooted in the country of their residence, Jews became indifferent to any hostility on the part of their Gentile hosts until that hostility erupted in their faces (Kaufman, 1930-32; Schoenfeld, 2004). The tragedy of Jewish life is that the Jews believed they had finally arrived at complete normality, both culturally and nationally. Yehoshua’s argument that the Galut afforded Jews an opportunity to display how different they were from their social environment is an absurd, somewhat malicious, and empirically erroneous view.

Yehoshua and like-minded people are actually suggesting that the Jews reject Zionism. That step is directed at having the Jews align their position with the prevailing goals of the non-Jewish world, which would, in his opinion, make a decisive contribution to achieving reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. It is easier to change ourselves than to change the whole world, or the Arabs. Consequently, it is our responsibility to change ourselves (Yehoshua, 1984, 144). Israel must adapt itself to world opinion and demonstrate that we have relinquished our dream to realize Jewry’s national aspirations. Yehoshua’s suggestion is tantamount to appealing to the Jewish people to pursue assimilation to its ultimate culmination. His position regarding the Jews’ responsibility for anti-Semitism and the need for self-reform is a regression to classical assimilationist doctrine along with self-hatred that emerged during the course of the past few hundred years. The notion that relinquishing Zionism will solve the problem of the Arab nations’ animosity toward the Jews is a transparent wish fulfillment. There is, of course, one way that Israel can guarantee its “regional integration” as preached by the post-Zionist Left, and that is by becoming an Islamic state!


Self-Hatred Amongst Zionists

Yehezkel Kaufman (1889-1963) sharply criticized some Zionist writers and thinkers for what he identified as self-hatred. Writers such as Michah Yosef Berdichewsky, Yosef Chaim Brenner and A. D. Gordon became embroiled in anti-Semitic accusations leveled against the Jewish people, despite their “good intentions” to arouse Jewry’s conscience over the condition of the Jews (Kaufman, 1936, 262; 1952; Belfer, 2004). Other Zionists writers claimed that Jews residing on the soil of non-Jews were “parasites”, and that that situation was not “just” a result of the historical tragedy of the Jewish people. Kaufman wrote:

Every educated and half-educated “Zionist” has decided...about 2,000 years of Galut, that (the Jews are) a nation of middle-men! Every schoolchild knows just what the nature of the Jews was “there”. They were very religious and middle-men!... Generations of youth growing up in Israel accept this judgment literally: 16 million middle-men were there (in the Galut), and that’s why the Gentiles hated them, and for good reason. Parents, teachers, writers, youth leaders...all incessantly harped on these clichés in the name of “Zionist education”...which is why it is our duty to emphasize and re-emphasize that this entire conception is nothing more than a false anti-Semitic claim. It is anti-Semitic, not because it criticizes Israel, but because it is false criticism. That is the essence of anti-Semitic ideology...the lie.... During the first decade of the 20th century, this anti-Semitic obscenity penetrated the Zionist movement (Kaufman, 1952, 161-162).

A short time after Kaufman admonished the public schools in Israel for disseminating anti-Semitic ideas, several novels and short stories were published by native-born Israel writers that expressed virulent anti-Semitic views, among them The Days of Ziklag by S. Yizhar, and the story Opposite the Forest by A.B. Yehoshua. A not small number of literary works in the new Israeli Hebrew literature contained radically anti-Semitic ideas that exuded self-hatred, recalling Brenner’s older denunciations of traditional Jewish life (Feldman, 2004; Kaufman, 1936, 1939, 1952; Kurtzweil, 1960; Kariv, 1956; Lord, 2000; Oren, 2003; Schneider, 1994).

Jewish self-hatred was not abandoned even after the horrifying events of the Holocaust in Europe. Self-hatred has reawakened lately and is rampant in the works of scholars and writers in the United States, Great Britain and Israel (Alexander, 2003; Feldman, 2004; Karsch, 2000; Lord, 2000; Oren, 2003; Stav, 2003; see Taguieff, 2004, in particular note 38, pages 132-133; Weiss, 2003). The same self-hatred is presently being transferred to the younger generation of academics and writers as an accepted tradition. The worn-out allegation to the effect that there is no moral basis for Jewish life in non-Jewish countries has been revised and replaced with a different accusation. Today the outcry against the Jews is that Jewish life in Israel is immoral because we stole the country from the Arabs. Despite the change in its specific content, the typical feature of modern anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred repeats itself: The Jews are responsible for contradictory crimes at one and the same time, such as being capitalists and Communists, parasites on the economy of the world and financiers, and people who yearn to live in the Galut and lovers of the pirated land of Zion (Karsch, 2000; Schoenfeld, 2004).


Self-Hatred and Transnationalism

A group of intellectuals in the United States are promoting the concept of a global super-national government to replace all existing national governments (Fonte, 2003). Among the list of advocates of this position, that includes professors of political science and of law, is a relatively large number of Jews in the US and Israel. Discarding national governments is directed at the creation of a neutralized social-religious environment in which Jews would be free to be whoever they wish to be, without being who they are! Cosmopolitan Jews want to see a world without nation-states so that no one will identify them as belonging to the Jewish nation (Greenberg, 1950). In Israel, post-Zionists preach the notion that Jewry should abandon its identity as a Jewish nation, and they insist on the participation of Arabs in Israel’s government (Karsch, 2000).

In his famous poem Masada (1927), Yitschak Lamdan clearly portrayed the figure of the cosmopolitan, anti-Zionist Jew. In the poem, a refugee in Europe meets up with a series of Jews who try to dissuade him from setting out for the Land of Israel. Their rationale derives from ideologies that promise world redemption if the refugee, and others like him, will join the “revolution”. These Jews have sloughed off their Jewishness in lieu of the promised redemption of the whole world.

Fifty years after the Communist revolution, after Nazism and the Second World War, and after Stalin, a Jewish political scientist, still faithful to Marxism and Communism, formulated with remarkable accuracy the relationship between Marxism, Jewish national identity, transnational-global government, and the view that negates the legitimacy of Jewish existence. All that is stated in the name of humanistic liberalism:

This is the crux of the Jewish tragedy. Decaying capitalism has overstayed its day and has morally dragged down mankind; and we, the Jews, have paid for it and may yet have to pay for it. All this has driven the Jews to see their own State as the way out. Most of the great revolutionaries...have seen the ultimate solution to the problems of...our times not in nation-states but in international society. As Jews they were the natural pioneers of this idea, for who was as well qualified to preach the international society of equals as were the Jews free from all Jewish and non-Jewish orthodoxy and nationalism? ...The world has compelled the Jew to embrace the nation-state and to make it his pride and hope just at a time when there is little or no hope left in it (Deutscher, 1968, 39-41).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the division of the Western world into democracies versus the Communists became defunct and its place was taken by the division between the Middle Eastern Muslim world and the Christian countries of Europe and America (Bat Ye`or, 2004). The great divide that separates Western from the Middle- and Far-Eastern countries clearly frustrates any vision of a transnational global government, quite apart from the question of whether it would be advisable in principle for mankind to take that vision seriously.

In 1968, Deutscher still persisted in his hope that the nation-state would disappear, much like Lenin had expected. Deutscher also believed that the Jewish people would rid itself of its historical heritage and adopt the views of a few famous Jews who assimilated into their European environment and had “progressed beyond the Jews”, as he put it. He was referring to Freud, Heine, Rosa Luxemburg and Marx. Deutscher clung to his belief in the ultimate victory of Marxism. He and his colleagues were unable to admit the failure of Communism, even long after the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union became common knowledge. Their vilification of Jewish history and of Jewry’s national-historical existence was a central theme in their point of view in which historical reality seems to have played a minor role.

Jewish self-hatred wreaked havoc on the Jews during the Bolshevik revolution. Communist Jews inflicted terrible suffering on non-Communist Jews, including the slaughter of many Jews. After the revolution, Jews continued to display particularly harsh attitudes toward other Jews to prove their loyalty to various prevailing ideologies (Hazaz, 1948-1976; Katznelson, 1956; Vital, 1999). To this very day, Marxism continues to feed anti-Semitic attitudes among cosmopolitan academics, inside and outside of Israel, who believe that Israel should disengage itself from the Jewish people. Jews who held high positions in different countries influenced their governments in ways that affected Jews negatively. Bruno Kreisky, once the Prime Minister of Austria, is only one example of that phenomenon.

As a consequence of Jewry’s exposure to relentless anti-Semitism during its history, Jews internalized anti-Semitic images. One can no longer explain Jewish self-hatred exclusively as a reaction to the hostility of non-Jews. Jews are not responsible for anti-Semitism, as claimed by self-hating Jews. But they are definitely responsible for despising the history and heritage of their own People (Belfer, 2004; Karsch, 2000; Lord, 2000; Taguieff, 2004).

It is important to remind ourselves: Jews continue to build the nation of Israel and Jewish history in the face of profound Jewish assimilation, internal political weakness, and relentless resistance from a variety of sources, including self-hating Jews. Despite the fact that the number of Jews in the world outside of Israel is declining, despite the vast resources that the Arabs invest in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda, as well as in the outright murder of Jews (and other “infidels”) when possible, despite assimilation and self-hatred that exerts a terrible effect on the morale of Jews everywhere, Israel continues to develop. It will soon be the largest Jewish community in the world for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple. Israel has friends throughout the world. No one alive at the time of Herzl’s death, just 100 years ago, could have foreseen Israel’s present state of development.

The primary task confronting Zionism was and remains the challenge of the Ingathering of the Exiles, a task that Israel will continue to face for several generations. In addition, Jewry is confronted by the critical need to educate Jews everywhere, and in Israel as well, to appreciate their own historical heritage, to “return to themselves” (Epstein, 2003) rather than pursuing the ambitions and goals of the Gentile world. To “return to ourselves” does not imply that to recover our past for our lives today, we must necessarily believe exactly what our ancestors believed. It means that, first and foremost, we must disperse the shadows of self-hatred hovering over the Jewish people and to restore self-esteem as the heir to its own history (Schweid, 1996). Reconstruction of a solid Jewish identity for our generation and for our offspring, founded on an acceptance of our past as the basis for our present existence despite assimilation, is the way to secure the morale of the Jewish people and of our nation as they proceed into the future.



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