Assimilation, Normalcy and Jewish Self-Hatred
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,
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.
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:
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
Cultural and national assimilation without any
sense of Jewish abnormality.
Cultural and national assimilation with a sense
of Jewish abnormality and with a search for normality.
Cultural and national assimilation with a sense
of Jewish abnormality that entails a rejection of the Jews or even antagonism
Toward Judaism or toward Israel.
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:
...it 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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
A negation of your tie to the group to which
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
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:
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
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
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,
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
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
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