Monday, August 15, 2011

The end of Jewish self-hatred?

This, in response to Philologos at the Forward, as well as (and via) David Schraub.

-After reading Sander Gilman, I'm confident in saying that Jews who make a habit of presenting themselves as exceptions, who use their identity as insiders-within-Jewry (if not as Jews, per se, since they may have converted, etc.) to bash "the Jews" all the while promoting themselves, that such individuals are what's meant by "self-hating," and that no new term is needed. The term is always a bit imprecise, as it's not that the self is hated, but that some externally-applied identity is viewed as inaccurately describing one's complex and nuanced whole person. It's anti-Semitism coming from those who feel themselves to be exceptions. Thus the current manifestation - Jews who one after the next think they're the very first to dare criticize Israel, who get some great pleasure from believing that "the Jews" will come after them. It's not about these individuals being depressed, having low self-esteem, etc. This is why Philologos's claim - "Far from being self-hating Jews, they are self-loving Jews of the I’m-not-one-of-you variety" - doesn't quite add up. It's not that self-hating Jews hate themselves, it's that they hate that-with-which-they're-identified, and that they see themselves as special.

-The problem with discussing Jewish self-hatred always comes down to that imprecise terminology: if someone who's not religiously or culturally tied to Judaism wants out, isn't it kind of letting anti-Semites win to say that this person is inherently Jewish? Jewishness is only quasi-visible, so it's not quite like someone black announcing that they no longer so identify. Insisting that someone whose Jewish identity many others don't even know about, but who would have been Jewish enough for Hitler, ought to act in certain ways in order to stick it to Hitler is... kinda-sorta giving in, if not to Hitler, than to an essentialized idea of Jewishness that the Nazis sure embraced. This doesn't really cover the "as-a-Jew" phenomenon David has coined, that is, those who play up their Jewish identity in order to show just how different they are from the "the Jews" Jews. But whenever someone's accused of Jewish self-hatred for not making their Jewish identity a sufficiently large part of their life, this is what comes to mind.

-There's no more Jewish self-hatred in 21st-century America? Huh? This is Philologos's claim, and I'm not remotely convinced. Anti-Semitism may not be the most massive problem ever in America today, but there are clear disadvantages to being linked to a group stereotyped as greedy, ugly, warmongering... When the nose job stops being a thing, when what Jewish women do to the color/texture of their hair (discussed in euphemistic terms - "ethnicity" - here) ceases to be an issue, then we'll talk.

26 comments:

rshams said...

Norm Geras has also referred to the "as-a-Jews" - they're arguably more of a presence in England than here. But I agree with you and David about how they might be the most prevalent examples of Jewish self-hatred around today. If the only times that one identifies as a Jew/refers to one's Jewishness is while attempting to discredit other Jews/Jewish institutions/etc., and one uses that identification to give added legitimacy to one's views, then perhaps the admittedly overused epithet of "self-hating Jew" is not entirely inappropriate.

On the other hand, if one attempts to discredit Jews/Jewish institutions without utilizing the "as a Jew," then I find it hard to justify using that characterization. I'm thinking specifically of folks like Glenn Greenwald (though I'm sure there are others), who castigates the Jewish community/Israel, but hasn't (to my knowledge) pointed out that he's one of the good Jews, untainted by tribalism.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

Excellent.
Regardless of their psychological motivations, the extraordinary usefulness of the “as-a-Jew” to straight up antisemites is also worth a mention. This has two elements: the Jewishness of the “as-a-Jew” appears to offer protection from charges of antisemitism, “But look! She’s one herself”, and the “as-a-Jew”’s insider status appears to coat their opinions with a special glow of truthfulness when it comes to the machinations of Zionism/Israel, in a heroic whistleblower with special, inside knowledge that the rest of us would be unable to access kind of way.

Phoebe said...

What I should have added to Item 2 is the way that Jewishness differs not only from blackness, but also from another decent-ish analogy: homosexuality. Gay self-hatred, whether one thinks "ex-gay" is possible or a recipe for disaster, is always about someone who once, in his own lifetime, was gay, but who's rejected it. A problem I have with the term "Jewish self-hatred" - one I also have with the term "assimilated" - is that it presumes everyone in any way identified as Jewish comes from some fundamental Jewish state, and that anything non-Jewish (secular, Christian, socialist, etc.) about them is put-on, inauthentic. When in fact many Jews for generations have been raised without religion. Many Goldbergs and Cohens have just a Jewish father or grandfather. Many never went to synagogue on Friday nights, so to speak of them as having broken from that tradition is inaccurate. My sense of how "Jewish self-hatred" is used is that it sometimes blurs into being a label given to those who seem (given their physical appearance or last name) like they ought to have a stronger Jewish identity than they do.

Meanwhile, it's more the as-a-Jew phenomenon that fits with what's traditionally been labeled "Jewish self-hatred." Yet because these individuals don't seem to be in denial about anything, and are on the contrary quite open with their Jewish backgrounds, the label feels wrong, even if it kind of does fit.

Micha said...

Wait.

1) Unlike gays and blacks, Jews can, in principle, stop being Jews, if they want. Although you could claim that a person can't erase their past, including the way they were brought up. Still, a Jew could decide to reject or bury any aspect of his identity that's Jewish and not pass it on to the next generation, if he wants.

That said, although Jews can stop being Jews the way blacks and gays cannot, this does not mean they cannot experience the same psychological sense of hatred of their group identity as it is manifested in their own selves that some blacks and gays (and others)experience. In this case the look at themselves and see something flawed which they attribute to being Jewish.

2) The term self-hating Jew usually implies (sometimes fairly sometimes not) someone who is hostile toward the Jewish group or the Jewish identity or parts thereof. This group can include the above category, in which the hatred is directed toward the self, or people who feel that by rejecting and being hostile toward this or that or all aspects of the Jewish group or identity, they cleanse themselves and become better. So these kind of people might indeed feel that they are better than other Jews.

This definition -- self-hating-Jew is not very good because in the above category you can also include a subcategory of people who view themselves as better and truer Jews for being hostile toward other Jews or aspects of Jewish society. As a Jews also belong in this category, as people who embrace their Jewish identity so they can cleanse themselves.

Moreover, it's a bad definition because it is highly political. Because it can be argued that an ultra-orthodox Jew who rejects secular or reform Jews is going through the same psychological process of cleansing by rejecting the "other" kind of Jews.

3) Assimilation is a process of loosing -- deliberately or not -- aspects of a Jewish identity.

Now you might argue that there are a lot of Jews today that lost or removed a major aspect of Jewish identity -- religion -- but still view themselves as Jewish in other ways. That's true. But then we should say three things:

(a) Assimilation has gradients. A person may remove some aspects of a cultural identity but retain others. We wouldn't say that he or she is completely assimilated until they lose all (or almost all) aspects of their identity.

(b) Clearly, people who reject the Jewish Orthodoxy but self-identify as Jews in other ways and take other actions to bolster that identity are showing a desire to not be assimilated completely even if they show a desire to be assimilated in other respects. You could argue that all Jewish history and identity exists somewhere on the spectrum between the point of complete assimilation and a non-existed point of a completely isolated Jewishness. Non-existent because even the most religious Jews are not really completely isolated for non-Jewish influences, and they never were.

(c) however, the other extreme does exist. It is quite possible to reach a point of assimilation where a Jewish identity simply stops existing, if not in the person himself then at least as far as his offspring are concerned.

4) Some people argue that you can't really lose your Jewishness. That even if you try, antisemitism will still view you as Jewish or alternatively, you might retain something Jewish deep inside. There might be some truth to that. But this is irrelevant so long as a person is free to decide to what degree he wishes to assimilate or retain aspects of a Jewish identity.

5) On a more positive note, there is clearly something very strong about the Jewish identity that causes people to wish to retain at least some aspects of it despite the forces of antisemitism and assimilation. After all, they are not all doing it so they can criticize Israel in the Guardian.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

My issue with "assimilated" (and with a certain use of "self-hating") is simple: it's often applied to Jews who were born into whichever level of Jewish identity they currently possess. Semantically, it implies that each "assimilated Jew" has in his own lifetime altered his identity. Shifts that occur over generations are presented as occurring all at once.

"On a more positive note, there is clearly something very strong about the Jewish identity that causes people to wish to retain at least some aspects of it despite the forces of antisemitism and assimilation."

Positive's always nice, but doesn't anti-Semitism, assuming it's short of genocidal, actually reinforce Jewish identity in the otherwise-apathetic? Leading some whose own parents were apathetic to become otherwise, once they see that they'll be treated as a Jew regardless?

Micha said...

"Semantically, it implies that each "assimilated Jew" has in his own lifetime altered his identity. Shifts that occur over generations are presented as occurring all at once."

Not necessarily. Isn't it fair to describe people who may be connected to Jews in some distant way but do not have other aspects of Jewish identity as assimilated even if the choices that led to that condition are the result of choices made by their parents or grandparents or even beyond that?

After all, all of us who do retain aspects of Jewish identity are also the product of our ancestors choices as much, or even more, than our own choices.

You might say that people who were 'born into assimilation' don't deserve to be condemned for assimilating. But I don't really want to personally condemn anybody, as much as be conscious and describe fairly the process occurring inside Judaism and their consequences.

"but doesn't anti-Semitism, assuming it's short of genocidal, actually reinforce Jewish identity in the otherwise-apathetic?"

This seems to be the case sometimes, especially now, and especially among Jews who enjoy a sense of confidence that did not exist before. Antisemitism does help strengthen Jewish identity sometimes. But still, at the same time, it is quite extraordinary that in centuries of antisemitism, where complete assimilation was and is an option, so many Jews chose and choose to keep a Jewish identity.

Micha said...

I don't know to what extent people becoming more Jewish because of Antisemitism is the result of something defiant in human nature or if it is more a product of our time, where being oppressed is viewed as a source of pride and power.

Phoebe said...

" Isn't it fair to describe people who may be connected to Jews in some distant way but do not have other aspects of Jewish identity as assimilated even if the choices that led to that condition are the result of choices made by their parents or grandparents or even beyond that?

After all, all of us who do retain aspects of Jewish identity are also the product of our ancestors choices as much, or even more, than our own choices."

Starting with the second bit first, if you say that someone "is Jewish," yes, this may well come from ancestors' choices, this may well be someone's default, but the word itself is just an adjective. It doesn't imply a process. "Assimilated," meanwhile, implies either a) that someone did himself in his own lifetime assimilate, or b) that someone was, by another entity, assimilated, taken from this fundamental, essential, pure Jewish state (that of course never existed as such, even in the shtetl) and made otherwise.

So there's that. There's also the fact that "assimilated" has a negative connotation, esp. wrt Jews. An "assimilated" Jew is typically assumed to come from a place of self-hatred. You or I may look at this neutrally, and I think most would if they stepped back and looked at what it actually meant, but the popular image of an "assimilated Jew" is someone hiding his "true self," changing his name, his nose, etc.

"But still, at the same time, it is quite extraordinary that in centuries of antisemitism, where complete assimilation was and is an option, so many Jews chose and choose to keep a Jewish identity."

First off, this is not the first time anti-Semitism solidified Jewish identity - there was also some of this during/after the Dreyfus Affair, so circa 1900. Next, anti-Semitism often meant that complete assimilation was not an option - in 19th C France, converts from Judaism, their kids, anyone whose Jewish roots were known, was still considered a Jew. Some apparently kept this up long enough that their roots were forgotten, others not. But it was at any rate not possible to completely assimilate within one's own lifetime. In contemporary America, on the other hand, where "race" tends to mean "black or not," Jews aren't the Other of choice, and blending in as just-white is more of an option.

Micha said...

I have various 1st, 2nd and 3rd level cousins in the US who have various levels of connection to any Jewish identity. A certain family friend has whole branches of her family in Germany and England who are simply not Jewish.

I, them, we all got to this point of time as a result of processes and decisions of which only a fraction were our own. There is a line of decisions and grander social process to go from me to my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. For example, my grandmother went to a Zionist youth movement, her siblings didn't.

Is there a better word to describe this process and the current (and future) generations who are the result of this process as more or less assimilated?

Mind you, I'm not saying that as an Israeli Jew I'm somehow not assimilated. Obviously, just like my American relations I am also influenced by non-Jewish cultures for better and for worse. The difference is just one of degree.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

"Is there a better word to describe this process and the current (and future) generations who are the result of this process as more or less assimilated?"

If by "this process" you mean both acculturation and integration, then no, no better word exists, although if you're writing a paper in Jewish history (as I typically am in another window!) it's sometimes better to refer to those two terms than to open the can of worms that is "assimilation," what with its pejorative connotation.

As for how to describe "the current (and future) generations who are the result of this process," I'd be very much in favor of a new way, but I have yet to invent it!

Dan O. said...

"It's not that self-hating Jews hate themselves, it's that they hate that-with-which-they're-identified, and that they see themselves as special."

Well, kinda sorta. A lot of so-called "self-hating Jews" react against the claims some other Jews make that (at least one of) their ethnicity, culture, family history, or religion must determine certain important opinions or else they must give up (at least one of) their ethnicity, culture, family history, or religion.

Being a politically interested teenager of mixed heritage in a conservative, hawkish
LI Jewish community during the first Gulf War demonstrated that to me. It was okay for me, my politically interested Jewish peers told me, that I was against the war because I was only half-Jewish. I don't know what made it all-okay, as opposed to half-okay. But as I wasn't even a half-expert, who was I to say?

Still, a lot of things confused me. Like, my Irish-Catholic father has a hook nose, and my Israeli-Jewish mother has this little button. I'm Jewish, because my mother is, but I don't look it, my Jewish friends told me. I look Italian, like my Mom. That's how I learned about that stereotype. (Yeah, that I learned about Jewish hook noses on a bus from Jews makes my childhood sheltered.) But it was okay for me to be against the Gulf War, the one my father was for and my mother was against. Huh? (Didn't that make me half a self-hater and half a philosemite?)

So, insofar as I were ever to as-a-Jew, I would as-a-Jew to throw into sharp relief how incoherent the notion of what-a-Jew-must-do or what-a-Jew-must-be (or feel, or look like) seems to me. My problem is it's not at all obvious to many other people. And that can offend people. And it seems to me that some people, like Michael Chabon, as-a-Jew this way.

And so, I think both you and Philologos get it wrong. There are a bunch of (weird, unrepresentative) stereotypes about Jews, and a bunch of (weird, unrepresentative) normative claims about what Jews-must-feel-or-do. And whether someone is self-hating depends upon whatever sort of (weird, unrepresentative) set of stereotypes or normative claims they and their critics have internalized.

I mean, seriously. The claim that there are no self-hating Jews, only manipulative Jewish self-promoters? That can be twisted in 10,000 degrees of irony. The claim that manipulative Jewish self-promoters as-a-Jewingly self-hate is one such twist. (Nice sentence, eh?)

I know irony offends the super-serious (and is beneath the supercilious). But irony is a logical consequence: from a contradiction, anything goes.

Was it always such, and is it now this way everywhere? I doubt it. I'm sure there are places where it was obvious what a Jew is (and must be), and what an other is, and there was a deep sense of betrayal if a Jew acts as-a-Jewingly on behalf of the other. Most recently, it must have been as such for Jews in Soviet Russia. But it is not nearly like that everywhere (Is it in Israel? Who am I to tell Avigdor different?). But I've yet to hear a good argument that it should be.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

I'm a bit lost, I'm afraid. Where do we disagree, exactly? I was saying that I *don't* think it constitutes self-hatred if someone of Jewish origin fails to live up to expected behaviors/political attitudes.

Dan O. said...

But it does if they find themselves special for doing so? That's what I understood you as saying.

That's a technical attempt to fix a concept that is totaled, not merely broken-down.

I can illustrate through the. Do you think that Falk, or the most famous of all "self-hating Jews", Richard Goldstone prior to his coerced mea culpa, think themselves special Jews?

According to what you said, if they do, they're self-hating, if they don't, they're not. [Philologos seems to believe the opposite.]

My trouble is, that seems to makes little contact with the contemporary usage of 'self-hating jew'. Here's the argument:


You can't have meant to be descriptive about the meaning of 'self-hating Jew'. After all, the term 'self-hating Jew' was applied to Goldstone more than anyone in recent memory. And only a real blowhard believes that Goldstone did what he did out of self-promotion. So what you said can't be right as a matter of descriptive analysis.

On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine prescriptively altering the meaning of 'self-hating Jew' so that its contemporary paradigm isn't in its extension. The concept in use is such a mess that it'd be impossible otherwise to get a grip on what it could possibly mean.

So my recommendation to eliminate the concept differs from your recommendation to reform it. The persistent analogy between Goldstone and a capo illustrates that the concept has been stretched way too far.

Another way of understanding my point: I think you (and Philologos) are analyzing the meaning of a term that's merely homonymous with 'self-hating Jew', as it's normally used.

This brings something to mind. It's become fashionable for some people to mark out Richard Silverstein, Noam Chomsky, and the like - people who moderate Zionists love to loathe - as self-haters, while limiting more moderate folk from the title. I'm not saying that's what you meant to do. It's just that my experience is that disparaging, hateful speech just doesn't work that way. The usage presses onward with the anger of people interested in using them. And so crazies like to draw up S.H.I.T. lists of self-haters that includes members of my family, merely because they're socialists or peace activists. (What is that, at least 10% of all Jews? There's probably one in your family too.) There's really no other set of coherent semantic criteria besides contempt -'self-hating Jew' in its contemporary usage is pretty much just a slur like 'Uncle Tom' or 'Oreo'.

It's people being ugly. Even when crazies cajole moderate Zionists into doing it.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

I'm still not seeing your complaint with what I wrote, and am starting to think the problem is that you've conflated it with Philologos's post, and with a variety of things you've read/experienced elsewhere.

What I meant re: "special" is that sometimes, you'll get someone of a Jewish background who finds "the Jews" too crass/materialistic/Zionistic/high-maintenance/socialist/political/whatever, and who decides that he alone is the exception, that he's not like all the other Jews. This is a problem because it ignores that not all Jews are alike. (There's not one brave Jew daring to criticize Israel, finding allies only among non-Jews - being highly critical of Israel is a fairly popular stance among American Jews these days, for good and not-so-good reasons.) While the non-Jewish anti-Semite will say that all Jews are like so, the self-hating Jew will say that all Jews are like so, with one exception. That's all I meant by special.

Anyway, if I understand correctly, you believe that Jews are called self-hating for daring to question various pieties/party lines wrt Israel. To this I'd respond that what the folks who use "self-hating" are reacting to isn't the criticism-of-Israel. It's the way that it's framed. Specifically, what's off-putting is when the criticism is framed as making the speaker brave and unique among Jews, when come on, it's almost brave and unique at this point to like even the idea of Israel, if you're an American Jew even somewhat on the left. (I exaggerate, but you see where I'm going with this.)

Dan O. said...

Please, there's no need to psychoanalyze when I gave an argument that addressed the exact point in your response. I conflated nothing. You've just repeated the very claim I responding to.

I get it that you don't like a certain class of precious Jewish critics of other Jews. Yeah, I don't like Richard Silverstein (for example) either. He's a pompous ass who plays with anti-semitic tropes all the friggin' time, and pretends he's the first who ever understood the concept of healing the world. Other people do the same. I love Noam Chomsky the linguist. The writer on politics and conspiracy theories - he's a jackass. No problem. The point is that it's not up to you to come up with definitions that class only them as self-hating. The term is used far more liberally than you allow.

The case of Israeli politics is only one example of where this comes up. It was a meme, you know, that Marc Mezvinsky is a "self-hating Jew" because he married a "shiksa on a Saturday". You may find that distasteful, and the term doesn't apply according to your definition. That's irrelevant. When you use 'self-hating Jew', you class yourself with people you find distasteful - Jews who call out their own Uncle Toms and Oreos. It's become a term that no longer has a place in polite company.

My complaint isn't with your definition. It's all fine as a definition of a shmelf shmating Jew. My complaint is that you assume your definition is relevant to the term 'self-hating Jew'.

The depersonalizing effect of the internet is interesting and sometimes actually encourages unusual civility. Were this a cocktail party, I'd have made excuses. But I've definitely learned something.

Phoebe said...

Dan,

I certainly didn't intend to "psychoanalyze" or offend. Blame my reading comprehension - I really just didn't see what you were saying we disagreed on. And I'm still confused, but I think where you're going with this is, because "self-hating" is sometimes used in unreasonable/offensive ways, it should be off the table in all instances. Its definition, you contend (am I missing something?) is whatever those using it mean by it.

I suppose we disagree, then over whether it's possible to use the term correctly without somehow offering support to those who use it incorrectly.

"The point is that it's not up to you to come up with definitions that class only them as self-hating. The term is used far more liberally than you allow."

I absolutely agree that the term is used in pointless ways, like the Clinton-husband example you mention. This was right there in my post, that I think it's wrong to use "self-hatred" to describe a Jew being what other Jews arbitrarily deem insufficiently Jewy. Thus proving I'm aware that this is a way the term is used.

However! I don't think that's how the term is used wrt the Middle East. I mean, has someone Jewish ever been called self-hating simply for supporting the Palestinians? No doubt this has happened - of course there are extremists, overreacting sorts, etc. But as a rule, what attracts that label is when that support is framed as, 'look at me, I'm courageous and all alone, and not like the other Jews, all of whom are warmongerers.' Meaning, I don't think the "oreo" use of the term extends to that arena.

rshams said...

"However! I don't think that's how the term is used wrt the Middle East."

Not when we're talking about fairly objective academic definitions (which I know is what you were originally discussing). In that case, yes, I agree that the term is used mainly against people who proclaim that they are all alone against a gigantic, homogeneous wall of evil "other Jews."

But when it comes to rhetorical expressions of anger, community policing (for lack of a better term), etc., I do think the term is used more frequently, and especially in regards to Israel. While the non-hardcore might not use the term to describe someone who opposes settlement expansion/supports a Palestinian state, many use it for those they deem "as-a-Jews" - those who are overly/unfairly critical of Israel and the Jewish establishment and who use their Jewishness to legitimize their own argument.

Micha said...

Accusations of being a self-hating Jew are like accusations of antisemitism. They are being way overused, but that doesn't mean it they are never right.

but in doubt it's better to avoid them and stick with the more reliable accusations of ignorance, hypocrisy a good old fashioned stupidity.

The idea that all Jews have the same opinions is absurd. someone who thinks that clearly doesn't know much about Jews.

Phoebe said...

rshams,

Let me try explaining it another way:

-The worst use of "self-hating Jew" is when it's used to refer to someone whose last name is Cohen, yet who fails to live up to whichever arbitrary standard someone has set for being a Jew. As in, to give an extreme example, someone who's perhaps the child of intermarriage and was raised in no religion getting called "self-hating" for marrying out. Or a less extreme example - someone who is indeed Jewish being called "self-hating" for failing to think Netanyahu's infallible. With the latter, my sense is that this - as with non-Jews being called anti-Semites for not hearting Netanyahu - happens (like Micha says) rarely, and the rare occasions it does are blown out of proportion. With the former, this happens all the time.

-An iffy use of "self-hating" is for cases of "as-a-Jew." In these situations, it's not necessarily about someone declaring himself different from the rest of "the Jews." I mean, to some extent J Street and everything to its left are about speaking out "as a Jew." It's not always 100% clear who's a Jew who's genuinely sick of being assumed to think A feeling it necessary to point out he thinks B; who's a Jew who thinks B really is best for the Jews and is not getting enough attention and thus Jews-as-Jews should speak out; and who's a Jew who thinks B and who thinks he's unique among Jews for thinking it. In both cases, "as-a-Jew" language is used, but it's not the same thing.

Dan O. said...

Rshams - The idea of community policing made sense at one time, but Pheobe is right that it probably doesn't make sense in the U.S. and France, or even in Tel Aviv. If in those places race-traitor charges were meant to police, it'd be pointless because there'd be far too many "criminals". However, what you say is exactly right with respect to the paradigm example of a 'self-hating Jew' - Goldstone. The 'self-hating' charge turned his local South African community absolutely against him.

'Self-hating Jew' is as likely to be applied to former PM Rabin, Shimon Peres, or Rahm Emmanuel as opposed to the narrow class Phoebe marks out. None of these people fit Phoebe's self-important other-degrading caricature.

There are no such things as a purely academic definition, or context. The CUNY/Kushner incident was the latest high-profile case of Jewish race-traitor accusations in the academy. These have been going on for years at Columbia and Yale. Anti-Zionist groups (especially the BDS movement) and race-traitor charges co-occur as opposing groups radicalize the other.

A response on a specific point:

"Its definition, you contend (am I missing something?) is whatever those using it mean by it."

No. What a term means depends on how it is generally and conventionally used, not how any one or two people use it in their private dialect. As a matter of fact, 'self-hating Jew' is generally and conventionally used to express contempt for someone as a ethnic, cultural, or religious traitor.

To make this point, the Goldstone example is the only one I need. One would have to be living under a rock not to know that Goldstone was very recently thought to be the world's greatest 'self-hating Jew'.

Does Goldstone fit into Phoebe's narrow class? One's answer to that question reveals everything. If the answer is "no" then it's obvious that Phoebe's use 'self-hating Jew' is marginal. That's my claim.

Please, don't confuse a "no" answer with the claim that the report was correct - only the claim that it wasn't wrong because of 'self-hatted'.

If one answers "yes", then one uses the term in the conventional way (i.e., as a slur).

If one answers "yes, but, only because Goldstone did really do what he did because he thought he was the one Jew who could stand up to all the other Jews," then all of the above becomes mere semantics, and any disagreement would be centered on this point alone.

"And I'm still confused, but I think where you're going with this is, because "self-hating" is sometimes used in unreasonable/offensive ways, it should be off the table in all instances."

No, I'm saying that it should be off the table because it really is a dehumanizing slur offensive and unreasonable in all instances, and this is so because it is generally used that way.

I think Phoebe's "academic" usage is marginal. It may have once applied only to those few Roy Cohns of the world who actually exhibit a certain definite psychopathology, but the term has been appropriated.

Micha said...

Who are these people who keep using the term "self-hating-Jew"?

I keep hearing about it. And I know people say it in arguments on the street or in talkbacks on the internet. But is it actually used that often by people of any authority, politicians, columnists?

"Goldstone. The 'self-hating' charge turned his local South African community absolutely against him."

Isn't it possible that Goldstone's actual actions were the reason why his community turned against him rather than the label 'self-hating'?

Phoebe said...

OK. Before this thread reaches that classic high-blood-pressure stage that anything remotely I-P must, by some law, attain...

Dan, I think we get where you're coming from - as you see it, "self-hating Jew" is a slur. However I define it, or any individual does, doesn't matter, because it is what it is. Dan, are we on the same page thus far?

I think - and as I understand it other commenters do as well - the term can be, if not a slur, then a kind of self-policing that ends up being, if not full-on anti-Semitic, bordering on that, insofar as it asks that a) everyone who might possibly be defined externally as a Jew identify as such, and b) all Jews act in particular ways that are in fact just the ways of some Jews. An example of this that comes to mind - and that, Micha, I promise is out there - is when Jews who intermarry are accused of "finishing what Hitler started." (Google "finishing what hitler started" and "intermarriage.") To say that everyone an anti-Semite (or rabbi, or Jewdar-owner) would define as Jewish has a moral obligation to act in ways that promote Jewish continuity (or, more to the point, that fit certain Jews' ideas of what's necessary to do so) is itself offensive.

So. Is this enough to make "self-hating Jew" a slur that needs to be off the table altogether? Dan, I don't necessarily disagree with you there. The problem is that, while Jewish self-hatred points to a real phenomenon, if not several, it's probably not something best pointing out in individual cases. I mean, someone who gets off on offending "the Jews" by speaking Great Truths about the Palestinian cause is probably only going to find it helpful if he's called self-hating.

Meanwhile, all the little behaviors of Jewish shame - I'm thinking, for example, of any time a Jew "cringes" at anything that identifies him as Jewish, or when anything to do with Jews or Judaism is brought up, or whenever self-deprecation seems to come from a place of genuine anxiety - aren't worth calling out individually, because the term kind of overshoots the seriousness of any individual instance. There's no way the term could be used without seeming hysterical. And, unlike the term "anti-Semitism," which some will say inherently hysterical at this point, but which points to a real-world bigotry worth fighting, there's no great advantage to calling out individuals' psychic unease.

So maybe we could compromise and say that it's fine to discuss "Jewish self-hatred," but that it's not OK to call someone a self-hating Jew?

Dan O. said...

@Phoebe -

I'm not against compromises, even linguistically awkward compromises. :-P

So, fair enough.

Funny, I've never heard of 'finishing what Hitler started'. I always used to hear the 'little holocaust' stuff. People are whack.

@Micha -

Let me just say that if someone were to threaten to protest any of my nephews's Bar Mitzvahs, I'd find it deeply hurtful. I have a young daughter, and another on the way (nephews too). If a life-cycle event for her were interrupted by reason of my politics or official capacity, I'd be completely devastated. It's unthinkable.

Micha said...

"So maybe we could compromise and say that it's fine to discuss "Jewish self-hatred," but that it's not OK to call someone a self-hating Jew?"

That seems to make sense. As a slur it's less productive while as a sociological phenomenon it is still something that should be noted. There might be times when the use is justified, but the accusation shouldn't be used lightly.

I still think it's fair to use the accusation of as-a-Jew kind of behavior, since it is a more definite and identifiable kind of behavior.

"Let me just say that if someone were to threaten to protest any of my nephews's Bar Mitzvahs, I'd find it deeply hurtful. I have a young daughter, and another on the way (nephews too). If a life-cycle event for her were interrupted by reason of my politics or official capacity, I'd be completely devastated. It's unthinkable."

I'm not justifying this or that action taken against Goldstone. I certainly believe that people protesting against things, whether they are from the right or left, and whether they have a just or unjust cause, should maintain certain levels of civility even when playing rough.

But my point was that the anger against Goldstone was not because someone called him a self-hating Jew. The anger was because of certain things he did. As far as I can tell, it was a justified anger. But, like I said, calling him a self-hating Jew is probably not a productive response to his actions, contemptible as they may be. And protesting against him at family events is extremely in poor form. I did once protest near the private resident of the Israeli minister of defense during my Peace Now days. But in retrospect, it was probably the wrong thing to do.

rshams said...

Dan,

I wasn't making a value judgment about community policing and "self-hating Jew," but merely pointing out how it is frequently used vis-a-vis Israel. I mean, obviously sometimes (or many times!) the charge is inappropriate - that will depend on the person making the charge and his/her motivations.

I think the way one views attacks on Goldstone also depends on where you stand politically vis-a-vis Israel. No, he's not a self-hating Jew in either the "all the others Jews are evil except me" or the "as-a-Jew" sense, but those who felt he caused damage to Israel (and feel that Jews have some sort of obligation not to do so) obviously were upset by his actions and lashed out rhetorically. I'm not saying that's completely good or rational - it's just what it is.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that intermarriage gets such vehement responses among American Jews considering it's pretty common by now. My only experience of people who had a problem with it was when members of their own families got married to non-Jews. They might not have been happy, but they would never talk about "self-hating" in that context.

The only people I'd expect to talk about Hitler in that context are Ultra-Orthodox, and they are a minority with a strong tenancy for hyperbole (if the ones in Jerusalem are any indication).