We are always our own greatest critics. And rightly so, for only we can truly possess the fundamental understanding of the motivations and inner machinations that drive our transgressions. No one else can judge and scrutinize with a parallel level of knowledge. But, like with all things in life, there is a natural threshold, the crossing of which forgoes credible criticism and embraces relentless self-deprecation.Whether it is an individual turning on himself, or an individual turning on her people, the result will always be a degrading image that is given greater validity because of the nature of the source — someone “on the inside.”
As we always have, today the Jewish people face a tall order: ensuring the survival of our homeland and national identity. And few people are as successful in undermining the credibility of Israel’s right to exist as self-hating Jews, who constantly levy an emotionally charged affront against the Jewish state.
By no means is the action of criticizing Israel in and of itself a demonstration of self-hatred. Rather, it becomes such when factually based and carefully thought out criticisms of government operations are replaced with passionately blind accusations that do more to defame a people than to address any legitimate issues.
According to social psychologist Kurt Lewin in his 1941 essay entitled “Self-Hatred Among Jews”, self-hatred in a Jewish context is “directed against the Jews as a group, against a particular fraction of the Jews, against his own family, or against himself. It may be directed against Jewish institutions, Jewish mannerisms, Jewish language, or Jewish ideals” (186-7).
Following this definition, there are no contenders for the title of the “quintessential self-hating Jew” other than the famed Josephus Flavius. While not much may be said to challenge Josephus’ degree of Jewish identity — sources such as author Stephen L. Harris in fact describe him as a law-observant Jew — he holds true to the aforementioned criteria of self-hatred because of his actions in direct opposition to Jewish institutions, language and ideals. He defected to the Roman side following his capture as the head of the Jewish opposition at the Sea of Galilee, and went on to write complete — yet biased in favor of the Romans —accounts of Jewish history per Emperor Vespasian’s request. An even greater offense to the Jewish people that Josephus committed was to act as Titus’s translator and negotiator as the latter led the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (which ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple).
By actively writing accounts that defamed and belittled the Jewish narrative in the First Jewish-Roman War, Josephus directly opposed the Jewish institutions of the time. His works were not guided by virtue of honesty and factual representation, but rather followed the mold of most historical writings in that they portrayed an altered account of events from the point of view of the victor — the victor, in this case, being the warring empire that oppressed his own people. Josephus also expressed a disdain for Jewish language by forgoing his Hebrew birth name of Yosef ben Matityahu and adopting Vespasian’s royal family name, Flavius. And finally, Josephus combatted Jewish ideals by aiding Titus in his endeavor to wipe out the concept of Jewish national autonomy, culminating in the destruction of his people’s holiest site.
This notion of national autonomy for the Jewish people remains relevant to this day. Politics aside, the belief in the necessity of a Jewish homeland is fundamental to a strong Jewish identity. Especially given the repeated circumstantial inability for Jews to plant firm roots in any land they migrate to, it is of the utmost importance for them to have a land they can refer to as their own – a haven from persecution. In light of this prevalent need, groups across college campuses that identify as Jewish yet predicate their existence on delegitimizing the Jews’ right to self-determination in any way possible are anti-Semitic and self-hating. For as we have seen, it is a timeless practice of self-hating Jews to oppose one of the most important tenets of Jewish identity: national autonomy.
And so, while it is unfortunate that simply identifying as the group that a Jewish individual vehemently criticizes will significantly boost the credibility of said individual’s claims, the burden of responsibility lies with those Jews that see fit to conflate their Jewish identity — their entire conception of Judaism, in fact — with a passionate attempt to bring about its undoing. And it must also beg the question: if an individual’s criticisms are entirely truthful and legitimate, then why is this perceived “extra validation” necessary?
This phenomenon is showcased in the “Learning & Values” section of chabad.org, where in one question-and-response section, a reader poses the question of whether or not a self-hating Jew is still a Jew. It reads, “I recently saw a ‘Jewish’ professor speaking at an anti-Israel rally… His parents converted to Catholicism back in Europe, he never had a circumcision or a bar mitzvah, and he is married to a non-Jewish woman. He claims in his speeches that he is a Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor.”
In response, page-author Aron Moss elaborated on his own beliefs that, “Whether you love it or hate it, [Judaism] will always be there. No conversion can change that. And so, in a twisted way, he expresses his Jewishness by being the anti-Jewish Jew.”
Unfortunately, it is not my place to propose theoretical incentives or justifications as to why a Jew would wish to cause such harm to his or her own people, nor do I believe that I would be able to. However, the next time I am confronted by a friend of a friend about the alleged atrocities caused by the IDF — as he brings up Wikipedia pages on the “Jewish ethnicity” as evidence of how his distant paternal relation makes him “half-Jewish,” in order to lend credence to his vapid criticisms of the Jewish state — I will ask one simple question:
How credible are your claims really?