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My name is Daniel Waterman, I am Jewish and have lived in Israel-Palestine. I am an author and social-critic with a keen interest in Ethics. 


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"Self-hating Jews"? That is a Nazi expression. The Nazis called Germans who defended Jewish rights self-hating Germans."

-Israel Shahak

“Formerly an anti-Semite was somebody who hated Jews because they were Jews and had a Jewish soul. But nowadays an anti-Semite is somebody who is hated by Jews.”

— Hajo Meyer


Self-hating Jew or self-loathing Jew is a pejorative term for a Jewish person alleged to hold antisemitic views. The concept gained widespread currency after Theodor Lessing's 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass ("Jewish Self-hatred"), which tries to explain the prevalence of Jewish intellectuals allegedly inciting antisemitism with their views toward Judaism. Similar accusations of being uncomfortable with one's Jewishness were already being made by groups of Jews against each other before the birth of Zionism. The expression "self-hating Jew" "is often used rhetorically to discount Jews who differ in their lifestyles, interests or political positions from their accusers".(W. M. L. Finlay, "Pathologizing Dissent: Identity Politics, Zionism and the 'Self-Hating Jew'", British Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 44 No. 2, June 2005, pp. 201-222.) Hajo Meyer, quoted above, was obviously one of those accused of being a "self-hating Jew" despite having survived several concentration camps and losing his family. His crime: criticising Israel, Zionism and drawing comparisons between the conduct of Nazis and Israeli racism and policies.

The list of members of the Jewish community who have at one time or another been labelled self-hating Jews is growing and expanding as new uses gain currency, but the term is primarily wielded against anyone of Jewish ancestry who dares to criticise Israel and its policies, or who openly demonstrates support for Palestinians, or even for upholding human rights and international law (e.g. Hannah Arendt).


The term self-hating Jew is of course both derogatorry and misleading. It implies both that the user is either stupid or ignorant, something that can actually only be established when all the evidence has been brought out after the fact, and it implies malicious intent to either self-harm or to harm Jews.


It is an open question whether those who criticise Israel, Zionists and their supporters within the Jewish community for behaviour and policies that harm the image of Jews and understanding of the Holocaust abroad, or that could potentially lead to a nuclear war, or to Genocide should be called self-hating Jews, or whether perpetrators of such behaviours and policies are themselves more worthy of it. 


We should note that the problem with insults like self-hating Jew starts with specific understandings and interpretations of history. At the present juncture, the central question is that concerning the genesis of anti-semitism and the Holocaust and what position(s) Jews adopted and how they might have contributed to either hatred of Jews, or at least to the rise of Nazism and antisemitism, both in Germany and elsewhere. Another related issue is a myth, still current amongst many Jews, that Jews are universally hated for being Jews or for having 'killed Christ' and that Jews are and have always been victims, rather than perpetrators or at least in a position to significantly influence their own fate. These arguments center on two arguments; the first can be argued to have roots in the way power has played out between different religious movements within Judaism, of which one offspring became Christianity. The second of these concerns the question of Jewish political allegiancy during the tumultuous years leading up to the Russian Revolution and in the Weimar Republic leading up to the election of Hitler. In both instances divisions ran very deep and were aggravated by a great deal of uncertainty: Jewish religious law is complicated and necessitates the existence of a powerful clergy, something that was probably always problematic and ultimately resulted in challenges from those advocating a more autonomous spirituality.


Thus, there is from inception a question of whether Jews should accept any formal authority over themselves, a situation that was never resolved and thus was carried into the diaspora. The second challenge was that of choosing political allegiance between the political left, which ultimately sought emancipation for all people's or whether to stay politically neutral so as to avoid stoking antisemitic sentiment at a time when Jews were becoming evermore assimilated. Although many Jews would have been sympathetic to communism and socialism, their sympathies were tempered by uncertainty about the fate of Jews in communist Russia and by fear of provoking and antisemitic backlash. Research suggests that many Jews opted for the social democrats during the Weimar Republic and were ultimately betrayed when the party caved in to the extreme right.


The term self-hating Jew acquires its true significance in the face of these historical events. It is a loaded term suggesting that those accused are leading Jews to a certain death, that they support political policies that could ultimately spell their doom.


As such, the term self-hating Jew is also an absurd exaggeration and one that is hard to understand for anyone nfamiliar with the way the two discourses discussed above have played out in European Jewish history.