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The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique

The test of Judaism is to be an uncompromising supporter of Israel. I reject that. Shimon Peres’s death brought out an avalanche of encomiums. To raise one word of criticism, his early stand on the settlements, his atrocities in Lebanon, his failure, supposedly changing his overall position, then to confront head-on, Israeli militarism, brings on one a tirade of abuse. There must be unanimity, particularly among Jews, like myself, or else subject to the charge of traitorous conduct if not worse. Today, in response to NYT’s Roger Cohen article, “Peres and the Passing of Hope,” I wrote a Comment (see below) and was denounced by a reader as a “ghetto Jew,” one hiding behind walls of fear, and not granting Israel’s supreme goodness and democracy.

No, not a ghetto Jew who has slunk away from slights and an inferiority complex, but fiercely proud of being Jewish, contesting all my life against anti-Semitism, but with several provisions: that to be Jewish carries with it, historically, the special responsibility to lock arms with all who have been persecuted and the victims of social injustice. Symbolically, I turn to Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger (see my CP obit., Jan. 2014), Dr. King, Eugene Debs, the proudly standing humanists and members of the Left, including, particularly in the trenches, like Schwerner and Goodman, along with Cheney, not Netanyahu, Adelson in America, the tribalists who demand complete obedience to policies of exclusion and ruthlessness.

Israel disgraces, tears down, ridicules Judaism, a once-living creed of compassion for, and struggling on behalf of, the dispossessed, the poor, the dissidents, yes, the Rosenbergs and Rosa Luxemburg, the avowedly radical, who have only contempt for those who rely on force, arrogance, and a sense of superiority. By that token, Peres was better than most Israelis, yet failed to stand up to fascistic tendencies of a Greater Israel. To that extent, he lent respectability and legitimation to the nation and its hard-liners by not going into unequivocal opposition. He, again, better than most, was not a son of Torah, agitating with every fiber of his being against Israelis’ daily infliction of humiliation on the Palestinians. Rather than president, prime minister, etc. etc., it takes courage to say NO to the war machine, those complicit in the crimes of intervention, assassination, regime change, evident in the record of the US, which has Israel’s back, as does Israel its back, whenever possible. Indeed, today in America, a self-respecting Jew cannot be critical of the policies and record of either nation. I reject that identity.

My New York Times Comment on the Cohen article (Jan. 29), same date, follows:

“And now?” Schlaim’s words, “chang[ing] his image from Mr. Peace to Mr. Security,” describes why Peres is not the saint, the visionary, a role we almost unanimously accord to him. The contradictions were there from the start. Advocate for military strength and nuclear development is not a harmless avocation. One pairs Peace and Security in such a way as to make them incompatible.

If Peres were truly courageous, he would have been a stronger critic of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, and a stronger critic of Israel’s international posture, which gave carte blanche to American foreign policy and tended to support dictators globally. The sad fact is that Peres is the best that Israel could produce, a giant set beside Netanyahu, but hardly a man of peace and social justice.

I regret having to say that. I am not a self-hating Jew, the conventional put-down, but one deeply admiring of Judaism, both as a world religion and beacon of freedom in years past in America. Much has changed. Israel has transformed American Jewry from a progressive social force, whether on race, politics, or economics, into a people of knee-jerk extreme conservatism and reaction. Go back to the New Deal period, a time when one could proudly, as a Jew, claim the mantle of defender of the poor, defender of labor, defender of human rights and justice.

I wish Peres had shown more guts in standing up to Israel ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and militarism. He then would deserve the eulogies.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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