Now it’s quite obvious that calling someone a self-hating Jew in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict is intended as a demeaning political insult, a way of delegitimising the views of Jews with whom you violently disagree. But one of the reasons why the charge is so ubiquitous and is impervious to evidence and argument that proves it to be bogus is that it’s not just used as an epithet. To some scholars and serious commentators, Jewish self-hatred is a proven psychopathological condition, an academically respectable category, and exponents of it can be found throughout history. Their testimony helps to underpin the accusation.
Professor Robert Wistrich, who heads an antisemitism research centre at the Hebrew University, accepts the concept without question and taught a course on it. Lord Sacks, Britain’s mainstream Orthodox Chief Rabbi, endorsing the concept in his last two books, says it was born in 15th-century Spain. A recent convert to this way of thinking is David Aaronovitch, the Times and Jewish Chronicle columnist, who “discovered” that there was such a thing as a genuine self-hating Jew after encountering the virulently anti-Jewish writings of Otto Weininger, the brilliant young Viennese Jew who converted to Christianity in 1902 and killed himself a year later. And Robin Shepherd, of the Henry Jackson Society, in a thoroughly wrong-headed book out this month subtitled Europe’s Problem With Israel, uses the concept to explain why leftwing Jews “publicly turn against Israel”.
This is sheer intellectual laziness, or an ideological or political predisposition dressed up in academic language, or both. In fact, the way all of the key historical figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who are used to prove the existence of Jewish self-hatred – Weininger, Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus, Heinrich Heine – related to their Jewishness has been shown to be far too complex to allow the self-hating Jew label to be anything other than a crude mis-characterisation. Moreover, the perceived antisemitism in their writings was mirrored in the writings of Zionists, especially the founder of political Zionism Theodor Herzl.