Differentiating Between Blind Hate And Honest Criticism
By Phyllis Chesler
Date Posted: January 9, 2008
Whenever people ask me to explain Jewish
anti-Semitism, Jewish anti-Zionism, or Israeli anti-Zionism, I pause
and then try to discuss these questions calmly and dispassionately.
I say: Why are you so surprised? Jews are also
human beings. They internalize anti-Semitism along with everyone
else. In addition, centuries of persecution and abuse can lead to
self-blame, identification with the aggressor, and a highly
dysfunctional family life. Sometimes, a Jewish son or daughter
self-defensively acts out against cold, abusive or mentally ill
parents by projecting such traits onto all Jews for all time.
Since Jews really are human beings, they do not
necessarily want to bear the burden of having to defend the Jewish
state when doing so is unpopular or even slightly dangerous. Like
others, Jews want to be liked, to fit in, to be fashionable, and
they want to lead safe and happy lives without having to keep
fighting for their right to exist. For such reasons, some Jews
convert out or practice Judaism “light.”
Most Jews in America are liberals. And while
many liberal Jews have been strong supporters of Israel, many other
liberal Jews have tended to bypass Hillel’s first question (“If I am
not for myself who am I?”) while going directly to his second (“If I
am only for myself, what am I?”).
Such Jews devote themselves primarily to the
suffering of others, but not to Jewish suffering. Not only is it the
ethical thing to do, in their view; it also allows the Jewish helper
to feel powerful. If a Jew can devote herself to helping non-Jews,
it means she herself must not be in any danger – and besides,
accumulating brownie points in the eyes of a Jew-hating world can’t
When people ask me to explain why an
appreciable number of Jews are anti-Israel or oppose the U.S.
government or demonize evangelical Christians who so fervently
support Israel ‘s right to exist, I may seem cool and collected as I
attempt to respond. But that’s on the outside. Inside, I am
screaming and figuratively tearing my hair out.
Inside, I am thanking God that I have not felt
the compulsion to write a book about Jewish anti-Semitism. I can
only imagine how the author of such a book would be attacked by
other Jews and exploited by Jew-haters.
Fear not. It is not in me to cast a stone at
Jews or against Israel at a time when so many others have assembled
standing armies and mobs for this express purpose. Despite
everything I know about the imperfection of the Jews, I have fallen
in love with my people and with the study of our history and our
Law. (Stranger things have happened.)
Thus, I do not have the luxury of exposing
Jewish anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism in a hateful or righteously
indignant voice. Yes, I am deeply troubled by it. Yes, it causes me
to despair. Yes, it eats me up alive.
Though I may disagree with Jews who criticize
Israel at this moment in history, how exactly will it help matters
if I, too, rage against other Jews as opposed to wrestling with
their ideas? And yet the anti-Israel rhetoric of leftist academics –
including Israeli leftist academics – is frightening.
In 2003, I tried to get The New York Times to
do a story about the way Israel was being demonized on college
campuses. A major reporter was interested and I shared with her at
least 25 e-mails written by professors who feared they would be
punished if they said anything about Israel that could be perceived
as positive. The reporter was stopped at “higher levels.”
I’ve spent years writing about this subject and
academic, advocacy, and media-monitoring groups have subsequently
emerged to do invaluable work in this area.
Thankfully, it’s easy to dismiss the most
outrageous pseudo-academic views of Israel.
IsraCampus.org has a website that documents
Israeli academic excesses. IsraCampus.org cites, among many others, Prof. Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University for repeatedly denouncing Israel
as an “apartheid” state; Prof. Neve Gordon, also of BGU, for
declaring that Israel is becoming a fascist and terrorist state
worse than Hamas; Prof. Moshe Zimmerman from Hebrew University for
comparing the Torah to Mein Kampf; Paul Wexler and the late Tanya
Reinhart of Tel Aviv University for calling for a worldwide boycott
of Israeli universities; and Prof. Micah Leshem of Haifa University
for his view of Israel as being similar to Iran and North Korea.
Dr. Gary Katz characterizes such hard-left
Israeli academics as “death cult” members who grow ever more extreme
as their illusions are shattered by reality. It’s a point. Dr. Katz
ultimately blames the Israeli academic system, since it has both
trained and rewarded academics who excel in hating their own state.
And yet, despite the naked hatred of Israel
exhibited by so many Jews on the left, I recognize that there are
critics who are driven not by hate but by the sincere conviction
that if only Israel would radically reform itself and become a pure
and sacrificial light unto the nations, the world would embrace the
Jews and the Almighty would bring about the End of Days. (For my
part, I’ll leave town when that happens. Read Isaiah. That
much-touted event will not be a pretty sight.)
The fact is, there is much about Israel that
warrants criticism. What I’m about to write has been said by other
lovers of Zion, usually behind closed doors and in somber whispers:
Israel is indeed under siege, but it has been corrupted by arrogance
and greed. Its leaders are blind and self-serving. Sectors of its
Torah community are increasingly intolerant and violent toward
outsiders. Injustices toward the poor, toward the vulnerable, toward
women, and toward the stranger in our gate continue unabated and
fill me with grief.
Yes, such injustices are much greater
elsewhere, but so what? What excuse can we possibly offer for a
Jewish state being no worse and no better than everyone else? What
does it mean when Jews judge themselves by non-Jewish standards?
Those of us fighting the good fight against the
relentless demonization of Israel by both Jews and non-Jews cannot
afford to react in knee-jerk fashion to any negative statement or
characterization. It’s easy enough to dismiss the outrageous,
pseudo-academic slanders against Israel of the sort mentioned
earlier. But what do we do when the criticism has the ring of truth
and then some?
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, an
Emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the
co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the
National Women’s Health Network, is the author of many works
including the bestseller “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New
Anti-Semitism” (2003) and “The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the
Struggle for Women’s Freedom” (2005). Her forthcoming book is titled
“The Islamification of America.” Dr. Chesler can be contacted
through her website, www.phyllis-chesler.com.
Articles appearing on IsraCampus.Org.il are those of the writer and
do not necessarily represent the opinion of IsraCampus.Org.il