Center Field: Israel’s self-hating Jews

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-8-09

Last week, while hosting a State Department research team, Ariel mayor Ran Nachman spoke like a hoodlum, sounding like a self-hating and self-destructive Jew.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Nachman “blamed the idea of a settlement freeze on the ‘Jew-boys’ who are advising US President Barack Obama on foreign policy, such as David Axelrod.”

To explain his language, reporter Tovah Lazaroff added, “Nachman noted that he did not speak in politically correct terms and that it was his style to be blunt.”

Nachman flatters himself. There is blunt and there is stupid. Many reasonable people do not want to be “politically correct” these days, but that is not a license to make statements that, if uttered by someone else, say, his State Department guests, would be deemed “anti-Semitic.”

Those of us who fight against anti-Semitism beyond the “Israel bubble,” and those of us who care about the future of Israel and the Jewish people, have to explain to Mayor Nachman and, alas, so many other Israelis, that phrases like “Jew-boys” should never pass their lips.

Moreover, Jews who insult high-ranking US government officials, and attribute an entire foreign policy strategy to the identity-issues of a handful of fellow Jews, sound to me like self-hating Jews, repulsed by something essential they recognize within themselves that they feel propels their co-religionists to act in a certain way.

As an historian and a Jewish activist, I use the term “self-hating Jew” sparingly. It evokes the spineless court Jews of the Middle Ages, the sniveling Kapos of the Holocaust, and the self-righteous supposed sophisticates of today who only assert their Jewishness when assailing their own people.

Without evidence besides someone’s criticism of Israel, no matter how much I may disagree, I am loathe to affix the “self-hating” label. But when I hear right-wing Israeli bullies feeding stereotypes of both Jewish power and Jewish duplicity, I call them self-hating for two reasons.

First, their contempt hurts their own people and their own cause. Second, when fellow Jews wallow in the cesspool of self-destructive ethnic stereotyping it suggests that somehow, despite their bluster, they themselves are uncomfortable with their own Jewish identities.

As someone who has criticized Barack Obama’s undue pressure on Israel as counter-productive and ill-conceived, I am embarrassed that some of my views may coincide with these hot-heads who think that the way to charm diplomats – or the American people – is by feeding anti-Semitism.

Jews should not support Israel solely out of ethnic loyalty but because Israel deserves support. Jews who criticize Israel are not simply doing it because of identity hang-ups. The question of what to do in the Middle East is hard enough, the whole region is incendiary enough, without such destructive demagoguery.

Those of us dismayed that President Obama seems more comfortable pressuring Israel than Iran have to make a reasoned case to him, his aides, and the American people. This is not a matter of being “politically correct,” but rather politically shrewd and effective.

Giving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt, I dismiss the Ha’aretz report that he called David Axelrod and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews.” I accept his spokesman Mark Regev’s categorical and speedy denial. I am dismayed, however, that the Prime Minister has not done more to distance himself from the kind of rhetoric Mayor Nachman and too many others unleash.

Those of us who justifiably condemned Obama for awarding Mary Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because of her failures to stop the 2001 Durban pile-on against Israel and the Jews, warned there is such a thing as guilt by association.

Presidents – and prime ministers – are defined by their friends, allies, and awardees. A good leader must know when to distance himself from friends who embarrass him and allies who overstep, let alone avoid rewarding those who serve as problematic symbols to many constituents.

Unfortunately, Bibi’s silence regarding the overheated, far-too-personal rhetoric of his allies reflects a deep structural problem within the Israeli political system. Israeli Prime Ministers are held hostage by their coalition partners and often by members of their own party. As a result they rarely criticize colleagues – or fire them, even when necessary.

The fact that Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch used a racist slur against Arabs (Araboosh) and kept his job is the most blatant illustration of the problem. An executive who cannot fire is like a fire fighter who cannot use a hose – alternative methods to assert authority (or douse flames) – exist but few are as direct or effective.

Israel’s neutered prime ministers lack the power to impose discipline on Cabinet colleagues or other subordinates. That impotence, along with Israel’s blustery political culture and the media-magnified hysteria blighting most modern democracies, encourages demagogues. These hoodlum leaders reflect a broader social ill, a culture of confrontation and aggressive posturing rather than one of civility and reasonable reconciling.

Many sages in many different cultures have taught that the fish rots from the head down. Many Israelis justifiably worry about corruption among politicians and crime on the streets. Another form of moral degeneration is the verbal diarrhea of leaders who use bullying talk that only demonstrates how small and powerless they are to do anything but make trouble.

We need new leaders bold enough, shrewd enough, and powerful enough to set a new tone.

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