Self-hating Jew
Self-hating Jew is a term used to allege that a Jewish person holds antisemitic beliefs or engages in antisemitic actions. The concept gained widespread currency after Theodor Lessing
Theodor Lessing
Theodor Lessing was a German Jewish philosopher.He is known for opposing the rise of Hindenburg as president of the Weimar Republic and for his classic on Jewish self-hatred , a book which he wrote in 1930, three years before Hitler came to power, in which he tried to explain the phenomenon of...

's 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass ("Jewish Self-hatred"); the term became "something of a key term of opprobrium in and beyond Cold War-era
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 debates about Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

". Similar accusations of being uncomfortable with one's Jewishness were already being made by groups of Jews against each other before Zionism existed as a movement.

According to one academic author, the expression "self-hating Jew" "is often used rhetorically to discount Jews who differ in their lifestyles, interests or political positions from their accusers". The term has a long history in debates over the role of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 in Jewish identity, where it is used against Jewish critics of Israeli government policy. The academic author Sander Gilman
Sander Gilman
Sander L. Gilman is an American cultural and literary historian, who is particularly well-known for his contributions to Jewish studies and the history of medicine. He is the author or editor of over eighty books....

 has written, "One of the most recent forms of Jewish self-hatred is the virulent opposition to the existence of the State of Israel." He uses the term not simply against critics of Israeli policy but against Jews who oppose Israel's existence. The concept of Jewish self-hatred has been described by one critic as "an entirely bogus concept", one that "serves no other purpose than to marginalise and demonise political opponents", who says that is used increasingly as a personal attack in discussions about the "new antisemitism". The sociologist Irving Louis
Horowitz reserves the term for Jews who pose a danger to the Jewish community, using "Jewish self-hater" to describe the court Jew "who validates the slander (against Jews) as he attempts to curry the favor of masters and rulers."

In German

The origins of the concept of Jewish self-hatred lie in the mid-nineteenth century feuding between German Orthodox Jews of the Wrocław seminary and Reform Jews. Each side accused the other of betraying Jewish identity, the Orthodox Jews accusing the Reform Jews of identifying more closely with German Protestantism and German nationalism than with Judaism. According to John P. Jackson Jr., the concept developed in the late nineteenth century in German Jewish discourse as "a response of German Jews to popular anti-Semitism that primarily was directed at Eastern European Jews." For German Jews, the Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

an Jew became the "bad Jew". According to Sander Gilman, the concept of the "self-hating Jew" developed from a merger of the image of the "mad Jew" and the "self-critical Jew", and was developed to counter suggestions that an alleged Jewish stereotype of mental illness was due to inbreeding. "Within the logic of the concept, those who accuse others of being self-hating Jews may themselves be self-hating Jews." Gilman says "the ubiquitousness of self-hatred cannot be denied. And it has shaped the self-awareness of those treated as different perhaps more than they themselves have been aware."

The specific terms "self-hating Jew" and "Jewish self-hatred" only came into use later, developing from Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl , born Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl was an Ashkenazi Jew Austro-Hungarian journalist and the father of modern political Zionism and in effect the State of Israel.-Early life:...

's polemical use of the term "anti-Semite of Jewish origin", in the context of his project of political Zionism. The underlying concept gained common currency in this context, "since Zionism was an important part of the vigorous debates that were occurring amongst Jews at the time about anti-Semitism, assimilation and Jewish identity." Herzl appears to have introduced the phrase "anti-Semite of Jewish origin" in his 1896 book, Der Judenstaat
Der Judenstaat
Der Judenstaat is a book written by Theodor Herzl and published in 1896 in Leipzig and Vienna by M. Breitenstein's Verlags-Buchhandlung...

(The Jews' State), which launched political zionism. He was referring to "philanthropic Zionists", assimilated Jews who might wish to remain in their home countries while at the same time encouraging the Jewish proletariat (particularly the poorer Eastern Jews) to emigrate; yet did not support Herzl's political project for a Jewish state. Ironically, Herzl was soon complaining that his "polemical term" was often being applied to him, for example by Karl Kraus
Karl Kraus
Karl Kraus was an Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet. He is regarded as one of the foremost German-language satirists of the 20th century, especially for his witty criticism of the press, German culture, and German and Austrian...

. "Assimilationists and anti-Zionists accused Zionists of being self-haters, for promoting the idea of the strong Jew using rhetoric close to that of the Anti-Semites; Zionists accused their opponents of being self-haters, for promoting the image of the Jew that would perpetuate his inferior position in the modern world."

The Austrian-Jewish journalist, Anton Kuh
Anton Kuh
Anton Kuh was an Austrian-Jewish journalist and essayist.- External links :...

, argued in a 1921 book Juden und Deutsche (Jew and German) that the concept of "Jewish anti-semitism" was unhelpful, and should be replaced with the term "Jewish self-hatred", but it was not until the 1930 publication of the German-Jewish anti-Nazi philosopher Theodor Lessing
Theodor Lessing
Theodor Lessing was a German Jewish philosopher.He is known for opposing the rise of Hindenburg as president of the Weimar Republic and for his classic on Jewish self-hatred , a book which he wrote in 1930, three years before Hitler came to power, in which he tried to explain the phenomenon of...

's book Der Jüdische Selbsthass (Jewish Self-hatred) that the term gained widespread currency. Lessing's book "supposedly charts Lessing’s journey from Jewish self-hater to Zionist." Lessing was assassinated by Nazi agents shortly after Hitler came to power.

In English

In English the first major discussion of the topic was in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin
Kurt Lewin
Kurt Zadek Lewin was a German-American psychologist, known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology....

, who was Lessing's colleague at the University of Berlin in 1930. Lewin emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1933, and though focused on Jews also argued for a similar phenomenon among Polish, Italian and Greek immigrants to the USA. Lewin's was a theoretical account, declaring that the issue "is well known among Jews themselves" and supporting his argument with anecdotes. Following Lewin's lead, the concept gained widespread currency. "The 1940s and 1950s were ‘the age of self-hatred’. In effect, a bitter war broke out over questions of Jewish identity. It was a kind of ‘Jewish Cold War’..." in which questions of Jewish identity were contentiously debated. The use of the concept in debates over Jewish identity - for example over resistance to the integration of African Americans into Jewish neighbourhoods - died down by the end of the 1970s, having been "steadily emptied of most of its earlier psychological, social, and theoretical content and became largely a slogan."

The term was used in a derogatory way during the 1940s by "'militant' Zionists", but the 1963 publication of Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt was a German American political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact...

's Eichmann in Jerusalem
Eichmann in Jerusalem
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil is a book written by political theorist Hannah Arendt, originally published in 1963...

opened a new chapter. Her criticism of the trial as a "show trial
Show trial
The term show trial is a pejorative description of a type of highly public trial in which there is a strong connotation that the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as...

" provoked heated public debate, including accusations of self-hatred, and over-shadowed her earlier work criticising German Jewish parvenu
A Parvenu is a person who is a relative newcomer to a socioeconomic class. The word is borrowed from the French language; it is the past participle of the verb parvenir...

assimilationism. In the following years, after the 1967 Six-Day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

 and 1973 Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War , also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria...

, "willingness to give moral and financial 'support' to Israel constituted what one historian called ‘the existential definition of American Jewishness’." "This meant that the opposite was also true: criticism of Israel came to constitute the existential definition of ‘Jewish self-hatred’." Even Commentary, the Jewish journal which had once been "considered the venue of self-hating Jews with questionable commitments to the Zionist project", came under the editorship of Norman Podhoretz
Norman Podhoretz
Norman B. Podhoretz is an American neoconservative pundit and writer for Commentary magazine.-Early life:The son of Julius and Helen Podhoretz, Jewish immigrants from the Central European region of Galicia, Podhoretz was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn...

 to staunchly support Israel. The use of the concept of self-hatred in Jewish debates about Israel has grown more frequent and more intense in the US and the UK, with the issue particularly widely debated in 2007, leading to the creation of the British Independent Jewish Voices
Independent Jewish Voices
For the Canadian group see Independent Jewish Voices . For the Australian group see Independent Australian Jewish Voices.Independent Jewish Voices is an organization launched on 5 February 2007 by 150 prominent British Jews such as Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, historian Eric Hobsbawm, lawyer Sir...


Social and psychological explanations

The issue has periodically been covered in the academic social psychology
Social psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...

  literature on social identity
Social identity
A social identity is the portion of an individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group. As originally formulated by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and 80s, social identity theory introduced the concept of a social identity as a way in which to...

. Such studies "frequently cite Lewin as evidence that people may attempt to distance themselves from membership in devalued groups because they accept, to some degree, the negative evaluations of their group held by the majority and because these social identities are an obstacle to the pursuit of social status
Social status
In sociology or anthropology, social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society . It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, for example son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc....

." Modern social psychology literature uses terms such as "self-stigmatization", "internalized oppression", and "false consciousness" to describe this type of phenomenon.

Kenneth Levin
Kenneth Levin
Kenneth Levin is a Newton, Massachusetts psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege....

, a Harvard psychiatrist, says that Jewish self-hatred has two causes: Stockholm syndrome
Stockholm syndrome
In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them...

, where "population segments under chronic siege commonly embrace the indictments of their besiegers however bigoted and outrageous", as well as "the psychodynamics
Psychodynamics is the theory and systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, especially the dynamic relations between conscious motivation and unconscious motivation...

 of abused children, who almost invariably blame themselves for their predicament, ascribe it to their being "bad," and nurture fantasies that by becoming "good" they can mollify their abusers and end their torment."


It is argued by some academics that the concept of Jewish self-hatred is based on an essentialisation of Jewish identity
Jewish identity
Jewish identity is the objective or subjective state of perceiving oneself as a Jew and as relating to being Jewish. Under the broader definition, the Jewish identity does not depend on whether or not a person is regarded as a Jew by others, or by an external set of religious, or legal, or...

. Accounts of Jewish self-hatred often suggest that criticizing other Jews, and integrating with Gentile society, reveals hatred of one’s own Jewish origins. Yet both in the early twentieth century, where the concept developed, and today, there are groups of Jews who had "important differences in identity based on class, culture, religious outlook, and education", and hostility between these groups can only be considered self-hate "if one assumes that a superordinate Jewish identity should take precedence over other groupings of Jews." Yet such hostility between groups has at times drawn on some of the rhetoric of antisemitism: "criticism of subgroups of Jews which drew on anti-Semitic rhetoric were common in 19th and 20th century arguments over Jewish identity". In practice, according to one academic, whilst there have been Jewish writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who consistently employed virulent antisemitic rhetoric without seeming to value any aspects of being a Jew, too often "those who accuse others of being self-haters search for examples of when they have criticized Jews or Judaism but ignore examples of when those they criticize have shown they value being a Jew."

The term is in use in Jewish publications such as The Jewish Week
The Jewish Week
The Jewish Week is an independent weekly newspaper serving the Jewish community of the metropolitan New York City area. The Jewish Week covers news relating to the Jewish community in NYC and has world-wide distribution.-Editorial staff:...

(New York) and The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post is an Israeli daily English-language broadsheet newspaper, founded on December 1, 1932 by Gershon Agron as The Palestine Post. The daily readership numbers do not approach those of the major Hebrew newspapers....

(Jerusalem) in a number of contexts. It is used "to criticize a performer or artist who portrays Jews negatively; as a short-hand description of supposed psychological conflict in fictional characters; in articles about the erosion of tradition (e.g. marrying out and circumcision); and to discount Jews who criticize Israeli policies or particular Jewish practices." However the widest usage of the term is currently in relation to debates over Israel. "In these debates the accusation is used by right-wing Zionists to assert that Zionism and/or support for Israel is a core element of Jewish identity. Jewish criticism of Israeli policy is therefore considered a turning away from Jewish identity itself."

Thus some of those who have been accused of being a "self-hating Jew" have characterized the term as a replacement for "a charge of anti-Semitism [that] will not stick," or as "pathologizing" them. Some who use the term have equated it with "anti-Semitism" on the part of those thus addressed, or with "so called ‘enlightened’ Jews who refuse to associate themselves with people who practice a ‘backward’ religion." One novelist, Philip Roth
Philip Roth
Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained fame with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, an irreverent and humorous portrait of Jewish-American life that earned him a National Book Award...

, who - because of the nature of the Jewish characters in his novels, such as the 1969 Portnoy's Complaint
Portnoy's Complaint
Portnoy's Complaint is the American novel that turned its author Philip Roth into a major celebrity, sparking a storm of controversy over its explicit and candid treatment of sexuality, including detailed depictions of masturbation using various props including a piece of liver...

- has often been accused of being a "self-hating Jew", argues that all novels deal with human dilemmas and weaknesses (which are present in all communities), and that to self-censor by only writing about positive Jewish characters would represent a submission to anti-semitism.

Similar terms

"Self-loathing Jew" is used synonymously with "self-hating Jew". "Self-hating Jew" has also been compared to the term "Uncle Tom
Uncle Tom
Uncle Tom is a derogatory term for a person who perceives themselves to be of low status, and is excessively subservient to perceived authority figures; particularly a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people....

" as used in the African-American community. The term "auto-antisemitism" is also used in Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 synonymously. In a column in Haaretz
Haaretz is Israel's oldest daily newspaper. It was founded in 1918 and is now published in both Hebrew and English in Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International Herald Tribune. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet...

, Uzi Silber used the term "Jew Flu" as a synonym for Jewish self-hatred.

See also

Further reading

  • Henry Bean
    Henry Bean
    Henry Bean is an American screenwriter, film director, producer, novelist, and actor.Most famous as a screenwriter, Bean wrote the screenplays for Internal Affairs, Deep Cover, Venus Rising, The Believer , Basic Instinct 2 and Noise.Bean...

    , The Believer: Confronting Jewish Self-Hatred, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002. ISBN 1-56025-372-X.
  • David Biale, "The Stars & Stripes of David", The Nation
    The Nation
    The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

    , May 4, 1998.
  • John Murray Cuddihy
    John Murray Cuddihy
    John Murray Cuddihy is an American sociologist. He is a member of the doctoral faculty at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York ....

    , Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle With Modernity, Beacon Press
    Beacon Press
    Beacon Press is an American non-profit book publisher. Founded in 1854 by the American Unitarian Association, it is currently a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association.Beacon Press is a member of the Association of American University Presses....

    , 1987. ISBN 0-8070-3609-9.
  • Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews, Johns Hopkins University Press
    Johns Hopkins University Press
    The Johns Hopkins University Press is the publishing division of the Johns Hopkins University. It was founded in 1878 and holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously running university press in the United States. The Press publishes books, journals, and electronic databases...

    , 1990. ISBN 0-8018-4063-5.
  • Theodor Lessing
    Theodor Lessing
    Theodor Lessing was a German Jewish philosopher.He is known for opposing the rise of Hindenburg as president of the Weimar Republic and for his classic on Jewish self-hatred , a book which he wrote in 1930, three years before Hitler came to power, in which he tried to explain the phenomenon of...

    , “Jewish Self-Hatred”, Nativ (Hebrew: translated from German), 17 (96), 1930/2004, pp. 49–54 (Der Jüdische Selbsthass, 1930).
  • Kurt Lewin
    Kurt Lewin
    Kurt Zadek Lewin was a German-American psychologist, known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology....

    , "Self-Hatred Among Jews", Contemporary Jewish Record, June 1941. Reprinted in Kurt Lewin, Resolving Social Conflicts: Selected Papers on Group Dynamics, Harper & Row, 1948.
  • David Mamet
    David Mamet
    David Alan Mamet is an American playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director.Best known as a playwright, Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize and received a Tony nomination for Glengarry Glen Ross . He also received a Tony nomination for Speed-the-Plow . As a screenwriter, he received Oscar...

    , The Wicked Son
    The Wicked Son
    The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Jewish self-hatred, and the Jews is a collection of essays by playwright David Mamet, published by Nextbook/Schocken in 2006...

    : Anti-Semitism, Self-hatred, and the Jews
    , Schocken Books
    Schocken Books
    Schocken Books is a publishing company that was established in Berlin with a publishing office in Prague in 1931 by the Schocken Department Store owner Salman Schocken. It published the writings of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Franz Kafka and S. Y...

    , 2006. ISBN 0-8052-4207-4.
  • Raphael Patai
    Raphael Patai
    Raphael Patai , born Ervin György Patai, was a Hungarian-Jewish ethnographer, historian, Orientalist and anthropologist.-Family background:...

    , The Jewish Mind
    The Jewish Mind
    The Jewish Mind is a non-fiction cultural psychology book by cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai. first published in 1977.-Contents:The part I, "Preliminaries", lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. The part II, "Six Great Historic Encounters", reviews the formative and lasting...

    , Wayne State University Press
    Wayne State University Press
    Wayne State University Press , founded in 1941, is a university press that is part of Wayne State University. It publishes under its own name and also the imprints Painted Turtle and Great Lakes Books....

    , 1996. ISBN 0-8143-2651-X. Chapter 17, "Jewish Self-Hate".

External links

  • "Ask the Rabbis: What is a 'Self-Hating Jew'?", Moment
    Moment (magazine)
    Moment is an American Jewish magazine. It publishes articles related to Jewish culture, lifestyle, politics, and religion. Moment is not affiliated with any Jewish organization or religious movement, and its articles and columnists represent a diverse range of political views.-History:Nobel Peace...

    , November/December 2009.
  • Rabbi Levi Brackman
    Levi Brackman
    Levi Brackman is a Judaic scholar, rabbi, teacher, writer, and religious leader who has been active in both England and the United States, and whose writings are featured regularly in publications internationally, including in Yedioth Ahronoth and The Guardian.-Upbringing and education:A native of...

    , "Confronting the self hating Jew", Ynetnews
    Ynetnews is the online English language Israeli news website of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most-read newspaper, and the Hebrew Israel news portal, Ynet...

    , September 1, 2006.
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner
    Michael Lerner (rabbi)
    Michael Lerner is a political activist, the editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish interfaith magazine based in Berkeley, California, and the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue of San Francisco.-Family and Education:...

    , "Israel's Jewish Critics Aren't 'Self-Hating'", Los Angeles Times
    Los Angeles Times
    The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

    , April 28, 2002. Reprinted at Common Dreams NewsCenter
    Common Dreams NewsCenter
    Common Dreams NewsCenter, often referred to simply as Common Dreams, is a 5013 nonprofit U.S. based progressive news website. Common Dreams publishes news stories, editorials and a newswire of current breaking news. Common Dreams also re-publishes relevant content from numerous other sources such...

  • Daniel Levitas, "Hate and Hypocrisy: What is behind the rare-but-recurring phenomenon of Jewish anti-Semites?", Southern Poverty Law Center
    Southern Poverty Law Center
    The Southern Poverty Law Center is an American nonprofit civil rights organization noted for its legal victories against white supremacist groups; legal representation for victims of hate groups; monitoring of alleged hate groups, militias and extremist organizations; and educational programs that...

     Intelligence Report, Winter 2002.
  • Jacqueline Rose
    Jacqueline Rose
    Jacqueline Rose is a British academic who is currently Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London.-Life and work:...

    , "The myth of self-hatred, The Guardian
    The Guardian
    The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

    , February 8, 2007.
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
    Jonathan Sacks
    Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron Sacks, Kt is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His Hebrew name is Yaakov Zvi...

    , "Love, Hate, and Jewish Identity", First Things
    First Things
    First Things is an ecumenical journal focused on creating a "religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society". The journal is inter-denominational and inter-religious, representing a broad intellectual tradition of Christian and Jewish critique of contemporary society...

    , November 1997.
  • Menachem Wecker, "In Defense of ‘Self-Hating’ Jews: Conversations with the Targets of Masada2000’s S.H.I.T. List", Jewish Currents, May 2007. Martine Gilson, Le petit soldat de la pieuvre noire, Nouvel observateur, 2003-10-09 Les « traîtres juifs » d'Alexandre Adler, 2003-11-01
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