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Conversations with the Targets of Masada2000’s S.H.I.T. List
by Menachem Wecker
If self-hatred, as the Encyclopedia Judaica suggests, is “a negative attitude” that members of a minority group level against their own group, Jewish self-hatred should have disappeared when Israel was founded in what the EJ describes as a “renaissance of Jewish pride and self-respect.” Instead, the founding of Israel seems to have created, in the minds of accusers, even more ‘self-hating’ Jews. Overwhelmingly, the term is used to designate people who are viewed as critical of Israeli policy — any Israeli policy. Overwhelmingly, too, these same Jews will defend their views about Israel, however controversial, and reject the idea that Jews must give the Israeli government a perpetual pass on all its activities.
These are the not-so-surprising findings of a series of conversations I had last summer with various prominent Jews who have been labeled ‘self-hating’ more than once. Contrary to their critics’ disparagements, most of them struck me as quite secure in their Jewish identities.
The prize for being most accused of self-hatred would probably go to Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Chomsky, a Nobel laureate, has long been controversial for his overt criticism of the American and Israeli governments.
Some conservative scholars like David Horowitz, author of The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004) and The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006), among other books, have managed to launch careers largely by responding to his work.
Chomsky attributes the promiscuous use of the accusation of Jewish self-hatred to a piece by the late Israeli foreign minister and United Nations ambassador Abba Eban, who wrote in Congress Bi-Weekly in 1973, "One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all." "That is a convenient stand," Chomsky remarked to me. "It cuts off a mere 100 percent of critical comment!"
Although Chomsky comes from a religious background, he refused to address his own religious beliefs: "I've always regarded my personal life as a personal matter." But he added that while he is not as observant as his grandfather, "who barely left the shtetl," he does have deep connections to his Jewishness and considers the accusation that he is self-hating to be comical.
Former ABC News correspondent David Marash, who is now Washington anchor for Al-Jazeera International, the largest Arabic news channel in the Middle East, readily discussed his own faith with me.
"I am proud to be a Jew and love our culture and religion," said Marash, who says he has been called a self-hater for his Al-Jazeera affiliation. "But it is my job to report honestly, even when the facts reflect badly on some Jews, or on Israel. A Jew must always be true to his faith and his fellow-believers by speaking as truly as possible, especially on matters of interest to Jews."
Marash objected to the label 'self-hater' because it "almost always" reflects "a supposition from someone who has no way of knowing his or her target's inner relationship to Judaism or to God." He insisted that Al-Jazeera is not anti-Israel, though he agrees that it is editorially oriented towards Arabic-speaking peoples, some of whom are both pro-Arab and anti-Israel.
Marash estimated there to be "a minyan" (a quorum of ten) of Jews in the Al-Jazeera Washington bureau, of roughly 80 employees. The news service, he said, is part of the "pragmatic" camp of the Arab world, "which sees peaceful coexistence among Arabs and Jews and Christians in Palestine and Israel as the best alternative."
The main place to find the self-hating label flung at Jews has been at the website Masada2000, whose "S.H.I.T. List" ("Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening") contained almost 8,000 names, often with photographs and personal or professional contact information before the site was taken off the web by its host service, Bsinet.net, in March of this year.
Of the nearly 75 academics, activists, and artists listed on the Masada2000 site with whom I spoke, many were surprised at their inclusion. While some feared for their safety, others shrugged off the site as vulgar, immature drivel. Still others refused to even dignify the website's 'accusations' with a response.
According to Francesca Yardenit Albertini, professor of modern Jewish philosophy at Hochschule für Jüdische Studien (College of Jewish Studies) in Germany, many of Masada2000’s targets are, in fact, "the true 'lovers of Israel.'"
Albertini is of Sephardic-Italian origin and said she is "a very religious Jew." She views criticism of some Israeli policies in parental terms: "Why do you criticize a friend of yours? Why do you criticize your children? Because you love them, you want to make them better and you know they have the capacities to improve. If you are not mature enough to accept that, you refuse every sort of criticism by saying those who dare to criticize me are crazy, stupid, sick and/or disturbed people."
She described as "naive" her attempts to explain her views to the Masada2000 administrator, in an e-mail exchange that was posted at the Masada website. "It is not possible to debate with someone who does not respect you as interlocutor," Albertini told me. "Self-hate is a topic for Sigmund Freud, not for a political debate." She is, indeed, unhappy about appearing on the list: "First of all," she told me, "there are many disturbed people in the world who cannot wait to begin a new crusade. Secondly, teaching medieval Jewish philosophy at a German Jewish University, I can have my career negatively affected by such defamation."
Daniela Fariba Vorburger of the organization Peace Watch, in Switzerland, is another Jew who was charged with self-hatred by Masada2000. "The classification is absurd!" she told me. "Why should I hate myself if I'm standing against injustice and for the dignity of other (non-Jewish) people? Why should I hate myself because I express criticism against a state's policy which 'happens' to be Israel? Do parents hate their children when they criticize them and tell them what kind of behavior they don’t like and what kind they support or respect? Why do critics go so far as to invoke that pseudo-Freudian terminology?"
Jews, she continued, "still have this ghetto mentality that everybody hates us and is against us. Whenever there is a criticism, we see it as anti-Semitism, as pure hate. With this mentality, it's even less acceptable if people 'from within' criticize the club! I’m proud to be Jewish, but I also think that it’s important to stand up and speak against injustice, crime, killings, etc., including when these crimes are committed by Jews. As long as the Israeli government is speaking in the name of all Jews, hence also in my name, I will also speak out against a policy, committed in my name, with which I do not agree."
Richard Levins, professor of population sciences at Harvard University and another Masada2000 'victim,' considers the website’s use of the term "self-hating Jew" to be "abuse analogous to the use of 'anti-American' or 'unpatriotic' by some supporters of President Bush to prevent debate within our community. It is the height of arrogance to erase our 3,000-year history of disputation and demand support of the policies and actions of the present leaders of our communities as the price of admission to membership in our people."
According to Joel Beinin, a Stanford University history professor and director of the Middle East Studies department at American University in Cairo, Egypt, the phrase "self-hating Jews" has "no useful meaning except as a propaganda slogan. It is used to declare illegitimate those Jews who hold opinions — usually about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict — with which those who deploy this term disagree. No one has the right or the stature to declare a single interpretation to be correct or authentic," Beinin continued. "Dissent is part of the human reality. Dissent does not mean self-hate, and in fact, can be an expression of deep concern and even love of the tradition in question."
Stanley Aronowitz, professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, agrees. "A self-hating Jew, at this time, is defined as a Jew who does not unreservedly follow the dictates of Israeli foreign policy, especially on the Palestinian question, and will criticize the Israeli and American governments’ policies," Aronowitz told me. "It also refers to Jews who think independently of the mainstream American Jewish organizations, especially the lobby groups. By these definitions, I stand condemned by the right-wing apologists such as David Horowitz. Needless to say, I am proud to be on the Masada2000 list."
When I contacted Masada2000 through e-mail, a man who identified himself only as Rockwell (Rockwell Lazareth is his full name, probably a pseudonym) told me that the outfit does not grant interviews. But he eventually replied, often at length, with the same abrasive tone used to denounce those listed on the website.
The site was named for the famous fortress in Israel, where, in the 1st Century CE, the Zealots held out against Rome and eventually committed mass suicide rather than submit. "The Jewish people waited 2,000 years to reclaim their ancient homeland," Rockwell wrote to me. "If, God forbid, Israel is wiped off the map by today's Arab Nazis, the Nation of Israel will never rise again from any ashes!"
Masada2000's founders, who hail from America, Israel, Brazil, and Switzerland, created the site because, they have told other reporters, they encountered "professional and deadly serious" anti-Israel sites that vastly outnumbered the "too amateurish or heavily academic" pro-Israel sites. Rockwell has little mercy for the site's critics, whom he variously describes "judenrats," "angry lefties," "grumpy skinheads," "sexually frustrated J.A.P.S." and "any one of the 200 million Muslims named 'Mohammed.'" The site pledged "to expose Jews who genuinely despise Israel and the Jewishness it represents" as well as progressive Jews who seek justice for "everyone except Israel’s Jewish population."
The website sometimes extended its vituperation to non-Jews as well. "Apparently, when made aware that I am not Jewish, the person who runs this web site nonetheless decided I had slandered Israel and her besieged population," said Paul Bové, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. "My own sense of this is that American conservatism and Christian fundamentalism make use of whatever resources they can find, especially to slander intellectuals. I take it that Masada2000 is mostly a U.S.-targeted project that plays at most a marginal role in Israel’s well-being but does more dirty work here at home."
"It speaks very badly of U.S. civil culture," Bové continued, "that these things can happen and whether they involve me or not, depress me about the state of this country, its citizenry, and its possible futures."
Darrel Moellendorf, philosophy professor and director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs at San Diego State University, said something similar. "It's interesting that I should be on that list since I am neither Jewish, nor, as far as I can tell, basically self-hating. I imagine that I got on there because I endorsed a faculty initiative supporting Palestinian rights. What the list seems to do is to poison political discussion by encouraging the absurd beliefs that criticism of Israeli policy is equivalent to being anti-Israel, and that being anti-Israel necessarily involves being anti-Semitic. It is not unlike someone claiming that anyone who criticizes a policy of the NAACP is racist."
Susan M. Ervin-Tripp, a professor emerita in the psychology department of the University of California at Berkeley, observes that "the people who have organized the Masada2000 are not sure who might be a Jew in the United States and in certain parts of Europe, so they are inclusive. People who express the same views but have Swedish or Arab or Chinese names are not included."
"Next, they find any information they can criticize," continued Ervin-Tripp, who is not among the 8,000 who were listed at the website.
"For a while, when they had found a picture of a man with his dog, they accused him of bestial sexual impulses. Gays and women in women’s studies are also the objects of scurrilous innuendo. As a psychologist, I find this weird set of preoccupations interesting, suggesting that the people who run the website have some real hang-ups other than the paranoia that leads them to label everyone who doesn’t agree with them anti-Semitic."
Growing up, she said, "I used to hear clearly anti-Semitic remarks, and remember writing articles on the issue when I was a teenager during World War II. But I have not heard such things recently, except from some of the skinhead groups we read about. Most of the comments the site quotes as anti-Semitic are nothing but political criticisms of Israel. There are many distinguished scholars on that list. The names I recognized are of knowledgeable political analysts, including Israelis, who think that Israel is damaging itself by bullying everyone in the neighborhood. There seems to be more free speech in Israel on these matters than here. But that's the point, isn’t it, shutting people up?"
Jeremy Gordin, associate editor of the Sunday Independent in South Africa, who worked for the San Francisco Jewish Federation in the 1980s, admits that he could imagine becoming a self-hating Jew. Gordin defines self-hatred as "a certain Jewish attitude: a kind of embarrassment about being Jewish, a feeling that one has (as a Jew) to apologize all the time — and that one has to be watchful lest one fall into any of the mythologies that abound about Jews — sissies, Shylocks, the usual." He believes that self-hatred is rare in the U.S. and Israel but surfaces far more regularly in communities like South Africa, where discrimination against Jews is harsher.
"Yes, I do think there are self-hating Jews," Gordin told me, "and I think that if I had not, for example, spent time in Israel from 1970 to 1975, I might have strayed in that direction without realizing it." Instead, "I do identify myself as a Jew. I do not hate myself qua Jew or qua anything else."
The Masada2000 administrators clearly did not ask Gordin about his Jewish identity before listing him as a "self-hating kike," which they called "an ugly defamatory term, although properly applied to sick Jews like him!"
Many others accused of self-hatred adopt a 'sticks-and-stones' attitude, ("words can never harm me"). Others others were even thrilled by the publicity. Some thought it was important to publicly respond to the charges of self-hatred, but many thought the charges didn’t merit a response.
Michael Ash, an economics and public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who considers himself "a strong supporter of Israel" and "strongly dovish," told me that he has "a strong and proud Jewish identity" and doesn't "like the idea of being called to account by the Masada2000 hate-mongers."
Noam Chomsky thinks similarly. "Suppose there was a fanatic community in the U.S. with huge resources and innumerable organizations, media, etc., which was accusing you of being a child abuser and a supporter of Osama bin Laden," he said. "Would you want to assure them that you are not? Or would you choose to tell them to learn to behave like decent human beings?"
Yitzhak Laor, an Israeli writer and columnist for Ha'aretz, also questions whether the Masada2000 group deserves response. "For them anti-Semitism is a gun, and they shoot it, no matter what the other side might do or feel. . . Let them rot wherever they are. I wouldn't write an article to defend myself from such accusations, unless I am paid really well."
Israeli poet, musician, and artist, Roy "Chicky" Arad, offered the most humorous response to Masada2000 when he told me that he contacted the website and asked to be included because the list looked "impressive." He actually likes the folks who wrote the list, he said: "I admire people that are serious in their mission." A founder of the "Rave Against Occupation" dance parties of 2002 and 2003, which brought several thousand young Israelis (Jews and Arabs) to Tel Aviv and to the Negev to protest Israel's occupation policies, Arad suggested that I imagine Rockwell Lazareth's grandchildren, who "love their grandfather and are happy that he does something." Presumably, most of the "self-haters'" own grandchildren would strongly disagree.
Menachem Wecker is a painter and writer based in Washington, DC. His articles have appeared in the Forward, the Jewish Press, Arab American News, and other publications. Wecker blogs about religion and the arts at iconia.canonist.