What Self-hating Jews Can Teach Muslims

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Self-hate, in the Jewish context, is assailed by traditionalists, quantified by sociologists, catalogued by hobbyists, ribbed by comedians, feared by parents.

It is also underrated.

Simply put, we have much to learn from the self-hating Jew. Like the paranoid who is under actual surveillance, the Jew who is viciously critical of matters Jewish - or for whom Jewishness and Israel are sources of shame - may shed light on issues we may wrongly choose to ignore or accept.

In fact, for some of the same reasons, the contemporary Muslim could do with some self-hate of his or her own, a theme to which we will return later on.

What possible good can self-hating do for the Jewish people at large?

As a hypersensitive critic, the Jew lambasted and shunned as a self-hater - who may be novelist or playwright, radical rabbi or post-bar mitzvah deserter - may have much of value to say about the failings of the Israeli or Diaspora Jewish communities.

In Israel, it is all too easy to believe that excesses and atrocities of Muslim extremists somehow legitimize a lack of initiative toward peace overtures, a free hand to settlement expansion, and the continued, corrosive occupation of millions of Palestinians.

We are plagued with leaders who think too highly of themselves, untroubled by an unjustified sense of entitlement, an exaggerated sense which too many of us in the Jewish public share.

At the core of it, one suspects, is the goes-without-saying superiority complex embedded in the teachings of many Jewish religious figures and deeply ingrained in much of the Jewish public at large, the assumption that the Jewish mind is of higher quality, the Jewish heart of broader tenderness, the Jewish soul of more profound morality, and the Jewish belief system of greater legitimacy.

It's time we got over it.

Perhaps we need our self-haters to help.

Even extreme cases of self-hate, like the pre-caliphate court Jews leading British boycott campaigns, or the suburban-exile kaffiyeh kinderlach of Berkeley, more Palestinian by far than the Palestinians, can play a positive role. If nothing else, they serve a unifying purpose, putting internal squabbles in perspective and bringing Jews of many stripes together in disgust.

At least the Jews cannot be faulted for ignoring the phenomenon. One Web site, favoring quantity over scruples, bears a list of what it says are more than 7,000 of what it calls self-hating Jews.

Self-hate, after all, has been a staple of Jewish life since Jewish life began. Moses had to face the Children of Israel's dissent, discomfort, discontent and distaste, much more often than he would have liked (witness Korach, Datan and Aviram, Numbers 16:1-33 or the episode of the golden calf, Exodus 32: 1-35).

It may be argued that an element of self-hate could benefit the contemporary Muslim world no less.

The sense of moral superiority and ultimate entitlement is strong within Islam as well. This has proven no healthier for Muslims than it has for Jews. It has reached its most extreme form in jihadism, and an explicit goal of eventual domination of all areas once ruled by Muslims. But in making war on the West, Al-Qaida has effectively touched off a war against Islam. For quite some time, the vast majority of victims of worldwide Islamic terror have been Muslims.

Recently, perhaps as a result, there are signs that Muslims in growing numbers are questioning the sheikhs, mullahs and ayatollahs who preach Muslim superiority and Islamic entitlement. The same Internet and satellite television that drove jihadist terror forward are serving as platforms for Muslims who question, critique and counter the extremists.

May we, Muslim and Jew, have the wisdom to address our own failings with the vigor with which we attack each others'.

Let's hear it for healthy self-hate. It may just be what the world needs now.


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