Prolegomena to the Study of
Jews Who Hate Israel
Not to Weep or to Laugh, but to Understand
Broadly speaking, Jews who hate Israel fall into three categories: a) the famous, of which Noam Chomsky is about the only one; b) the well-known, like Norman Finkelstein and Tony Judt, and c) others who are not known beyond their immediate circles but who do lurk in various crevices of the Internet. Altogether, as I will explain below, it is not likely that there are more than a few thousand of these haters active worldwide, say fewer than 10,000 and probably no more than half that number. Considering that there are more than 13 million Jews in the world at the moment, the proportion of those who activel hate Israel, about 0.04 of one percent, might well be considered to be modest indeed.
[For a recent worldwide overview of the phenomenon, see Manfred Gerstenfeld, "Jews Against Israel." (2005)]
Whichever way we may wish to evaluate the Jews-against-Israel movement, there has been little dispassionate investigation of it. Here I offer a few comments that may serve as a backdrop to such studies.
First of all, it seems obvious that there is no overall organization or central direction to the movement. To borrow a term from the study of religious groups, this movement seems to be strictly congregational in its polity. For this and other reasons, I will suggest the need to distinguish among different types of individual Jews who are against Israel and different types, also, of groups who are devoted to this cause. There is a variety of ideological motivations; a variety of styles of participation in the movement; a variety of statuses (prominence, follower, etc.); and finally a variety of generational groupings.
The history of our dolorous subject starts at least as early as Biblical times when, already, there were individual Jews who hated being Jews and tried to do something about it; see, for instance, Deuteronomy 13:6-11. And of course all books on Jewish history, and even Wikipedia, have lengthy disquisitions under the title “apostasy.” In modern history there were even a few individual Jews who, usually under great pressure, saw fit to collaborate with the Nazis in the annihilation of their fellows (see, for example, Stella by Peter Wyden, the story of a young Jewish woman who helped the Nazis catch fellow Jews in wartime Berlin).
And there have been Jews who hated Israel since before Israel was even established. The moderately anti-Zionist, conservative, largely Reform and often Republican “American Council for Judaism” of the 1940’s and 1950’s can hardly be accused of “hating,” but some of its graduates, notably the very strident Alfred Lilienthal (1915-2008), certainly can. On the left, the American Communist Party of the late 1920’s demanded that its Yiddish-speaking functionaries adopt an attitude of hatred to the Jews of then-Palestine. It found no more passionate advocate for this purpose than the editor of its Freiheit, Moissay Olgin (1878-1939). Olgin’s life and activity as a (“premature”) anti-Israel activist is described in the classic work by Melech Epstein, “The Jew and Communism,” 1956. (When I lived in Vancouver during the 1970’s, the Yiddish-speaking club of the Communist Party, by then again strictly anti-Israel, was officially called the Olgin Club.) But overall, outside of the circle around Lilienthal on the right and that of the 1920’s Communists on the left, it would be difficult to find Jews who invested any real emotional energy into hating Israel until, roughly, the early 1970’s.
1) There is the question of the social geography of the movement. I would assume that there are more Jewish haters of Israel, proportionately, in the universities and among the chattering classes, i.e. wherever leftist and left-liberal ideologies are stronger. I would also assume that there are more such people where individual Jews interact most intensively with non-Jews -- again the universities – than where they interact more with other Jews. All such ideas would need to be tested empirically.
2) There would seem to be a difference between an occasional Jewish hater of Israel, to whom this interest is just one of many, and a totally devoted Israel hater, who seems to be occupied by this pursuit to the exclusion of all others. So in Chomsky, for instance, we can see many topics to which he devotes himself, while in Norman Finkelstein it is difficult to find anything other than Israel hatred.
3) Since I use the word “hate” for my topic, I include only those who bring a considerable amount of mental energy, or passion, to their anti-Israel activity. Nonetheless there are degrees of passion, so we must distinguish between relatively mild and relatively strong hatreds.
4) Ein Bunter Hund. This German expression means literally 'a bright-and-many-colored dog,' in other words a phenomenon that is unexpected and thereby entertaining. An anti-Israel Jew stands out and is newsworthy because of his oddity. I would suggest caution against attributing too much importance to a grouping primarily for its oddity, or to put this another way, primarily because of its nuisance value.
5) How much influence do these folks wield ? They are regularly quoted and praised by Arab groups, but these hardly need the occasional Jewish ally to determine their attitudes toward Israel. Outside the Arab world, Chomsky wields a certain amount of influence on academic matters, and no doubt also on attitudes toward Israel. But the extent to which he and the other Jewish haters have an independent influence, over and above what his audiences would think without their intervention, remains a matter to be investigated.
6) How many Jewish Israel-haters are there in the world ? The propaganda work of these people has spurred a polemical literature against them (to which I have contributed, especially concerning Chomsky), which, in its zeal, has sometimes exaggerated the number and importance of these haters. I would not include all the individuals mentioned by my friends Edward Alexander and Steven Plaut in their various publications, nor would I evaluate those included in the “collaborator” series of FrontPage in quite the way that it is done there. In my view, there is a line between those who criticize more or less rationally, even in a biased way, and those who truly hate. Obviously this line is not always clear, and reasonable people will disagree on individual cases.
Among well-known and fairly well-known writers, there may be thirty or forty individuals who are clearly Jewish haters of Israel. There would seem to be more Jewish murderers and more outstanding Jewish crooks, or for that matter more outstanding Jewish scientists and artists. I think that such comparative quantitative considerations can help us in gaining perspective on the phenomenon.
Among the haters’ rank and file, we can count the people who sign, as self-identified Jews, anti-Israel manifestos on the Internet. One of the most representative collection of such names is the recent “Jewish Appeal to Support the Goldstone Report,” containing 935 signatures, world-wide. Another recent petition, “Open Letter to Israeli Soldiers” (calling for refusal to obey orders), contains 926 signatories from 41 countries. There are a number of such initiatives to be found on line, almost invariably graced by the names of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, but rarely do they have as many signatures as the two petitions to which I link here. Granted, not every Jewish hater of Israel can be reached for each of these efforts. But surely, given the apparently tireless energy of the organizers, I cannot image that they will fail to obtain the very modest effort of a signature from fewer than ten percent of their constituents. From this I guess that there cannot be as many 10,000 active Jewish haters of Israel worldwide. Surely we have that kind of Jewish participation in Buddhism, or the teachings of the Reverent Moon, Scientology, the Mafia ?
Ideally, we should find out how much overlap there is among the signatories of the various petitions that are available on the Web. The lists I have looked at are not easy to collate, partly because they are not alphabetized and also for other reasons having to do with their presentation on line. But with the expenditure of some moderate clerical effort, it would be possible to construct a masterlist of such signers. That could give us a much better idea of the (quantitative) importance of the movement.
In regard to the rank-and-file: how can we find out whether, and to what extent, a given individual partakes of this movement ? An internet search will reveal his or her participation, at least insofar as he/she has signed one of the public pronouncements. Since, as I said, Chomsky seems to sign most of statements, a Google search will generally give the answer if worded as follows: ‘Chomsky, “person’s name”’. You can also try an additional search: ‘”Norman Finkelstein”, “person’s name”’.
7) Little is known about the culture of (self-identified) Jewish anti-Israel organizations. At least some of these groups seem cult-like. The website of Vancouver’s Jews for a Just Peace, for instance, supports the idea of random terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Such views, apparently common among the adepts of the group, are certainly odd by most standards. We need the kind of ethnographic study of such groups that we have for many religious sects and cults.
The ideological-cultural roots of the Jewish anti-Israel movement are diverse, each, it would seem, requiring careful and separate attention.
8) Of all these groups, the most colorful by far are the Neturei Karta, the quasi-Hasidic sect that regularly denounces Israel and “Zionism.” In New York, about twenty of these invariably appear at Salute to Israel parades, decked out in Hasidic garb, waving Palestinian flags, and insisting that “true” Jews must be against Israel. The group also obtained much recent publicity by accepting an invitation to Tehran to take part in a Holocaust-denial conference. Since Hasidism is generally defined by a relationship to a given rebbe, the NK’s Hasidic credentials do not seem clear. It is also not entirely clear whether, and to what extent, the NK are associated with Satmar Hasidim. Most of all, it isn’t clear whether there is much significance to this extremely tiny group beyond its obvious Bunter Hund value.
9) There are relationships between these groups and extreme leftist groups, particularly the Trotskyists, particularly in Britain (the Socialist Workers Party) and in France (the various Trotskyist groups). Trotskyist groups traditionally were largely Jewish in membership, but this seems to be no longer true. In any case, the Trotkyists seem to present a special case in the movement. I have discussed the history of the Trotskyist relationship to Jews in an older essay.
10) It seems that in the United States, even after all the years that have passed since the quasi demise of Communism, the old Stalinists, their octogenarian remnant as well as their red-diaper offspring, are often still effective in inspiring anti-Israel sentiments among certain kinds of Jews. (It will be remembered that the American Communist Party of Stalin’s time was more Jewish in its membership than any of the leftist groups today.) This heavy hand of a Stalinist past is certainly noticeable in Vancouver, where former members of the Olgin club, and even more so their children, are now active in JJP. And it is also true in the pages of The Nation, the only publication of any significant circulation with a Stalinist heritage, and one that takes a consistent anti-Israel point of view. It would seem that, at least in some cases, the old Communism has been passed to newer generations in the form of anti-Israel ideas.
11) I have had the privilege of knowing a number of Jewish Israel-haters personally, allowing me to make some observations that could serve as hypotheses for more scholarly inquiry. The people I have known are rarely of completely Jewish origin, or, if they are, are rarely living in Jewish families. Many are offspring of a Jewish and a non-Jewish parent, and many of them are married to non-Jews. It remains to be seen to what extent such marginal Jewishness contributes to anti-Israel commitment. It is certainly true that at least some of those who represent themselves as Jews on the nominally Jewish anti-Israel petitions, etc., have no ascertainable relationship to the Jewish community.
Among the people I have known in this group, many seem to be secretive about their commitment to this movement, even when they allow their names to be listed in public declarations. And most of these people that I have personally encountered are very reluctant to discuss the matter, seeming to have given up on persuading those who are not like-minded. Would such observations hold for a more representative sample of the group as a whole ?
12) In some cases of young people, anti-Israel activity seems to have begun as part of other personal developments, in particular changes in sexual orientation, all, perhaps, being part of a personal radicalization in which family and “bourgeois” values are rejected. At least two of the anti-Israel groups that claim a Jewish membership have a leadership that overlaps with Lesbian groups. At the University of Toronto, it is the movement of Jewish “queers,” as they call themselves, who seem to lead the anti-Israel activity.
Ms. Jennifer Peto, U. of Toronto
Insofar as Jewish opponents of Israel claim Jewish religious affiliation at all, this tends to be within one of the smaller denominations. The self-described rabbis who declare themselves against Israel are often not ordained at all, or else ordained by the Reconstructionist seminary. I have looked at such affiliations in the “Jewish Voice for Peace.” I have also had correspondence with a Jewish Renewal rabbi, who reports what amounts to an aversion to Israel among most of his colleagues.
In general, it would be good to learn more about the various ways in which an individual may become socialized into the world of Jewish haters of Israel. Some suggestions may be gleaned from other areas of sociology. The classic criminologist Edwin Sutherland, for example, developed a theory of "differential association" to account for ways in which individuals, by associating with some and avoiding association with others, become initiated into the world of criminals.
13) The phenomenon is not static; it has a historical dimension. While no more than a curiosity in the past, it seems to have connections to wider circles today, especially circles considered liberal, “enlightened,” or, as the French say, bien-pensant.
One way to observe the changing status of such sentiments is to observe that during the first half of the twentieth century, support for Israel and Zionism was expected among the left-leaning. Shortly after Israel was established, Pete Seeger, not Jewish himself but an icon for left-leaning Jews, sang enthusiastically of that new “little country.” And in David Caute’s authoritative 1973 account of The Fellow-Travellers, no anti-Israel statements are recorded at all.
Tony Judt today is counted as one of the stalwarts of Jewish “anti-Zionism.” But this was not always the case. He came upon the scene of “public intellectuals” some twenty or thirty years ago, as an anti-Communist. How did he get from there to here ? A detailed study cases like that might yield some understanding of the historical dimensions of the phenomenon.
I have offered a historical analysis for one of the strains of Jewish anti-Israelism, the Trotskyist movement (for link, see under 9), above).
14) Finally, the available and future public opinion data on the Jewish community might yield better information on the quantitative strength of anti-Israel ideas in the Jewish community.
No matter how significant or otherwise the issue might turn out to be in retrospect years from now, it does seem to hold sufficient intrinsic interest to warrant more attention from the social scientists. Obviously, we would expect such scholarly interest to be conducted more or less dispassionately and with civility.
Disclaimer: I do advocate more study of this problem, hoping for more insight through research. But I am not particularly hopeful that more insight will enable us “to do” much about the problem, let alone solve it. Jesus, a realist, thought that the poor will always be with us. And I am afraid that, to one extent or another, those who hate us will too.
Bibliographic note (8/20/10):
Two very important new books on anti-Semitism have extended discussions on Jews who hate Jews:
1) Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora. See pp. 544, ff., “Jewish anti-Zionism.”
2) Robert Wistrich’s A Lethal Obsession. See Chapter Fifteen, “Jews Against Zion.”
Update January 2011:
I am indebted to my friend Ed Alexander for pointing out that Howard Jacobson’s novel, “The Finkler Question,” throws interesting light on the psychology of Israel-hating Jews. Perhaps it is the novelists who can tell us the most about this and many such questions.
December 26, 2009
Last revision August 14, 2012
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