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It’s Time To Retire The Term ‘Self-Hating Jew’

Here is my resolution, and my request, for 2019: That we banish the use of the term “self-hating Jew.”

There are Jews who hate Judaism. There are Jews who may hate Israel. There are Jews who may hate other Jews.

In a society that values freedom of speech, conscience and expression, that ought to be allowed. You don’t have to approve of such people, or invite them to your synagogue or your Shabbat table, or cheer if they are dating your daughter. But to imply that someone is “self-hating” is impossible to prove, highly insulting and self-defeating. It gets you nowhere.

It makes you the arbiter of what it means to love yourself as a Jew, and that is not the role any human can or should play.

In the past, when I’ve been called a “self-hating Jew” — usually in the context to something about Israel that I wrote or published — I’ve tried to shoo the slur away as if it’s an annoying mosquito, or minimize it with a lame attempt at humor. (If I am such a self-hating Jew, why did I spend all that tuition money sending three kids to day school from gan to 12th grade???)

But when the charge is leveled at the Forward, I become a ferocious bear mother protecting her cubs.

For example, this column in the Jerusalem Post published late in December, written by the philanthropist Adam Milstein. In it, he asserts that the Forward “launched a campaign together with Electronic Intifada and Al-Jazeera to attack the financial supporters of the Canary Mission,” which he describes as a “watchdog that compiles public statements and social media posts of antisemites (sic) and anti-Israel activists.”

This is flat out wrong.

We never launched a campaign with Electronic Intifada, Al-Jazeera or anyone else. Our Josh Nathan-Kazis has done exemplary work trying to uncover the operations and funding sources of Canary Mission, a secretive online blacklist that targets anti-Israel student activists in a way designed to ruin their careers, movement and reputations. (For a deeper understanding of Canary Mission and the new aggressive approach against campus critics of Israel, read Josh’s terrific story here.

Even staunch pro-Israel campus activists loathe Canary Mission’s tactics, which create a toxic environment that makes effective advocacy that much harder. But in this column, Milstein doesn’t debate the value of Canary Mission. He compares our unassailable journalism to those who do harm to the Jewish people — including the person responsible for massacring 11 Jews in Pittsburgh — and attributes it to Jewish self-hatred.

When I first read Milstein’s piece, I chuckled. (See a pattern here?) It was published just as I was preparing to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at his Jerusalem residence. The private conversation was at Rivlin’s invitation, and I’m guessing he usually doesn’t invite horrible, self-hating Jews to his home.

More seriously, this line of attack is old, tired, ugly and injurious. There are real debates to be had, about Israel and a host of other issues facing the Jewish people. Let’s deal with the substance and put aside the vicious personal attacks and insinuations.

Don’t tell me — or any other Jew — that I hate a precious part of myself. Just don’t.

What else I’m reading. For an antidote to that ugliness, read the latest edition of Sh’ma Now: A Journal of Jewish Sensibilities, edited by Susan Berrin and hosted online and in print by the Forward.

In each edition, Susan focuses on a Jewish attribute and assembles an array of deep thinkers to explore it. This time it’s chavruta, partnerships — the traditional method of text study in which two students learn by creating a sort of educational relationship. Susan asks whether these partnerships can teach us how to learn and work together differently.

“How do people sit and argue and then walk away as lovers?” she writes. Don’t we need that answer today?

It seems to me that a key aspect to this kind of partnership is also humility, something else in painfully short supply in our public discourse today. With that in mind, I share with you a short prayer I learned last Shabbat from my friend and teacher, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld. It’s from Mordecai Kaplan and reads like this:

“From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half-truths, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, O God of truth, deliver us.”

‘Alte Kakers Rule!’ I confess that I was thrilled to hear the news that Susan Zirinsky is about to become the first woman to run CBS News. Not because she’s Jewish, or an acquaintance, or that I’m a particular fan of her network. No, it was because she is 66 years old!

It’s rare in media to hear of a woman of that age assuming an influential role because the common presumption is that in the digital age, experience and wisdom are expendable. The woman known as “Z” proves otherwise.

Looking forward. I returned home from my reporting in Israel with filled notebooks and stories to share. Look for my conversation with President Rivlin, a deep dive into women’s politics, and more in the next few weeks.


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