Accusations of Jewish Self-Hatred and Anti-Semitism are a Strategy to Hide from One’s Self-Reflection

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Anyone who follows the debate over Israel-Palestine knows how automatic and routine it is for one side to label those who disagree with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people as self-hating Jews, Israel haters or anti-Semites. Hoping to calm the hysteria and add much-needed clarity to the issue, and unwilling to be silenced by these accusations, I’ve decided to share a brief adaptation from the “The Self-Hating Jew” chapter of my book, Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict. As an American Jew with Ultra-Orthodox relatives living in Israel, a former member of AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) and a reflexive defender of Israel for more than fifty years I believe I am as qualified as anyone to share my insights.


The Self-Hating Jew

 by Richard Forer

In the past the label self-hating Jew, though rarely used, was associated with Jews who were ashamed of or who hid their religious and cultural heritage. But as the debate over Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people has intensified, self-hating Jew, like anti-Semite, has become a routinely brandished and emotionally charged retaliatory weapon. The idea that a three-word label can encapsulate the character of a person is problematic. A human being is far more than what a single phrase can say about him, and self-hating Jew is so divisive that it makes tolerance and cooperation impossible; and it eradicates the possibility for real understanding.

For some Jews, support for Israeli policy is unconditional, even if it conflicts with traditional Jewish values. For other Jews, these values are primary and ought to be associated with Israel’s compliance with international law. If the former would make an effort to discover why the latter campaign for Palestinian equality, they would learn that they are making a conscious choice not to remain silent when witnessing one group’s denial of basic human rights to another group. These Jews see their people, like the rest of mankind, as complex beings, capable of acts of inhumanity as well as acts of kindness. They are able to concede that at times Israel does violate the rights of others, that it has used torture and mistreated and killed innocent people, and that its leaders do not always tell the truth about these acts. They believe that the Israeli government has hijacked their heritage by replacing morality and brotherhood, once so valued in Judaism, with bigotry and exclusion. Nearly every Jewish critic I’ve met believes that by opposing policies that relegate Palestinians to lives of second-class citizenship, that they are rescuing the integrity of their religious tradition. They are, therefore, true friends of Israel.

A true friend will admonish his friend when he sees him acting irrationally toward his neighbor. These critics have no desire to harm the state of Israel. Their desire is to prevent the state of Israel from harming Palestinians. They advocate equal rights for all because they know that equal rights lead to peace.

This begs the question: What exactly is self-hating (or anti-Semitic) in such a position? Is honoring the humanistic values many Jews were taught at synagogue a betrayal of their Jewish roots? Is caring about another people synonymous with hatred? Is learning about a painful subject likewise symptomatic of hatred? Isn’t thirst for knowledge a hallmark of Judaism and isn’t it fundamental to solving problems? If criticism of deliberate violations of international law expresses hatred, what does turning one’s back on the suffering of millions express? If calling on Israel to end its human rights abuses expresses hatred, are we to forsake a people who cry out against the destruction of their own homes or the traumatizing of their own children?

So where is the hatred? The hatred is conceived in the minds of those who are afraid to ask why someone is critical of Israel. Rather than conducting honest research to refute or confirm the criticism, the accuser victimizes himself with self-generated feelings of fear, confusion and anger, all of which are animated by unexamined beliefs and images within his own mind. This mind colors his perception so that he sees the world in terms of personal victimhood versus the world’s hostility.

Because he is unconscious of the effect his feelings have on his perception, the accuser can only project his perception onto the world and then presume that the world he sees proves the reality of his perception. Creating his own suffering, he narcissistically scapegoats and blames the world (in this case Palestinians and their sympathizers) for his suffering. Triggered through denial, this inner thought process attributes to Palestinians and their sympathizers the accuser’s own hatred. In other words, the accuser makes the other responsible for, and the repository of, his unresolved pain. He objectifies the other and rejects his humanity. Then he supports inhumane policies, which he justifies under the guise of an existential danger to Israel. In so doing, he brings the world’s anger down upon Israel which reinforces and perpetuates the cycle of perceived victimhood. This entire process is a defense mechanism that stems from the fear of inquiring into one’s presumed identity through the questioning of one’s beliefs and images.

Labeling as hateful or anti-Semitic honest criticism of Israeli oppression is no different than labeling as anti-American honest criticism of America’s history of oppression toward people of color. And holding Israel to normative standards of conduct does not delegitimize anyone. What delegitimizes Israel are the behavior and attitudes that humiliate an indigenous people.  

I have not met one defender of Israeli policy who has impartially studied the actual history. If they had the decency to do so, most would discover that they have character assassinated the Palestinians and facilitated their misfortune. The real conflict for these defenders is not Israel versus a hostile world or Israel versus the Palestinians. The real conflict – and the basis for claims of self-hatred and anti-Semitism – is the failure to integrate the hard-to-believe but inescapable awareness of Israel’s treatment of non-Jews with unquestioned loyalty to the Jewish state. One consideration acknowledges Israel’s dark side. The other denies the dark side exists. If these defenders want to distinguish the source of conflict and find peace they need to inquire within. But there are no excuses! Under certain conditions, willful blindness is a crime against humanity.  

Only by committing myself to the truth was I able to apprehend that, in reality, criticism of Israel was never a serious concern. Incredibly, I had never defended Israel, at least the Israel that actually exists. I had always defended an idealistic image of Israel that was projected or superimposed upon the Israel that actually exists. This projection enabled me to repress or deny painful revelations that I would have learned about Israel and about myself if only I had looked without the errant influence of an unexamined mind. Denial and projection go hand in hand. What I denied about Israel and about myself, I projected onto the other who automatically and necessarily became my enemy.

The perspective formed from my projections revealed more about how I wished to see my people than how they really are when looked at in an honest light. My attachment to certain beliefs and images was a defense designed to preserve a childlike faith in Israel as guardian of freedom and humanity. Somehow, I had to reconcile my treasured images with the reality that conflicted with them. However, rather than making use of the tension between these forces as a gateway to transformation, I spurned reality and adhered to the safety of indoctrination. When friends I normally trusted pointed to Israeli deeds that seemed out of character, I reacted by ignoring or rationalizing the suffering of Palestinians.

Equating Palestinian freedom with Palestinian terrorism, I worried that if Israel relinquished strict control over its subjects, the lives of its citizens would be imperiled. Fearing annihilation, I unconsciously superimposed Nazi images onto the Palestinian people, and then refused to believe that the Jewish state could act indefensibly toward them. Fear prevented me from empathizing with the pain of Palestinians and it blinded me to the likelihood that a country I had invested so much faith in could administer such brutal policies.

I indoctrinated myself into the idea that some Jews were willfully ignorant of the evil intentions of the Palestinians, and that their willfulness demonstrated support for that which my unexamined mind feared most: the annihilation of the Jewish state.

Truthfully, my reaction to criticism was motivated more by the fear of taking on the challenge that the criticism posed to my identity than by genuine disagreement or fear for Israel’s existence. For a split second, though, before denial and repression set in, this challenge reflected the prejudice that induced me to deny the humanity of the other. And in order to avoid encountering my own lack of humanity, I ignored documented evidence, thereby consenting to the subjugation of millions. I judged Palestinian violence as a pathological expression of hatred, not the response of an oppressed people, a small minority of whom resort to violence as the only way they know to retain a measure of self-respect in the face of generations of violence inflicted upon them. By turning my back on the suffering of others, I had sacrificed the very values Israel once personified.


How is it that a person can be devoted to the well being of one group and hostile to the well being of another? Is it true that there is an inherent difference between two peoples that justifies devotion to one and hostility towards the other? Are such feelings real or has something been added that distorts feeling? In my view, the determining factor is the labels that are applied to a people and the beliefs and images associated with the labels. These labels are the mind’s attempt to resolve fear and gain security, but they occlude the very mechanism that can achieve these aims.

The ability to look and to feel is what achieves security. This ability is inherent and it functions perfectly when there is no recoil from the circumstances of existence. In simple practical situations it makes itself known. Everyone has experienced it. There is a moment when you just know there is danger, when you know that a person is not to be trusted. Then you act accordingly. You do not need one iota of belief about the situation. You have no preconceptions and you are not recoiled from the situation. You are simply being present. Then there is the real feeling that something is amiss.

What I am talking about is natural intelligence as the means for practical security. If we look and feel, then certain things become clear. But we have to renounce labels, we have to renounce the philosophy of us against them, and we have to end our recoil from the human reality of the conflict. There is nothing to fear; we needn’t wait. Do we wait until we discover the nationality, race or origin of a person before we feel concern or neglect for him or her? If so, then there is no real feeling at all. Our concern and our neglect are false. Both are manifestations of fear and confusion. Our automatic identification with one side of a conflict is selfish, founded upon an attachment that keeps us so inextricably bound that we have lost our connection to humanity. We may tell ourselves we support an end to conflict, but as bearers of inner conflict we constantly subvert our goals.

Beyond the mind lies a vast expanse of freedom, unqualified by our presumed mortality as a separate person. In this space of freedom true feeling arises; it flows from the heart. In the field of human relations its expression is compassion. Compassion is the expression of peace and the means of peace. When we know it then we also know that peace for the world is achievable.


I never used the term self-hating Jew. I am thankful I didn’t. I believe the label is a powerful barrier to understanding. The key to understanding is dispassionate intelligence. Fear and anger permeated every argument I made in defense of Israel. Invariably I moved from the quandary of fear to the apparent certainty of anger. But I never crossed over into hate. There is a special feeling that accompanies the words self-hating Jew. The key is in “hate.” Characterizing someone in any way with this word introduces viciousness to the mind. This viciousness makes the mind utterly dualistic – and utterly obtuse. The subtle awareness that my ingrained perspective was perhaps incorrect would have been extinguished if I had described Israel’s Jewish critics as self-hating. As it was, because I did not become involved in hate, I remained open to a dispassionate investigation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.


The notion that any Jew who dedicates him or herself to justice for all people and who protests the unfair treatment of the downtrodden harbors self-hatred defies common sense. Given the self-esteem it takes to stand for justice amidst fierce denunciation, a more accurate assessment is that they are self-loving Jews.


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25 Replies to “Accusations of Jewish Self-Hatred and Anti-Semitism are a Strategy to Hide from One’s Self-Reflection”

  1. hi Rich– great artcle, fwd by Maureen. I miss your perspecives here in high desert country…the June 30th talk w/Dr Les Field was fantastice,but would have been even better with you as co-speaker!!!
    Please put me on your blog/email list…

  2. Way to go, Rich… Your profound insights and articulate, courageous and compassionate sharing of them will surely open doors into greater understanding for many readers.

  3. This is a ground-breaking article, Rich. An insightful, must-read article that I hope gets a lot of serious attention. Thank you for sending it. I’ve shared it on Facebook & tweeted it.

  4. Thanks Rich. Working toward new beginnings with respect, mutuality and an end to this bitter occupation takes a lot of clarity. Keep it up. I’ll be in Albuquerque for the Sabeel conference at the end of September. Les Field used to be in my congregation (when I was living in ABQ) and he is a fantastic professor. Blessings. Lynn

    1. Hi lynn, I am now on the east coast. Les is a nice guy. You are a great rabbi. keep it up. I hope to meet you one day.

  5. There are only two emotions and motivations-LOVE and FEAR and Education leads to Compassion which is the only way to bring in Real Change.

    Dearest Rich-YOU did a great job nailing all!

  6. Wow Richard! What a passage from your book. Thank you for it, and for sharing it at such a critical time. Many of us are praying that we are at a tipping point and ALL of the world will have to look with new eyes at the realities on the ground and how we got to where we are. Congratulations my friend, and may your tribe increase toward the anti-tribalism toward which many of us aspire.

  7. The journey of personal transformation manifested in your writing, the research you have done, and the clarity of your writing, makes what you say have great power. Having spent time recently in Israel and the West Bank I experienced first hand the colossal depths of fear that many Israelis have that blinds them to what they are assenting to in regard the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and those in Israel too. Thank you.

    1. Thank you George for your interest in this painful subject. The world needs more people like you. Hopefully and soon we will see a profound awakening to the oppression that so many are in denial about.

  8. The premise of this piece, that there are only two groups, is a false dichotomy: “For some Jews, support for Israeli policy is unconditional, even if it conflicts with traditional Jewish values. For other Jews, these values are primary and ought to be associated with Israel’s compliance with international law.”

    Rather, there are (also, and substantially) Jews whose support for traditional Jewish values compel them to support Israeli policy, not unconditionally, but wherever Jewish lives and values are threatened by those who would destroy all Jews. Where justified survival (including the support for the continued existence of the Jewish nation) conflicts with “International Law”, the moral choice is clear — and among the Muslims in general, but particularly the Arabs, Persians and most of all Palestinian Arabs (to distinguish from the Palestinian Jews), there really are what amount to two groups: those who would rather be rid of all Jews in the world, and pretend that Israel is the only problem they have with Jews, and those who would rather be rid of all Jews and don’t bother to pretend.

    1. Michael,
      First of all I never said there were “only two groups.” Further, the “false dichotomy” is your putting Arabs and Palestinians into two groups. My overall point is that one’s refusal to investigate documented history and the apparent reality of one’s beliefs will always create suffering and conflict. My beliefs were once similar to yours but then I chose to educate myself as honestly and objectively as possible. What I discovered about the actual history and, more importantly, what I discovered about myself, compelled me to relinquish my prejudices and false beliefs, all of which were self and other destructive; all of which, contrary to my unexamined mind, made me not a true friend of Israel but an uninformed and blind supporter of its irresponsible drive to alienate itself from the world community. If you really care about Israel, as you are convinced you do, you would do well to learn the actual history and to put yourself in the place of a Palestinian and see what you would do if you found yourself in the circumstances he was in. Frankly, Michael, your comment is strong evidence for the validity of what I am saying. Lack of knowledge can never overcome a genuine desire to go beyond one’s indoctrination and find out for one’s self what is true and what is false. Clearly, you have done very little research into the history nor has your study been informed by objectivity. There is no harm in discovering, to the greatest extent possible, the truth. Doing so does not require you to give up any allegiance to any nation or people, nor does it even require you to give up any prejudices.

  9. See the comment of who_me
    Dose it ring the bell……….

    who_me Log in to Reply
    July 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm
    i am reminded of bush sr. and his kindlier, gentler machine gun hand.

    i think it is naive to think israel could ever be transformed into a humane country. the very nature of zionism is inhumane and could only be so as it is based upon judeo-supremacism and enforced inequalities. the only way to take the inhumanity out of zionism and israel is to take out zionism and israel from the human body politic altogether, and replace them with an entity not based upon indoctrinated jewish prejudice and fascism.

    1. Although I am pessimistic about the future of Israel and its willingness to see all people as humane I would not go so far as to agree with your comment, George. There are many people who identify as Zionists who would give up that identification if they learned the truth of Israeli policies and its history of land theft as primary to peace making. You cannot paint all who support a particular country as identical in nature or in their humanity. To do so is to align yourself, through such dogmatic thinking, with the truly reactionary elements of Israeli society that see all Palestinians as sub-human and are not only not in denial about their hateful attitude toward Palestinians but are eager to inflict more suffering upon them.

  10. Thank you for this article. I’ve always wondered how in the world so many otherwise decent people live with their consciences while approving of the vicious attacks altruistic peaceniks invariably receive for telling the truth about the zionist enterprise. Very interesting.

    -Julia Nelson

  11. This is perhaps the most honest assessment of how Israel uses “labels” to deflect criticism of it’s ongoing inhumane actions against the Palestinian people. It’s hearth warming to read and how I wish more of the worlds Jewish community could take the blinkers off to see the reality of what Israel is doing to Palestine and how it is in fact the Israeli leadership that is tarnishing the image of Judaism. Thank you Richard Forer.

    1. Thank you Robbie for being open-minded and willing to look beyond the cultural prejudices that are so blinding and so dehumanizing for so many.

    1. Phyllis,
      I support the existence of Israel as a democratic state with equality for all its citizens. For a number of reasons, I do not support Israel’s insistence that it be a Jewish state. First, I do not believe that by virtue of their birth some citizens should be considered and treated as superior and others as inferior. I do not agree with racism in any form. Second, Israel’s demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state is simply a tactic to obstruct the peace process. As any student of documented – not mythic – history knows, Israel has consistently either ignored peace offers or has used “peace negotiations” as a tool to deceive its uninformed supporters into thinking that it desires peace. And at the same time it negotiates for peace, Israel is busy expanding its land grab of Palestinian territory. Additionally, recognition by the Palestinian people of Israel as a “Jewish state” supports the Zionist historical narrative, most of which is simply fabrication, character assassination of the Palestinian people and concealment of the many crimes committed in the name of the Jewish people. Recognition as a Jewish state also would minimize or even deny the Nakba or Catastrophe inflicted upon Palestinians by Zionist Jews. Recognition as a Jewish state also justifies Israel’s denial of a Palestinian Right of return while allowing people with no ties to the land to live in villages and homes stolen from non-Jews who are denied entry to the land of their parents and grandparents.

  12. You’ve never seen self hatred in the United States, Susan Christensen? My goodness, you must have done a quick fly through to have missed it, because its everywhere.

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