People around the world were shocked to discover that the perpetrator of the wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the United States is an American Israeli teen who lives in Ashkelon, a town in southern Israel.
A skilled hacker, the 18 year old concealed his identity and caused countless evacuations of synagogues and Jewish community centers, necessitating heightened security for Jewish organizations over the last few months and raising fears of rising anti-Semitism across the country.
Investigators are trying to determine his motive behind the attacks; early reports said that a non-malignant tumor causes the boy to act erratically, preventing him from being accepted in the Israeli army. Other reports say that he could have been driven out of revenge for being rejected from the army, wanting to show others just how powerful he really is.
When I first heard the news of this surprising discovery, it got me thinking about the phenomenon of Jews acting out of hatred for other Jews, even though it now seems that this is not the underlying motive behind the bomb threats. But it is still worthwhile to examine the phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred and how it is possible for anyone to have such an intense hatred directed against his own people.
History records that Jewish self-hatred is not a rare phenomenon. Theodor Lessing, in his 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass ("Jewish Self-hatred") tried to explain the prevalence of Jewish intellectuals inciting anti-Semitism with their views toward Judaism – an issue of profound concern to him until he was murdered by the Nazis. Theodore Herzl noted numerous times the pervasiveness of “anti-Semites of Jewish origin” who hated political Zionism almost as much as they were repulsed by their personal biological backgrounds. In the 1940s, Kurt Lewin, who had emigrated from Berlin to the United States, extensively studied this remarkable aberration and attempted to discover its psychological roots.
What is clear though is that far too often Jews have been not only the victims of anti-Semitism but its voice as well.
At the forefront of the most virulent anti-Israel rhetoric on campuses we sometimes find Jews. Heading the smear campaigns against Israel and the “boycott and divest” movements as well as leaders of leftist organizations are countless Jewish radicals. “Solidarity with terrorists” groups include our own graduates of Jewish schools, now joining hands with those whose expressed desire is to annihilate Jews!
Jews have made pilgrimages to Gaza, to express support for Hamas. Jews have cheered on terrorists and their atrocities against fellow Jews. Gerald Kaufman, a member of Britain’s Parliament, condemned Israel as “a Nazi entity” and justified Hamas terrorism by comparing it to Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto. Not to forget all those Jewish professors on Western campuses who delight in inciting their impressionable young students to rise up against the “horrible, oppressive and apartheid state of Israel.”
Why has self-hatred gained such powerful footing in our collective psyches?
In a fascinating article in the British Journal of Social Psychology, W M L Finlay of Anglia Ruskin University suggests that “people may attempt to distance themselves from membership in devalued groups because they accept, to some degree, the negative evaluations of the a group held by the majority because the social identities are an obstacle to the pursuit of social status.” Simply put, we tend to internalize what others think of us. That’s how we become our own “internal oppressors.”
Kenneth Levin, a Harvard psychiatrist, links a Jewish self-hatred with the famous Stockholm syndrome. He thinks of it as “an attempt by some Jews to gain social acceptance in an environment that is hostile towards Jews.” It’s all about victims who adopt the outlook and the agenda of their victimizers.
There’s much to be said for these explanations. They help us understand the profound psychological meaning behind the self-destructive agenda of Jewish anti-Semites. But I want to offer yet one other possibility. It is an idea that links Jewish anti-Semites with their more traditional counterparts, the non-Jewish anti-Semites who seemingly and inexplicably singled out from amongst all other peoples just the Jews as the objects of their greatest enmity and the greatest wish for their extermination.
There’s one rationale for anti-Semitism which resonates with me far more than any other. It was given by none other than the greatest and most successful anti-Semite in history. These were his words:
“The Jewish people are the moral conscience of the world. Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish, like circumcision.
"If one little Jewish boy survives without any Jewish education, with no synagogue and no Hebrew school, it [Judaism] is in his soul. Even if there had never been a Jewish synagogue or a Jewish school or an Old Testament, the Jewish spirit would still exist and exert its influence. It has been there from the beginning and there is no Jew, not a single one, who does not personify it.”
The author of these words was Adolf Hitler (Hermann Rauschning, Hitler Speaks). That is why he believed Jews, every single one of them, had to be exterminated. By being the bearers of morality, they were a threat to barbarism – to the hedonistic desire which glorifies lawlessness, cruelty, brutality, savagery, and violence.
Jews make people feel guilty for their transgressions, remorseful for their misdeeds, embarrassed by their failings, shamefaced by their sins. And that is the real reason, as Hitler well understood, that they must be hated.
Anti-Semites in their inner souls know this to be true. And it is this profound desire to remove themselves from the call of their conscience which motivates the anti-Semites of all times, whether they are non-Jews or Jews.
And the ultimate irony is that neither of them can escape the inner condemnation of their own souls.