Another ‘Ashamed’ Jew Bares Her Soul
Once upon a time, self-hating Jews flourished in the American diaspora, not only frightened of their own shadows but ready to appease enemies – ranging from local antisemites to distant Nazis. In 1948, miraculously, Israel emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust to dispel their fears and inspire them to imagine redemption through the restoration of Jewish national sovereignty. Their vicarious euphoria climaxed during the Six-Day War, when victorious Israelis returned to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria, even to the tombs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebron.
But Jews can invariably be depended upon to turn against themselves, especially now when the world turns against Israel. The most recent exemplar of the “ASHamed Jew,” memorably popularized by Howard Jacobson in The Finkler Question (2010), is historian Hasia Diner, professor of American Jewish history and Judaic Studies at NYU. Writing on the Haaretz website (August 1) – where better to find a more receptive forum for criticism of Israel? – she can hardly be labeled a self-hating Jew. Preening about her Jewish identity, it is only Israel that she has come to loathe.
Diner’s diatribe recounts her “personal rubicon,” the line she dared not cross in 2010 when she could not bring herself to sign a statement of principles by the HaTikva organization. Affirming belief in “the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem as capital,” it even encouraged (gasp) “Aliyah to Israel.” To Diner, that was a shanda! Nor could she express her commitment to “strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state.” In her refusal she joined that renowned advocate of Palestinian statehood, Rabbi Michael Lerner.
Zionist activity, she claims, “has impoverished the Jewish people, robbing us of these many cultures that have fallen into the mew of Israeli homogenization.” No less offensive to her refined liberal sensibilities are “the tactics used by the State of Israel to suppress the Palestinians.” Worse yet is “the exponential growth of far right political parties and the increasing Haredization of Israel,” which has transformed the country into “a place that I abhor visiting.” Imagine: encountering religious Jews in the Jewish state!
Diligent scholar that she is, Diner confesses, “I have read too much about colonialism and racism” to still believe that the Six-Day War “changed everything” for the better. Indeed, even the Israel that she once loved “had depended well before 1967 upon the expropriation of Arab lands and the expulsion of Arab populations.” And the Law of Return, welcoming Jews from around the world to become Israeli citizens, “can no longer look to me as anything other than racism.” Her diatribe concludes: “I . . . avoid many Jewish settings where I know Israel will loom large as an icon of identity.” Imagine: a Jew identified with Israel! Almost as shocking as a Jew in fearful flight from the Jewish state.
Such is the shameful trajectory of an esteemed American Jewish historian who long ago belonged to the Habonim youth movement, only to realize as a senior citizen that Zionism is a “naïve delusion.” Sadly, to be sure, Diner is not alone. Analyzing her harangue, Ben Sales, Israel correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, wondered whether her laceration of Israel “reflects a growing trend among American Jews, in general, and the Jewish academic elite in particular.” (As a retired professor, I can vouch for that.)
Enclosed in her academic bubble, Diner seems to have absorbed the evident discomfort of young and liberal American Jews with Israel, a spreading virus that pervades academic institutions. Would that students could learn otherwise from a responsible adult.
Sam Finkler joined the “ASHamed” organization that favored Palestinians over Israelis. He should extend a warm welcome to Hasia Diner.
Jerold S. Auerbach is writing a history of The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016.