The dichotomy between self-criticism versus self-hatred has recently reemerged in a controversy regarding the endorsement by University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer of a new book by the Israeli (or former Israeli) jazz saxophonist and political agitator Gilad Atzmon. Mearsheimer has been heavily criticized in some quarters for this endorsement, and has defended himself on the Foreign Policy blog of his some-time co-author Harvard professor Stephen Walt. Mearsheimer's main defense is that he found nothing objectionable in the book (which I have not read and will not bother to read either, for reasons which will become abundantly clear), and was not familiar with Atzmon or his other writings. The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that it was incumbent on Mearsheimer not simply to pick up the text he was sent but do a little bit of homework on the author he was being asked to embrace. Had he done so, he would have realized that Atzmon long since crossed the line from Jewish self-criticism to self-hatred in a repulsive and indefensible manner.
In his defense, Mearsheimer acknowledges that Atzmon is, indeed, self-hating, but he seems to confuse unhealthy self-hatred with healthy self-criticism: "The more important and interesting issue is whether Atzmon is a self-hating Jew. Here the answer is unequivocally yes. He openly describes himself in this way and he sees himself as part of a long dissident tradition that includes famous figures such as Marx and Spinoza." But Aztmon is not a dissident, in any meaningful sense of the word, leveling constructive criticism against his fellow Jews and Israelis. Instead, as Mearsheimer would have discovered if he had done his homework, Atzmon frequently traffics in the worst kind of anti-Semitism. Comparing him to Spinoza is simply absurd, and he goes far beyond Marx in his condemnations of his fellow Jews. Moreover, I don't know any self-respecting Marxists who aren't embarrassed by some of the harsher passages in Marx's writings about other Jewish Europeans.
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