Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew

At the Montreal World Film Festival, I had the opportunity to watch Phillip B. Roth’s new film Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew.

“CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HATING JEW examines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the lives of American Jews from the perspective of a gay Naked Yoga teacher.”

The director was at the screening and fielded questions from the audience after the film. The filmmaker tells the audience that he stopped considering his Jewish heritage after his bar mitzva, at the age of 13. He continued to be a supporter of Israel until he gradually realized that some people do not agree with the traditional Jewish narrative about Israel. He first realized this by seeing Vanessa Redgrave at the Academy awards expressing support for the Palestinian cause.

He became curious about his parents support for Israel. In his film, he interviews his father, mother and grandmother, in their home, as they explain that even though they may not follow all of the Jewish rules – his grandmother is seen cooking bacon for breakfast – they do support Israel and do not understand why he does not.

Also featured in the film are Charles Small, a scholar of anti-semitism; Phyllis Chessler, the feminist, who has written, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It; an orthodox Jewish couple identified as “liberals” who oppose “Zionism”; Hannah Arendt, a German/American Jewish philosopher, with a problematic connection to Jews and Israel; as well as a representative of the Neturai Karta, a tiny minority of Jews, a virulently anti-Israel Hassidic group that lives in Jerusalem and opposes the creation of the Sate of Israel on religious grounds.

To the filmmakers’ credit, he also has slides showing the history of conflicts with Israel in the Middle East. In between, we are treated endlessly to the same video clips of him in the nude, instructing his naked Yoga class participants, seeing him exchanging identities with a non-Jewish Gay man, and being chased by a Hassid with side-curls.

confessions of a self hating jew

I, myself, was very confused as to the filmmakers’ point of view. The reason, I think, is that this film can be seen as a Rorschach test of peoples’ attitudes towards Jews and towards Israel. This was exposed during the question and answer period. In the sparsely populated theater, approximately four people voiced questions or comments about the film. The comments seemed to me to represent many varying responses to Jews and Israel that are floating around in the universe, only one of which I thought represented a solid understanding of either Israel or Jews.

How to understand this mishmash of a film and the title: Confessions of a Self Hating Jew? The phrase “self-hating Jew” has been fashionably used to characterize Jews who side with the critics of Israel. Most people don’t realize that “self hatred” is one of the defense mechanisms of the Ego, coined by Sigmund Freud in his book, “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense”. The core of “self hatred”, he claims is the Ego’s “identification with the aggressor” in order to avoid¬† feelings of humiliation and distress that are attendant in the aggression.

Roth, the filmmaker, explained to me when I approached him after the film, that by tearing up the banner of the six million, he is expressing his idea that in America today, he has matured to understand that he no longer has to fear prejudice for being gay, for being Jewish, and he now feels “free to be a Gay Jew teaching Yoga in the nude and free to criticize Israel since he no longer fears the “bogeyman of anti-semitism.”

Unlike his parents, he feels free in his identity as an American Jewish gay naked Yoga teacher. Of course, the reality of a defense mechanism is that by definition it remains unconscious: In order for it to function as a defense, the ego must remain blissfully unaware of its functioning.