Ned Beauman is the author of Boxer,Beetle. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.
In 1893 the German writer Oscar Panizza published a story called “The Operated Jew,” a synopsis of which reads like a racially charged David Cronenberg film: a young Jewish doctor submits to a serious of painful surgical procedures to conceal his heritage, culminating with a blood transfusion from pure Ayran virgins, but just before his wedding to a blonde German woman, the operations lose their hold and he melts into a puddle on the floor. That same decade, the Zionist Theodor Herzl began using the term ‘anti-Semite of Jewish origin’, which would soon be simplified to ‘self-hating Jew’.
These days you don’t very often hear ‘self-hating Jew’ from level-headed people, but to a novelist, a self-hating anything is inherently juicy material, and “The Operated Jew,” if it had been written by a Jewish author, would probably now be a major text in Jewish Studies.
Most of us are already familiar with the story of Dan Burros, the Jewish Ku Klux Klan member
whose story was the basis for the 2001 Ryan Gosling film The Believer. But my own favourite ‘self-hating Jew’ is the German-Jewish scholar Oscar Levy. ‘We who have posed as the saviours of the world, we, who have even boasted of having given it “the” Saviour, we are to-day nothing else but the world’s seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners,’ wrote Levy in 1920. ‘We who have promised to lead you to a new Heaven, we have finally succeeded in landing you into a new Hell.’ As a result of the storm of publicity over this article, Levy was kicked out of his adopted home of Great Britain, even as the anti-Semitic newspaper The Hidden Hand or Jewry Über Alles praised him as ‘the most courageous and honest Jew living.’
But as Dan Stone explains in his book Breeding Superman, Levy’s anti-Semitism was of a complex kind. Levy was one of the first translators of Nietzsche into English, and like Nietzsche, he didn’t acknowledge much of a distinction between Jews and Christians: both were equally at fault for the dismal state of the world, although it happened to be the Jews who’d helped to begin that decline.
And the Jews could still do something about it. ‘Yes, there is hope, my friend,’ he wrote, ‘for we are still here, our last word is not yet spoken, our last deed is not yet done, our last revolution is not yet made.’ As Stone summarises his position: ‘The Jews, the underminers of western civilisation, are the only people able to rescue that civilisation from further deterioration. Self-hatred is yet self-aggrandisement.’ To anticipate Levy in The Operated Jew, perhaps Panizza would have had to write something closer to The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde – with his young doctor as a penitent by day but also a revolutionary by night.
Ned Beauman was born in London and currently lives in New York. His debut novel Boxer,Beetle (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as ‘funny, raw and stylish’.