"Criticism is Not Self-Hatred"

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 at 11:13AM :

Published on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 in the Miami Herald
Criticism is Not Self-Hatred
by Max Castro

"They call us 'self-hating Jews' when we raise criticisms of Israeli policies." Why did the words of Michael Lerner, rabbi, editor of the journal Tikkun and co-chair of the Tikkun community (www.tikkun.org), described as "a progressive, pro-Israel alternative to AIPAC" [American-Israel Political Action Committee], seem so familiar, so fraternal?

Perhaps it's because, on more than one occasion, as a Cuban American who in the past often has dissented sharply from the official story and the party line as defined by some of the community's radio pundits and politicians, I know exactly what Lerner means and how it feels.

Only a few weeks before I read Lerner's commentary in the May 20 edition of The Nation, I had attended a Coconut Grove gathering sponsored by People for the American Way to kick off a campaign for free speech in Miami. The mix of people was most unusual. There were people in that room who normally would not be caught dead together: virulent anti-gay rights activists and stalwarts for the cause of human rights regardless of sexual orientation; leaders of hard-line Cuban-American groups and staunch embargo opponents.


As I was leaving, I almost ran into one the leaders of a powerful exile organization, a man whom I had never met but knew by sight from his numerous media appearances. Not wishing to ignore him, in the spirit of civility that prevailed, and thinking that this was the perfect venue for respectful dialogue, I introduced myself politely. He was sitting with another Cuban American who asked to which organization I belonged.

"He doesn't belong to any organization, he is just a self-hating Cuban," retorted the Cuban-American leader. Stunned that someone could be so out of touch with the moment and the setting, I told him that being a critic of the right wing didn't make me a self-hating Cuban, and hastened my exit. The very next day, by one of those incredible coincidences, I ran into him again. This time he changed his vocabulary but not his message: I was the "self-loathing" Cuban.

Later, I concluded that his behavior was explained by the desire to avoid guilt by association, the concern that if he was going to be seen talking to me in public, he at least wanted to be able to claim that he insulted me.

Comparisons are at best imperfect and at worst odious. Every time I see the slogan "Stop Cuban Holocaust!" I want to scream, "Stop Cuban hyperbole!" Suffering should not be scaled and compared. Yet any sense of proportion says nothing that has happened to Cubans can be spoken of in the same breath as the Holocaust. There were six million Cubans in 1959; today there are 11 million in Cuba and two million in the diaspora. The numbers speak for themselves.


Yet the experience of people who dissent have much in common across cultures and histories. To dissent when your group or nation is in crisis or besieged is particularly difficult. Nevertheless, people find the courage to do it. In Miami a few weeks ago, Cuban Americans who believe the embargo harms the Cuban people and ourselves organized an event attended by more than 300 people. On May 11 in Israel, 60,000 to 100,000 people rallied for peace and an end to the occupation.

Is this self-hatred? Every Cuban American I know who opposes the hard-line policy has an abiding love for Cuba and for democracy. As for Jews who dissent from Ariel Sharon's iron fist, Michael Lerner writes: "Most of those Jews who risk this calumny... feel a special resonance with the history and culture of the Jews -- because this is a people who have proclaimed a message of love, justice and peace; they feel a special pride in being part of a people who have insisted on the possibility of 'tikkun,' a Hebrew word expressing a belief that the world can be fundamentally healed and transformed."

-- Lilly
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