This is my newest article published on Mondoweiss, 14th of January 2021 in response to the news about Sheldon Adelson’s death.
Sheldon Adelson has died at the age of 87. By the Israeli standard on which I was brought up, he was a proper Jew, a good Jew. He dedicated his life and vast fortune and privilege to supporting Israel. By his own admission, “I’m a one-issue person. That issue is Israel.”
Never mind how Adelson made his billions — casinos, gambling, nothing noble or virtuous. In fact, never mind any values or principles at all. Israeli Zionist indoctrination makes it absolutely clear that if you are Jewish, the only value that should matter to you is the survival of the Jewish people, your people. According to Zionist thinking, Israel, as an exclusively Jewish state, is the only thing standing between the Jewish people and another holocaust, indeed the only protection Jews everywhere have against annihilation. By this logic, the survival and expansion of Israel and its political, economic and military strength are synonymous with the survival of each and every Jew anywhere in the world. The survival of Israel is not merely a matter of political ideology or intellectual preference. Israel has always sought to inculcate it as a deeply personal goal in each and every Jew. The very identity and raison d’être of every Jew is expected to be bound up with the survival and existence of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. Adelson was a perfect example of how spectacularly-successful such education can be.
By contrast, I’ve been told repeatedly over the past two decades that I am a “bad Jew” and a “traitor” to “my people.” I have turned my back on the sacred duty, handed to me from birth to dedicate my entire life, talents, time, possessions, everything I am and have for the survival of Israel.
The irony is that I have in fact been faithful to the 1970’s socialist schooling I had in Israel, just not exactly the way it was intended. I was taught that if I had any gifts or advantages in life, I had a duty to use them for the benefit of others. To my otherwise excellent teachers, others inevitably meant members of our group. They had assumed that the extensive Zionist indoctrination we also received would take care of my understanding of whom I would consider my fellow humans.
Make no mistake. It is permissible, even encouraged, often in more educated or enlightened circles, to care about others outside the group, but only if it does not in any way compromise or negate Israel’s interests. As soon as a conflict arises between a cause, a person or a group of people you care about, and Israel’s interests, you are expected to put Israel first, even if it means abandoning your cause. You are allowed to practice being a good human being but only selectively because loyalty to Israel is the only value that really matters. I remember one piece of hate mail I received years ago from an Israeli Rabbi who said that I was a person “without values” because I had betrayed the only value that matters, the survival of my people. This is in fact the origin of the PEP (Progressive Except on Palestine) idea. Jews cannot possibly care about the Palestinian people, because Justice and human rights for the Palestinians are seen as diametrically opposed to Israel’s survival as an exclusively Jewish state.
But I am much worse than a bad Jew. I am in fact an outright enemy of Israel because I insist that we should uphold justice, equality and human rights indiscriminately, and that all humans deserve an equal opportunity not just to survive, but to develop, grow and fulfill their potential. The mere fact of caring about everyone instead of just ‘my people’ makes me an enemy to Zionism and Israel.
When I was a child, leaving Israel was heavily frowned upon. Most Israeli-born people of my generation might remember the phrase Yitzhak Rabin coined four decades ago to describe yordim, Hebrew for those who descend – the Hebrew term for those who chose to leave Israel. As if yordim wasn’t derogatory enough, Rabin called Jews who left Israel, nefolet shel nemushot, an ugly phrase translated roughly: “a cowardly human waste” or “a fallout of wimps.” Over the decades, it has become more acceptable to leave Israel, but the expectation has remained that you would still continue to somehow work for Israel and Israel’s interests from afar, even come back to fight in its wars if needed.
I see myself as a member of the human species, not of this or that group. I do not believe there are any people or groups on this planet that are more entitled than others. I believe it is precisely our tribal mindset of entitlement that we must get rid of if we want to thrive as a species, as opposed to just survive physically. I am a terrible Jew because I refuse to apply my value system selectively and submit it to the requirements or scrutiny of the tribe. I am relieved to have been able to rid myself of the toxic, sectarian indoctrination my upbringing forced on me. I am relieved that I was able to re-join the human race and share whatever I have to offer with everyone, not just a self-selecting entitled-in-its-own-mind group.
I am a bad Jew but hopefully, a reasonably decent human being. Sheldon Adelson was a very good Jew indeed, a loyal, faithful member of his group but an ugly human being. May his soul find peace.