Opinion: Slate’s Blood Libel Against Birthright Israel

July 24, 2014 12:58 am 34 comments

Max Steinberg's funeral in Jerusalem. Photo: Tazpit.

We Jews know what a blood libel is. It captures false accusations that Jews are culpable for deaths they did not commit or are in no way responsible for.

So how should we view Slate’s publication of Allison Benedikt’s piece that holds Birthright responsible for the death of heroic Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, an American who selflessly served in the IDF and was murdered by Hamas terrorists last Sunday?

According to Benedikt, prior to his free trip to Israel on Birthright, Steinberg had “scant knowledge of Hebrew,” and did not want to go.

Birthright gave him the feeling that Israel was a country in peril, and needed him. It manipulated his emotions and essentially brainwashed him into caring about the perilous state of the Jewish people. Worse, the trip exposed him to Israeli Army soldiers who were praised for their virtue. Benedikt sums it up: “You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.”

Benedikt’s piece reminded me of the infamous cartoon of Ted Rall which, upon the death of Pat Tillman – the NFL star who chose to forego millions of dollars to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan – described Tillman as an “idiot” and a “sap.”

Even of one of my favorite authors, Jon Krakauer, wrote in “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman,” that Tillman’s sacrifice “didn’t mean anything.”

Now let’s examine this for a moment.

No one denies that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hamas are evil, right? I mean, they target babies for murder, they beat women and murder them in honor killings, and they believe they’re going to have sex with tons of women if they kill enough American or Israeli babies on earth. If that isn’t evil, then the word has no meaning.

So, a young American man or woman has a career choice. They can earn a degree from a great university and get a job making tons of money on Wall Street. They can go into media, host TV shows, and see their by-lines in top newspapers. They can become sports heroes and enjoy the thrall of the masses. Each of these things will give them a great life: money to spend on vacations, cool homes, fast cars, the latest gadgets. Maybe even lots of sex.

Or, they can see the world for what it is.

From the beginning of time, there have been bad people who have sought to impose their will on the innocent, rob them of their freedom, and imprison them.

I’m writing this column having just returned from a visit to Mount Vernon where George Washington was a wealthy planter married to a loving wife. But he gave all that up and lived a wretched life with his soldiers at freezing places like Valley Forge because he believed that George III was a tyrant who had to be resisted so that the American could be free.

Now we have people like Rall and Benedikt who believe this is all an illusion. The NFL is the reality and Afghanistan is the game. Enjoying California surf and maybe taking in a movie is the way to go. But fighting terrorists in Gaza is a form of manipulation and brainwashing on the part of organizations like Birthright that wish to exploit the young.

Mind you, Birthright encourages no one to join the IDF, and I’m assuming that the numbers of those who have joined the Israeli army after a trip are pretty low.

But my own daughter, raised in Oxford, England, and New Jersey decided to enlist in the IDF and we are incredibly proud of her service.

Israel, an America-style democracy in the world’s most dangerous region, seeks to live free amid being surrounded by an ocean of tyranny. And young Jewish men and women are prepared to fight so that a tiny country built around America’s ideas of freedom of religious practice, freedom of press, respect for women, and economic opportunity can succeed in the most tyrannical neighborhood on earth.

Benedikt would inflict upon a fallen soldier of the American and the Jewish people the ultimate insult: after being robbed of his life to rob him even of his status as a hero and portray him as a tool, a stooge, instead.

Would she say the same of, say, the Marquis de Lafayette?

American independence would never have come about without the assistance of foreign fighters who helped a fledgling democracy achieve its freedom. In 1780 alone, more than 5,000 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to help the Americans fight the British in New York. More famously, the decisive victory of Washington over Cornwallis at Yorktown on October, 19 1781, would have been impossible without the assistance of the French Army and Navy led by the Comte de Rochambeau.

To be sure, the French had many motivations in assisting the Americans, among which were countering the surging global influence of their English archrivals. But a great many French patriots, inspired by the spirit of the coming revolution, were motivated by the simple desire to uphold human liberty.

Were they simply tools of people like Thomas Paine – the Birthright propagandists of their time?

The most famous and noble example was that of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de La Fayette. Lafayette, as every American schoolchild knows, was a French aristocrat who served under George Washington as a Major General in the Continental Army. Lafayette’s heroic struggle to help our Nation achieve independence saw him wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. Not satisfied with risking life and limb in the cause of American independence, he even returned to France in the middle of the war to inspire and increase French support of the American Revolution. He, too, served at Yorktown, helping to block Cornwallis’s army, and witnessed the British surrender.

That spirit of the citizens of a strong, established, and noble nation reaching out to fight for the freedom and independence of a weaker republic yearning to breathe free lives on in the valiant American souls who fight for the IDF in Israel. My daughter is part of a young American warrior class who believe, in their righteous might, that a tiny, fledgling democracy in the world’s most dangerous region deserves more than to be forever bullied. They’re sick of witnessing the utter injustice of societies and cultures that brutalize women, gays, and non-Muslims, corrupting the innocence of their own children by teaching them to kill people just because of their ethnicity. Being Jewish is simply insufficient cause to be marked for death. Having grown up in the greatest democracy in the world, they want the blessings of freedom to be the birthright of every member of the human family.

Max Steinberg is the apogee of their heroism. His name and Benedikt’s do not belong in the same sentence.

No nation in history has been the target of more unbridled, irrational hatred than the Jews. We have been ghettoized and imprisoned, tortured and gassed, burned and incinerated, exterminated and brought to the verge of extinction. And the only thing that has reversed these horrors is the creation of a Jewish army to declare once and for all that Jewish blood will never again be cheap.

No nation is more understanding of what the Jews have suffered, and more committed to ensuring it never happens again, than America, the most benevolent, caring, and compassionate nation on earth. It was American G.I.s who liberated the concentration camps and saw Jewish children turned into discarded mounds of human surplus. And it is the American people who contribute billions of dollars annually to Israel’s defense so that American values and freedoms can flourish in every part of the world, especially the Middle East.

But then there are those Americans who take it one step further. Well aware that the blessings of liberty were conferred on the American people mostly through their own exertions, but assisted through the contribution of others, they extend themselves to fight for liberty in the far corners of the world. They don’t just send money or write an op-ed supporting freedom. They don the uniform of a persecuted people and a besieged democracy so that Tel Aviv can be as free as Tuscaloosa and that Jerusalem can be as safe as Des Moines.

Perhaps Benedikt could have waited at least until Steinberg’s body was cold to tell us that rather than being a fighter for freedom, human rights, and the Jewish people, he was just a stupid, manipulated fool.

Few columns I have read this year are as mean-spirited or shameful.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America’, is the international best-selling author of 30 books, and will shortly publish “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

34 Comments

  • My son was lucky enought to go to Israel on Birthright, and he fell in love with the country. It cemented his pride in being Jewish and his connection to Israel. It was a wonderful experience for him. Anyone condemning this wonderful program is an idiot!!

  • Fritz Kohlhaas

    Slate is just one leftist yellow among many leftist yellow rags!

  • Two young people growing up in America among rather privileged middle class people with their lives planned out—college, good job, marriage, a middle class life like their parents. But Steinberg had an epiphany in Israel and took another road, one or heroism and sacrifice, not one usually chosen by the middle class or most classes. Steinberg enlarged his worldview, and Benedkt hasn’t. And it’s natural in today’s America to put the blame on Israel for everything in the Mideast we disagree with or don’t understand.

  • While I applaud what Shmuley Boteach has written, in some way I can understand how Anti-Semitism has reached such a nasty state in the United States, as her citizens more and more see themselves as the chosen people, demeaning anybody else, in some way like the German Nazi’s did, though the Americans are mostly kept in check by a fairly humane set of rules. Mind; the USA is not the “biggest democracy in the world”, which honour goes to the democratic state of India, where Jews have been living in complete freedom and in accordance with their religious wishes for more than 3000 years. There they were regarded as a well respected and well admired part of Indian society and there e.g., out of this respect, wars would not be fought on the Sabbath, till the opportunistic Jew-hating British, who e.g in York drove their Jews into a tower which then was set alight, came to set their standards of civilisation in that country which knew writing, arithmetic, astronomy and healthcare long before the Celts or later British knew how to add one and one. It is sad that the American spirit of freedom and tolerance is often so badly displayed abroad, where that attitude of superiority often makes the outlander develop contempt for those Yanks, who often behave boorish and do not seem to bother to speak, or understand the local language. And it generally isn’t bad will from the part of the Americans, but often just lack of knowledge of different cultures or religions or mores, because when I was in the states, nationalistic Texas of all states, I found many youngsters who were very much interested in other people, admitting that their educating system was lacking. So I think that if the educating system in the USA will pay more attention to the fact that the USA might not be the centre of the world, Jews over there might be regarded as other nice Americans, and the rest of the world might also be regarded as something the USA would derive pleasure and benefit from.

    • There’s nothing “chosen” about it. Jews finally have a means to fight back—something we’ve lacked for centuries. Jews in the US are over 5 million in a population of 3.14 million Jews in India total about 5,000 in a population of 1.24 billion. That’s like comparing the USA with the island of Java. Or an ant.

  • Palestinians are not responsible for the Nazi Holocaust. Zionists are responsible for the Nakba. Many in Gaza are native refugees from Zionist terrorism in 1947-1948. they are a tad tired of Israel’s putting them “on a diet” and “mowing the lawn.” HAMAS is freedom fighters. Yes, there’s that HAMAS charter–and also Likud party platform.

    • Is this oscar the grouch speaking from his garbage can. it stinks in there! smells of ignorance and stupidity.

    • In 1947, the UN divided Palestine (the name the Romans gave to Israel) into two nations. The Jewish Palestinians named their section Israel, the Muslims went to war and lost their land to Jordan and Egypt. The Jewish Palestinians won this land back in a 1967 premeptive strike and a few years after gaining legal control in 1988 offered the territory to the Arab Palestinians for a homeland. That’s what the peace talks are about. So far Arafat and Abbas have refused.

      • Actually, go read about San Remo, in 1920, Britain earmarked all of Trans-Jordan to the Jews. In 1922, to appease the Hashemites expelled from Saudi Arabia and discourage their brother from attacking the French in Syria, Britain told their forces, who had gathered on the East bank of the Jordan River, stay there, and will give that to you. So, in 1922, the land was split, West Bank to be a home for the Jewish people, East bank to be an Arab State now called Jordan. (More than 2/3 of Jordanians are “Palestinians.”) Look that up…………………

        In 1947, Britain, which refused to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel during WWII (only 60,000 made it, 2 million got to the US, the rest, 6 MILLION, DIED in Europe) was attacked by the Jews who could stand it no longer, so the Brits left the mess they created to the UN, which, as you say, offered to divvy it up.

        Israel said, thank you, we’re happy to have anything. Arabs said all or nothing, so no. They started a war, told the Arabs living there to leave and to await victory, then they lost badly. They tried it again in 1967, and lost again, this time with Jordan being expelled from the West Bank, Syria losing the Golan, Egypt losing the Sinai. They tried again in 1973. In 1979, Egypt made peace with Israel, got the Sinai in return. Later, Jordan made peace and got Israel’s support on everything, especially rehabbing the Jordan River, and protecting Jordan from those vicious nations (Saddam’s Iraq) that would like to trample through Amman to get to Saudi Arabia, where they got the oil and the money…

        Now tell me, after refusing the “two states for two peoples” offered in 1947, then losing their wars, what rights do they have to a country, really?

        They should all live in Israel, get an education, get jobs, live with reasonably good politicians, get involved in government (many Israeli Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament) and get on with it.

        But no. In fact, “Palestinians” name created for them in the 1960s by Arafat, are the only group of “refugees” who have somehow (UN) remained refugee status beyond the second generation. This has given rise to $1.3 billion UNRWA micro-government that manages 25,000 Palestinian workers and runs their “refugee camps.”

        You know what? My mom was a refugee to the US in 1960, she is now a full-fledged American citizen, as are her parents. Really, Arab World, get on with it!

        What Hamas, especially, has become is a proxy nation to fight Jews and America by Iran, which gives them the rockets they’ve been firing at Israelis. Good old fashioned religious-minded war.

        The truth will come out, people will hear it, the world will see their deception.

        • You’re right. I condense the history because most people won’t take time to read it otherwise. The Arab Palestinians lost their land in a war they started and aren’t entitled to anything, but Israel is condemned for giving them a second chance. The Muslim oil money controls the UN and many newspapers, magazines and schools where they finance expensive department chairs, which is why so many students graduate from college accepting the Muslim version of history. The West needs oil and too often capitulates.

    • To Oscar: you say “Palestinians not responsible for Nazi Holocaust”? Have you ever heard of Palestinian Arab Haj Amin al-Husseini. a.k.a. Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, personal friend of Hitler yemach shmo? Hitler’s original plan was deportation of the Jews, the idea of extermination came from his dear friend Haj Amin al-Husseini.

  • Jay, this person Allison Benedikt has no real power, and only her weakness is revealed here.

    Her denigration of something good shows her fear and weakness and lack of empathy.

    People like her are seem envious and hateful and they resent not only Israel but also Israel’s supporters and their achievements.

    The Benedikts of this world seem to wallow in their own discontent and weakness and at the same time attempt to bring others down to their own level of misery.

    Hooray for Israel !

    Thank you !

    Al, CANADA

  • The Rabbi has written an eloquent and fitting tribute to this brave young man. I don’t read Slate but I am not surprised by this article. The state of journalism around the world is appalling.

  • Thank you for your article. I will never read Slate again after Slate published this highly offensive, anti-Semetic, and inaccurate article by Benedikt. I, too, felt horrified and more so when I realized it was published before the brave Max Steinberg was even buried. May he rest in peace and his ultimate sacrifice be recognized forever in our hearts and in articles such as yours.

  • Alison Benedict is a relative to Benedict Arnold. US education product of superlative hypocrisy. Arrogant in her ignorance, she got a forum to commit her idiocy to the world at large. She would do well taking up conversion with a mob of her inclination. Allison you are as vile as the enemies of Israel, and more vile you pretend to be Jewish.

  • Great writing is where you find it…a piece worthy of Winston Churchill..
    THANK YOU.

  • Steve Frank

    For another response to the Slate article, please see:

    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-shameful-disparagement-of-a-lone-soldier/

    • Michael Garfinkel

      I have read the well-meaning and thoughtful remarks provided in this link.

      I’m afraid the truth about Allison Benedikt is less complicated.

      In the “Age of Obama,” in which Slate is a flagship, we are all victimized by the Allison Benedikts of the world.

      Narcissistic, smug, spoiled and arrogant, they fancy themselves the new “elite,” and shamelessly disparage all the old virtues – as she has done here.

      The problem is not the idiot spouse, but with Ms. Benedikt herself.

      And there are plenty more just like her.

  • Israel Lover

    Rabbi, thank you for such an eloquent article. For a true hero to pay the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs, is nothing less than extraordinary.

  • If you don’t believe in anything beyond a fleeting, material,consumer-centered, hedonistic, secular world, then sacrifice means little. If we believe in eternal, unchanging values & rights & the importance of preserving those for following generations, then sacrifice means a lot.

  • Steve Frank

    For further response to the Slake article, please see:

    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-shameful-disparagement-of-a-lone-soldier/

  • what power, she is a dope writing for a second rate magazine that only a few lefties give a crap about.

    this garbage is what passes for journalism today and proves that anyone can write 900 words on any topic no matter how ridiculous, stupid or anti semitic.

  • By that logic,the President has turned the USA into Communist China with all his trips to Africa, Turkey and Hawaii. All I know is my rights are being violated, and I no longer feel free here. God Bless the USA may it be free again some day soon!

    • Mark Zucker

      Please stop posting whining comments that make no sense. The U.S. has not been turned into a Communist dictatorship by President Obama whatever you may think of Obama’s policies. This article you commented on is about risking or giving one’s life in the cause of freedom. You are free to work for whatever cause you believe in as long as it isn’t working to support terrorism or destroy the U.S.

      Steinberg’s and Tillman’s deaths were choices they made to support human freedom. They both were heroic young men.

    • The only idiots that do not feel safe in this country are those that seek to destroy it. Mainly white extremists that fly Rebel flags, uneducated and ignorant.

  • a blood libel or just a run-of-the-mill piece of the delegitimization campaign against israel?

    birthright threatens the world view of the anti-israelis, because it shows people the reality in israel, which is the most effective antidote to their lies. seeing israel as it is, undermines the campaign to demonize israel and israelis.

    and when you threaten the self-righteous prejudices of the left, you can expect all sorts of obscenities.

  • HILLARY = OBAMA 3, and 4

    RABBI MEIER KAHANE WAS RIGHT, NEVER AGAIN

    Where is our President Obama as our foreign policy has turned into a complete disaster.

    Video of Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg SAYS: President Obama, You Have Some Nerve:.

    Video is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig8c795KymA

    Another holocaust is possible. If it happened once it can happen again. Thank G-d we have Israel. We need to do everything possible to keep Israel militarily strong. Jews get out of Europe. There can be no compromise regarding Israel nor can we depend on the good will of others. This unfortunately is a lesson that many Jews have never learned. Never forget, never forgive never again. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    • There is a reason Kahane Chai is listed as a terror organization.
      Stop emulating the people you hate.
      Terror is never the answer.

  • Allison Benedikt is a self-hating Jew who needs to spend time in Gaza doing outreach work and talk therapy to help the poor Palestinians learn to love again. She’ll wind up like Daniel Perl.

  • How do idiots such as Allison Benedikt reach position of such power?

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