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.