An obituary for Sheldon Adelson by a former Israeli

Adelson at meeting of Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, with Trump, in April 2019. From Israeli reporter Amichai Stein’s twitter feed.

JVL Introduction

Avigail Abarbanel writes on Mondoweiss:

“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 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.”

This article was originally published by Mondoweiss on Thu 14 Jan 2021. Read the original here.

An obituary for Sheldon Adelson by a former Israeli

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.

Comments (7)

  • David McNiven says:

    It’s incumbent on all priests of all religions to inculcate in the infants of the ‘flock’ the belief that their tribe alone is the favourite of the all-powerful sky fairy.
    Without such indoctrination reason would have replaced dogma millennia ago.
    All the evils of all religions stem from that one despicable practice of propagandising defenceless innocent minds.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    It is an absolute duty of those who agree with the sentiments expressed above — those who are considered by supporters of Israel right or wrong to be ‘bad jews’ — to protest openly against the denial of Palestinian rights by successive governments of Israel who claim to speak for the body of Jews worldwide. We can’t agree, even if only by implication, to be made complicit in Israel’s abuses of human rights; we can’t allow the people who share our heritage to be tarnished by this dishonorable regime as if we were a single bloc with a single mind.

    In every part of the world, not least of all in Israel, there are Jews who disagree with what Israel is doing. Our voices must be added to theirs, and to the voices of people of good conscience of every nation and heritage. If the choice is to be between being a ‘good’ jew who supports Israel and a ‘bad’ one who supports human rights, then I must unapologetically choose the latter, even if it means abandoning my tribal identity altogether.

  • machado says:

    Not good enough for Heaven, too Bad for the other place.

  • anne bowers says:

    Thank you Avigail – it took a lot of courage for you to say this

  • Alan Stanton says:

    Thank you, JVL for this welcome introduction to Avigail Abarbanel. I hadn’t previously come across her and her work. Especially the collection of pieces she edited: “Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists” (2010).

    Had I come across this earlier I might have better understood the torrent of anger and irrational fears – with some deliberate lying – which split the Labour Party after Corbyn became leader.

    Though for me, and perhaps many others, there was a small but positive consequence of the spurious claims of institutional antisemitism. That was making the acquaintance and then reading and viewing a long list of writers, bloggers, podcasters and YouTube speakers from Avigail Abarbanel to Idith Zertal and an entire alphabet in between.

  • To everyone who commented,

    It was kind of JVL to include my Mondoweiss piece on their site and I am grateful to all those who commented. I appreciate your support for justice and for what I wrote!

    I have long thought that it is a sad statement on our society and the state of the world that it requires courage to speak up, especially when it concerns standing up for our fellow human beings. Courage is needed where there is fear. Why should any of us be afraid to speak out when it is the right thing to do and when others depend on us seeing their plight and doing something about it? I used to be afraid, two decades ago or more, but that’s long in the past now. I think it is important to say that no amount of fear I might have experienced comes close to what every Palestinian living in Israel and in the colonised WB or the Gaza strip has to live with every moment. Imagine living every day knowing that the country in charge really wants you out and that your life is not worth much. As a psychotherapist I despair at the knowledge that every child in Gaza suffers from Post Traumatic Stress. There is no excuse for this. So speak out we must. Please do!

    In solidarity & gratitude, Avigail x

  • Adel says:

    By no means you are a bad jew…you are a decent jew!. The problem is that you can not be a decent jew and a Zionist, or at least a Zionist that could care about the Palestinians. To a Zionist Palestinians are invisible…Adelson should be tried in the USA only because he stated that he regretted wearing the USA uniform and not the Israeli one…Anybody else would face a heavy condemnation only because of what this person said!.

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