Sheldon Adelson and the End of American Anti-Semitism
Eric Alterman February 8, 2012
If a Jew-hater somewhere, inspired perhaps by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sought to invent an individual who symbolizes almost all the anti-Semitic clichés that have dogged the Jewish people throughout history, he could hardly come up with a character more perfect than Sheldon Adelson.
Think about it. Adelson, who likes to brag, “You know, I am the richest Jew in the world,” is a gambling magnate who is reported to be under criminal investigation for official bribery and has been accused of having widespread ties to organized crime, including the use of prostitution for his business interests. He is openly deploying his $22 billion fortune to pervert our democracy on behalf of what he believes to be the best interests of Israel, which he defines as an endless war by the Jewish state against its adversaries, with America offering its unquestioning support. ...
It’s not as if the Adelson/Gingrich relationship has escaped scrutiny in the media or even editorial condemnation. But virtually all the attention has focused on the ability of any wealthy individual to exploit the post–Citizens United landscape for his own agenda. Nobody has noted—at least not in public—that the agenda in question happens to be the one to which Jews accused of “dual loyalty” or of being “Israel-firsters” are alleged to have dedicated themselves. How can it be that the self-proclaimed “richest Jew in the world” can buy the foreign policy of a major party’s potential presidential candidate on behalf of a vision of endless Israeli aggression—up to and including US support for yet another potentially disastrous pre-emptive attack—and the historically abused entity of “the Jews” has somehow escaped the blame?
Don’t get me wrong. While I lack sympathy for pretty much everything Adelson and Gingrich seek to accomplish, I am unabashedly thrilled that the bugaboo of anti-Semitic accusation is almost nowhere to be found. But given the near-complete disappearance of this once wholly respectable American prejudice, one must ask why so many organizations in the American Jewish community—along with their neoconservative allies in the media and policy world—remain so intently focused on this problem. Is it that the past has left them so psychologically invested in a now-discredited discourse that they lack the ability to see reality for what it is and devote themselves to more worthy causes? Or do at least some of them, as I implied in my last column, find the accusation so politically useful against Israel’s critics that they prefer to level this nefarious accusation rather than argue the merits of their position?
“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF ... our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back— his hobby is shooting — and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF ...”
More generally, I have this assumption about human nature that criticism, on the whole, makes you behave better than being exempt from criticism, as does worrying about being criticized. Medieval rabbis advised "A shande far di goyim" — Don't do something shameful in front of the gentiles. For an Adelson or Saban, that concept would have put their ethnocentrism in conflict with their ethnocentrism: Is it good for the Jews for me to act in a manner flagrantly interested only in being good for the Jews? That's a good kind of question for powerful people to ask themselves.
But, as Alterman implies, that concept of a shande far di goyim seems to have faded out over the last couple of decades. Apparently, we now know that those Yiddish-speaking rabbis were anti-Semitic.
Personally, I like Sheldon. He's an old coot having a blast making his younger wife happy by getting wrapped up in her country's doings. It wouldn't be much of a problem if we could greet his machinations with a chuckle and an amused roll of the eyes. But that's now allowed anymore. It's the gentiles who are to be ashamed for noticing.