Commentary Magazine


A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen

I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

The piece centers on Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces who was killed by terrorists in Gaza this week. Steinberg is from Los Angeles, and after attending a Birthright Israel trip, felt connected enough to make aliyah. He joined the IDF. Benedikt strings these basic facts together and comes up with a creative, and thoroughly repugnant, theory: Birthright shares the blame in Steinberg’s death.

Here’s the crux of Benedikt’s case. You’ll notice two problems:

Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it.

The first is that she leaps to quite a conclusion while admitting she has no data to back it up, as the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes:

Let me help. The answer is “exceedingly few.” Fewer than 3,000 Americans make aliyah each year across all age groups — from a community of six million Jews. Only a few hundred are young adults, and only a fraction of these (excluding religious women, health problems, anyone over 26, among others) join the IDF.

Then there are those who join the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens via a program known as Mahal, a program that predates Birthright by decades. Hundreds of Mahal soldiers fought in Israel’s Independence War in 1948. Max was a Mahal soldier, one of an estimated 400 young people from English-speaking countries who join the IDF each year through Mahal to serve a shorter service of 1.5 years instead of 3. While Mahal fighters number in the hundreds, only a fraction could have been Birthright participants. At least one-third are classified by the army (based on their own self-identification) as “religious,” meaning that they had been raised in religious educational frameworks, and thus are unlikely to have gone on Birthright. Most Jewish religious schools take their students to Israel during high school, making them ineligible for free college-age Birthright trips.

But the focus on the data misses the other problem with Benedikt’s essay. Benedikt doesn’t have the data on Birthright alumni joining the IDF because she doesn’t need or want it. She’s making a more philosophical argument. She’s saying Birthright connects Jews to Israel, and the “ultimate expression” of this connection must be, in Benedikt’s mind, to pick up a gun and put on a uniform.

The real clue to why Benedikt’s piece is so repulsive is her closing. She writes:

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.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not about Birthright per se. It’s about connecting Jews to their ancient homeland–their historical identity, in other words. And that connection, if successful, leads–not always, but logically, in Benedikt’s mind–to Steinberg’s tragic end. “This is what you get,” she says. War, death–this is what happens when you help Jews connect to a crucial part of Jewish life, history, practice, and identity.

It’s not Birthright that killed Max Steinberg, in Benedikt’s telling. It’s Judaism. Compartmentalize your Judaism by separating yourself from the global Jewish community and from Eretz Yisrael–keep your people’s history hidden–and you should be OK. “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it,” Benedikt offers, trying to explain Steinberg’s Zionism by ascribing it to mental weakness, to emotional instability, or to a moral naïveté that his fellow Jews took advantage of.

To teach a Jew about his people and his history, according to Benedikt, is to play a dangerous game. And this, she says, pointing to the death of a 24-year-old soldier, is what happens; “This is what you get.”

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9 Responses to “A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen”

  1. KAREN ADLER says:

    Especially repugnant given that it was published the day of his funeral.

    I would like to know all the decisions that she made in the first 24 years of her life. Then, without knowing her, just as she did not know Max Steinberg, I will write a blog post ascribing them all to her weaknesses and failings.

  2. DAVID LEVAVI says:

    “…rewarding click-trolling…”

    Allison Benedikt and her degenerate Jewish like are enabled by civilized Jews who respond to them rationally. They will only be silenced when they are as afraid of publicly expressing their Jew-hatred as pacifist Muslims are afraid of expressing pro Jewish sentiments. Threatened with having her children kidnapped and murdered or having her own head cut off Benedikt would be less outspoken.

  3. JACK LEVEY says:

    Allison Benedikt is what you get when you spend millions of dollars, and more than a century, convince young Jews that they have no ties to other Jews, especially to Jews who do not live in America, and that — as one of her commenters advocates — a person’s only goal in life should be to spend years eating, getting drunk, and having frequent promiscuous sex.


    She claims to know “many” American Jews who went off to join the IDF at age 18. I suspect she knows exactly none, but certain not “many.” A minor lie, perhaps, but telling.


    Sick, Just Sick!! Am Yisrael Chai!!!

  6. MARTIN GRAY says:

    Benedikt’s article is repugnant. I read it. Her sloppy writing and fact editing is disgraceful. Her generation is spoiled and morally warped. Condolences to Max Steinberg’s family, but be consoled by the fact that Max was a Jewish hero who sacrificed his life to protect his people. There could be nothing more noble. And as compared to Benedikt, he will have the respect of Jew and non-Jew alike everywhere that bravery and integrity are celebrated.


    Allison Benedikt has deep emotional problems. Her husband, John, is a Jew hater. Max Steinberg was a great kid. Benedikt resents that Max Steinberg found himself while she lost herself.

  8. DONNA RUBIN says:

    “There is no use talking to idiots.” Ms. Benedikt is not even a useful one. We don’t get to choose our time or place of death. Who is she to judge? For whatever reason, this was Max’ time. The death of most 24 year old men is little more than a statistic. They do not have 30,000 mourners. Their lives do not serve as a memory or a blessing. Max Steinberg may not have had children, but children will be named after him. He could have bound himself up to so many frivolous things, but he choose his people. When it is our time, Ms. Benedikt and the rest of us should be so lucky.

    • DONNA RUBIN says:

      I failed to mention that my son is 25, went to Israel on Birthright two years ago and is also in the IDF. I worry about him like my parents did when I skipped college and joined the Air Force. We all make our own decisions, and I will put ours against hers any day.

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