Donald Sterling: An Embarrassment to the Jews

Painting by Robert Bates, for the Observer.

Painting by Robert Bates, for the Observer.

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. But who has heard of the reverse. No bad deed goes unrewarded?

I was gobsmacked to read that if Donald Sterling is forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, he would likely save $323 million in taxes on an $1 billion sale because of a law that renders tax-free all forced sales.

Here is how writer Nick Lum put it: “If Sterling had voluntarily sold the team for $1 billion, he would have owed about $200 million in federal income tax and another $123 million in California state income tax. But thanks to a tax law that applies only to forced sales or other “involuntary conversions,” Sterling’s profits may all be tax-free.”

Expect a parade of hedge fund managers to start making insulting comments about Hispanics, Jews, and blacks so that they too are forced to sell their positions in the markets and save billions in Federal and State tax.

Now let’s get serious.

The Donald Sterling story is epic. First let’s use all the ‘allegedlys.’  A married man allegedly has a girlfriend who allegedly records him while he is ranting about blacks. The recording hits the internet when his alleged girlfriend allegedly makes it available for posting. New NBA commissioner, just weeks into the job, shows powerful leadership and, no allegedly about it, slams him with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine.

Positively biblical.

And what have we learned from this episode?

First, if you have issues with your wife it’s best to work them out. Finding comfort in another woman’s arms can turn ugly real quick.

Remember Mel Gibson? He dumped his wife of 26 years, Robyn Moore, and was photographed on a beach embracing Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva. That is, until Grigorieva taped him in a racist, anti-Semitic, violent outburst that quickly found oxygen on the internet. I shed no tears for Mel for whom Jew-hatred is a way of life. But I do feel bad for his wife, both for having been married to him and, more importantly, for having been humiliated by him.

The second lesson is that if you’re a racist it’s best not to express those sentiments even to those closest to you. Keep it locked in the darkness of your own rancid heart. I’m often amazed at how, when families get together, so much racist crap comes out, as if, because people are your blood, it’s ok to tell them how you really feel. Would a man share with his wife that he wants to have sex with the waitress? I’m hoping the answer is no. And why not? Because it’s inappropriate. It’s beneath you. It’s wrong.

Well, racism is deeply immoral. And the more you express it, the more intensely you feel about it. The more intensely you feel about it, the more you’re likely to act on it. So shut up and focus on feeling something else.

The third lesson is how we must distinguish between a bigot and a racist. The former is someone who spouts off about how much he hates ethnic groups, seeing them as his inferiors. The latter is someone who acts on it.

Harry Truman voted to make Israel a state. The Jews are highly indebted to him. But he also wrote, “The Jews, I find, are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as Displaced Persons as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog.” Wow, that’s pretty damn hateful. Yet there is no evidence that Truman ever acted on his anti-Semitism, converting it into Jew-hatred.

Richard Nixon didn’t need a mistress. He was dumb enough to record himself in the oval office, where he regularly spouted off on his intense dislike of Jews. Yet, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War he ordered an airlift that helped save Israel from total annihilation. He was an anti-Semite but he wasn’t a Jew-hater.

So in which category is Donald Sterling? Bigot or racist? Some argue he said those horrible things but he never did anything about them. It was just ugly words. Others say there were actual racist incidents, including denying housing to minorities, with a federal lawsuit claiming that Mr. Sterling said that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building” and that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Bigot or racist, Mr. Sterling he needed to be punished regardless. The reason? The NBA does not exist to parse words or engage in philosophical debate but to promote sports. The very essence of sport is a sense of justice and fair play. If a game is rigged no one will watch (pro wrestling aside). When players and fans discover that there is an owner who, for no good cause, loathes the very players who make him his fortune, they must take action. He is a user and an ingrate. He hates his own players and he hates his own team. Furthermore, he rewards his fans not with appreciation but revulsion. He is what Judaism calls a kofuy tov, a contemptuous man with no sense of appreciation. How could anyone work for him? Who would want to sit in the same stadium as him?

Donald Sterling embarrassed himself with his hateful, ignorant language. And as a Jew, charged with being a light unto the nation, he embarrassed the Jewish people. The powerful, decisive action by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was an example of how a righteous Jew ought to behave when faced with hateful, hurtful remarks.

And the final lesson? Combating racism is the job of every person, not just an NBA Commissioner.

The other day a Jewish man told me that black women find it difficult to find husbands because so many shvartza men are in prison. Hmmm, I said to him. Did you really think I would tolerate a comment like that? Did you think I would look at you in the same way after I heard you abuse the Yiddish language by using it to feed your prejudices?

“Jews are better than that, I concluded, “even if you’re not.”

Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 30 books and has just published Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.