Several hours before Yom HaShoah solemnly commenced, the website deadspin.com released the fullest version yet of the secretly recorded conversations between Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and V. Stiviano, his ex-mistress. Their subject matter, Sterling’s antipathy toward black Americans, at one point veered in a remarkably timely direction.
“Isn’t it wrong?” Stiviano asks. “Wasn’t it wrong then? With the Holocaust? And you’re Jewish; you understand discrimination.”
Sterling can only reply: “You’re a mental case. You’re really a mental case.”
To read this exchange is to be confronted by some bizarre amalgam of a 1930s screwball comedy and a Sidney Lumet moral drama. In this real-life version, it takes a gold digger scorned to teach a billionaire mogul the lesson of his own history. And in so doing, Stiviano has helped frame the Sterling scandal in Jewish terms.
Our effort as Jews to extract meaning from the Shoah has involved both parochial and universal elements. Yes, we Jews were uniquely singled out in massive numbers for extermination. And yes, our communal experience of genocidal hatred compels us to zealously oppose all other forms of bigotry, for we know where bigotry leads.
Sterling, evidently, got only half the answer right on the final exam. As his own words make clear, he believes that racism against blacks cannot possibly be compared to the Holocaust. Racism is everywhere in his world, whether America or Israel. Nobody’s tolerant. Why should he be the odd man out?
By now, virtually any sensate person knows the gist of Sterling’s comments, as well as his documented history of being sued for racial discrimination as both large-scale landlord and NBA team owner. Making sense of Sterling’s twisted self requires examining it through both American and Jewish eyes. He draws on the worst aspects of that dual heritage.
With his black-Mexican mistress and his ownership of a largely black team in the blackest of all major sports, Sterling brings to mind Strom Thurmond and Lee Atwater. For those white Christian Southerners, as much as for Sterling, the hatred of blacks was inextricably bound up with the attraction to blacks.