Web Letters | The Nation

Disappointed in Alterman’s piece on Blumenthal

Dear Mr. Alterman: I generally appreciate your columns. But I will echo the complaints of the “most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists,” as you call us. I haven’t read Blumenthal’s book (although I have read his articles) yet, but your article and responses contain enough stand-alone inaccuracies to be addressed without even defending Blumenthal’s book.

1. The textbooks. This is a favorite and tired trope. It has also been disproven in multiple studies, by researchers who actually bothered to translate those textbooks. See Electronic Intifada’s recap. Given that Israel controls basically everything that makes it into the Occupied Territories, including textbooks, it would really be quite difficult to include anti-Israeli propaganda in said texts. But then there’s also the issue that when an occupying army has destroyed your home, arrested your brother and killed your neighbor, you don’t really need a book to incite animosity, do you?

2. You spoke at an ADC conference and are a two-stater. “I have black friends!” The ADC is hardly a radical organization, although it is an Arab one. As for being a two-stater, oy vey. Go visit the West Bank and tell me where, in the 200+ separated enclaves (by the Wall, by checkpoints, by Jews-only bypass roads) you see a Palestinian state potentially existing. Please see B’Tselem’s (an Israeli human rights organization) maps and documentation of freedom of movement and resource allocation in the OPT. Presumably this is also to prevent the universally recognized right to return (in order to maintain Jewish demographic majority, which I would think would strike any American as very suspect, like Texans wanting to keep a white majority).

3. Blumenthal’s book is highlighted on a neo-Nazi website. Just because some wackos agree with some legitimate ideas doesn’t make those ideas wacko. Ron Paul occasionally has the same ideas as me (and I bet as you too); that does not make me a crazy libertarian.

4. Responding to metaphors as though they were supposed to be exact parallels so as to avoid the illustrated point. A pro-con take on birtherism is not meant to be taken literally. A far more accurate comparison would be a pro-con take on apartheid South Africa, which would have no place in a publication such as The Nation. In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, and the recognition by leaders like Mandela and Archbishop Tutu that the Israeli system is apartheid, it might be time to wake up to the reality, although it is a painful reality for American Jews (I didn’t love going through that process initially either, but lots of Palestinians and allies held my hand).

You occupy an increasingly tenuous position, that of the “liberal Zionist.” It’s a tough fence to sit on, especially given that one’s balance is compromised by the blinders that one must wear to do so. Should you choose to come down from there, please check out an organization to which I belong for more resources, Jewish Voice for Peace. I think you’ll find that us radical extremists are actually pretty well-educated and reasonable, although we do hold the radical position of human rights for all. I think you’ll also find that we are not motivated by hatred of Israel (or of Israelis), although as American Jews we do feel a special responsibility for the actions of the state.

Should you choose to continue to write off the many progressives who would like to correct your misconceptions, well then, my letter just serves to add more weight to that pile.

Abby Okrent

Sacramento, CA

Dec 10 2013 - 1:27pm

The 'facts on the ground' handbook

To label Goliath “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” evinces a certain emotional hypersensitivity that isn’t really warranted. On the other hand, to label it “The I’m Angry at Israel’ Handbook” doesn’t have the same dismissive ring. Better, when all is said and done, would have been to encourage or suggest that one actually read the book and get from it what it has to offer. I see the book as more along the lines of an anthropological study of contemporary Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, doubly valuable because Blumenthal was there gleaning “facts on the ground” rather than “pie in the sky” and presenting these facts in a highly readable fashion.

Alterman says Blumenthal has titled some of his chapters to “imply an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany”. No, not an equivalence, but certainly some ironic parallels. Few readers would be so ahistorical as to actually find equivalence, but some similarities, yes. Alterman has obviously also written about Israel’s “brutal military occupation of Palestinian land” and and how it has “desensitized its citizens to the daily humiliations it inflicts on the Palestinians”. So why begrudge the book for presenting the material in such a way as to help (re?-)sensitize the reader to the same? After all, we’re all interested in the search for truth, no?

Alterman’s main complaint seems to be that the book makes no attempt to be balanced. Well, the book isn’t a polemic, and what Blumenthal has lived and observed during his stay in Israel deserves to be recorded and published. After all, what truly makes the book remarkable is what he has recorded for posterity. Wouldn’t we have appreciated similar books recording the “up front and personal” observations of historical assaults against other peoples, native Americans, Armenians, Jews and any and all victims of systematic degradation? It’s as if Alterman would have expected Blumenthal to provide enough “context” (Israel’s perception of threats against it) to excuse and make irrelevant the dismaying and heart-breaking events Blumenthal elucidates.

Obviously, “Fascism” can’t be recreated in any current or future historical context. The past can’t be duplicated. There can be no “equivalence.” But, thanks to Max Blumenthal, for providing his observations helping draw a more accurate portrait of the Israeli reality than was available before his book was published.

And finally, what is ultimately accomplished by discouraging anyone from actually reading the book?


Steve Marzicola

Santa Barbara, CA

Nov 20 2013 - 1:05am

‘Goliath’ is a must-read

Eric Alterman’s fulsome headline (“The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook”) impelled me to purchase a copy of Max Blumenthal’s Goliath. I look forward to reading and absorbing it. But I shall return it for a refund if it is not as compendious as Alterman suggests. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to order it from The Nation’s website, where I could not even find a link to that of Nation Books. Fortunately, my local Barnes & Noble had a copy in stock.

Jeffry Larson

Hamden, CT

Nov 10 2013 - 10:33pm

Illegal state

First, I should thank Mr. Alterman for his frank realization that Israel is rarely wholly innocent. I would add: whether Israel’s innocence is characterized in Mr. Blumenthal’s book or not, Israel has caused much of its own misery in addition to that of the region. One can debate the merits of Israel’s “democracy”, but Mr. Alterman may wish to review that subject at a later date.

I have not yet read Mr. Blumenthal’s book; however, one may be sure that I will buy it. I would much rather believe Mr. Blumenthal’s “unreliable narration” than Israel’s profanely petty excuses as to why it does what it does (best in killing people, as Tayyep Erdogan once said of them) to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, etc.…: that is, to make life a pure hell for them, leaving little to no choice but to strike back in either defiance or self-preservation. Blumenthal may not care one wit for Israel’s actions, larger context or not. Having heard him interviewed on several occasions, he puts the responsibility where it squarely belongs: at the feet of a nation created for a Jewish homeland, under a Balfour Declaration Zionists deviously accepted, whereby Balfour declared that the local population should not be affected, but in fact was, to the point, as Mr. Alterman admits, of Israel’s “brutal military occupation.” Israel’s trigger-happy manner should give rise to bigger self-concerns when rhetorically shooting themselves in the foot, without treatment, leading to a national gangrenous situation that ultimately amputates them into oblivion. It seems that “they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to damage themselves. The threats from Al Qaeda, I will concede, may eventually be real; at this point, no action by that worthless and pseudo-Islamic organization has taken place against Israel, as Hamas and Hezbollah, in their legitimate struggles, have kept Zionists on the edge.

I would take issue with Mr. Alterman’s exceptions regarding Blumenthal’s assertions concerning El Al airline employees. Mr. Alterman knows that many of any airline’s pilots matriculate from a nation’s air force or air national guard. That airline activity doubles with espionage actions, is well known. As an example, when KAL 007 was shot down, Soviet fighter pilots made it clear that KAL 007 movements in flight were above the norm of many airline pilots, revealing KAL’s very likely contribution to espionage over Soviet territory. Criminal as the shootdown was, the Soviets apparently were not fooled.

And speaking of an airliner that was shot down, one may look at the downing by the Israeli air force of a Libyan airliner in 1973. The excuses presented by the Israelis do not even begin to match the reasoning of the Soviet account. On that fateful day, 114 people lost their lives, leaving five survivors to relive that hell, all because the green light was given by a captain of the IAF no less. Where were the adults in the room at that time? As far as any kiosk, airline or otherwise is concerned, my repeated trips overseas to Arab nations, particularly Syria, have taught me the dangers of the mukhabarat being all too present. I have no illusion that the Israelis don’t commit themselves to the same clandestine oversight of innocent travelers. Mr. Alterman asserts his concerns with how Israel does “brutal” business with Palestinians; his claims against Mr. Blumenthal do not pass the smell test.

If all of this puts me in the league of “the most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists”, then so be it. The truth about Israel is all too evident when people simply open their eyes to their historical and ever consistent war crimes. Extremism would not exist among the Arabs had Zionists at the time been more open and honest in their dealings with the regional occupants. However, the world is now catching on due to increased disbelief of Israeli accusations concerning “anti-Semitism” droned on since the illegal takeover of Palestinian land. This obvious and salient fact may well be what drives Mr. Blumenthal to out those who insult his heritage and religion, simply to save an illegal nation’s convenience for a lie.

Riad Mahayni

North Chesterfield, VA

Oct 22 2013 - 6:03pm