Israelis walk past an election campaign billboard of Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Max Blumenthal’s Goliath, published by Nation Books, consists of seventy-three short chapters, each one devoted to some shortcoming of Israeli society and/or moral outrage that the Jewish state has perpetrated against the Palestinians. Some are titled to imply an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany (“The Concentration Camp,” “The Night of Broken Glass”); others merely evidence juvenile faux-cleverness (“How to Kill Goyim and Influence People”).
Israel is rarely wholly innocent in the stories Blumenthal tells. Its brutal military occupation of Palestinian land, now entering its forty-sixth year, has not only deeply damaged Israel’s democracy, but also desensitized its citizens to the daily humiliations it inflicts on the Palestinians. But Blumenthal proves a profoundly unreliable narrator. Alas, his case against the Jewish state is so carelessly constructed, it will likely alienate anyone but the most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists, and hence do nothing to advance the interests of the occupation’s victims.
Blumenthal evinces no interest in the larger context of Israel’s actions. Potential threats that emanate from Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Syria, Iran, etc., receive virtually no mention in these pages. Israel’s actions are attributed exclusively to the myopia of its citizens. Blumenthal blames “Israeli society’s nationalistic impulses,” its politicians who struggle “to outdo one another in a competition for the most convincing exaltation of violence against the Arab evildoers,” its “fever swamps,” its “unprovoked violence against the Arab outclass,” and its textbooks that “indoctrinate Jewish children into the culture of militarism.” It would have been easy for him to at least pretend to even-handedness here. Did it not occur to Blumenthal, for instance, that Palestinians have textbooks as well?
Blumenthal’s accounts are mostly technically accurate, but often deliberately deceptive. In one relatively trivial but revealing example, Blumenthal hides behind the passive voice to repeat the accusation that El Al “airline has been accused of allowing Mossad officers to pose as El Al staffers to collect information on non-Jewish passengers in foreign airports” [italics mine]. Lo and behold, it turns out that the accuser in question was a recently terminated El Al employee who spent nineteen years at the company without ever mentioning any of this (and who presented no evidence for his claim). Nor does Blumenthal even briefly weigh the charge from the standpoint of common sense. Think about it: El Al employees wear company uniforms and are the most visible Israeli workers in any foreign country. Also, the airline’s offices abroad are all well advertised. Is that where you would plant your spies?
Blumenthal’s selectivity often gets in the way of his truth-telling. For instance, he credits Zionist pioneer Berl Katznelson, whom he calls “the Labor Zionist movement’s chief ideologue”—a title that exists exclusively in the author’s imagination—with saying, “The Zionist enterprise is an enterprise of conquest.” Yes, but Katznelson also said, “I do not wish to see the realization of Zionism in the form of the new Polish state with Arabs in the position of the Jews and the Jews in the position of the Poles, the ruling people. For me this would be the complete perversion of the Zionist ideal….” Apparently, there are more things in Labor Zionist history than are dreamt of in Blumenthal’s philosophy.
Blumenthal accuses others of naïveté, but it is he who is the naïf. He condescendingly accuses Aluf Benn, editor in chief of the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, of “underestimat[ing] the prime minister’s cynical gamesmanship” for failing to realize that the real purpose of Bibi Netanyahu’s “hysterical rhetoric” regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program was to take the world’s attention away from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. (Does anyone else in the world think Bibi was only kidding about Iran?)
Blumenthal writes with great admiration of the late Israeli theologian Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who accused the country’s soldiers of behaving like “Judeo-Nazis” and incited them to refuse military service. “Many members of the Zionist left still claim to revere” him, Blumenthal complains, “but few are willing to heed his most consequential advice.” Blumenthal names no names and does not bother to footnote his claim, but to the degree that it is accurate, it is also, per usual, misleading. Jews all over the world “revered” Leibowitz for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis, not—as Blumenthal might wish—because he called Israeli soldiers “Nazis” and told them not to serve.
The most bizarre episode in the book occurs when Blumenthal is granted a rare interview with the deeply admired left-wing Israeli author David Grossman, who lost his son in the 2006 Lebanon war. Grossman rejects Blumenthal’s proposal for “the transformation of Israel from an ethnically exclusive Jewish state into a multiethnic democracy,” not for the obvious reasons—that it is a pipe dream, given the hatred between the two sides—but because of his understanding of 2,000 years of Jewish history, in which restrictions have kept Jews from fully participating in the life of the societies in which they’ve lived. This inspires Blumenthal to lecture him that his own personal experience as the son of a White House “insider”—Clinton adviser and former journalist Sidney Blumenthal—and the experience of other “insider” Jews in the United States leads him to “have a hard time taking [Grossman’s] justification seriously.” The Israeli author and champion of its peace movement soon thereafter ends the interview and asks Blumenthal to please tear up his phone number. Here, our author attributes the response he receives, yet again, to Israeli myopia and lack of understanding of the way the world really works.
Perhaps a better title for this book would have been Chutzpah.
In an excerpt from his new book, Max Blumenthal investigates Israel’s PR machine.