It is with extreme reluctance that I return, yet again, to the topic of Max Blumenthal’s awful book on Israel (and here). I do so not because I believe anything more needs to be said about the book itself, nor are there any corrections to be made in my column (though perhaps this will change). Rather, I feel compelled because Blumenthal and his allies have seen fit to launch a campaign of character assassination against me as a result of my criticisms of the book. (I did not criticize Blumenthal personally. Indeed, I have never met him and have nothing to say about him as a person.) But I do think his book is a perfect example of how not to do journalism. Indeed, if I were still teaching how-to journalism, I would use it as a how-not-to prop.
The most important responsibility any journalist has is to provide a proper context for readers to understand the basic truths of any given story. Truth is different from “facts.” Facts can easily mislead if presented in a purposely (or even accidentally) distorted context. This is what I meant when I said Blumenthal’s attacks on Israel were mostly “technically accurate,” while at the same time “deliberately deceptive.” To describe Israeli actions in the absence of any discussion of the behavior of its enemies and the threats these enemies pose to its citizens is both intellectually indefensible and constitutes prima facie evidence of bad faith. So, too, is the tactic of hiding behind the passive voice in order to hide key information from the reader.
Overall, a reader with no previous knowledge who sought to understand the motivation of Jewish Israelis for their decisions would have no choice but to conclude from Blumenthal’s account that there is just something about these nasty Israeli Jews that leads them to act like big meanies. The behavior of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Iranians—or groups inside these countries such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Ba’ath Party, the Muslim Brotherhood etc.—do not figure at all in Blumenthal’s analysis. Jewish Israelis act out of malevolent intent, often imputed to them by Blumenthal via apparently telepathic powers. But I literally could not find a single significant criticism of any Palestinian, or even any Arab, anywhere in Blumenthal’s seventy-three nastily named chapters. (Hence my “Hamas Book of the Month Club quip.)
The “big meanie” hypothesis is, sadly, the foundation upon which all of Blumenthal’s reporting rests. And despite cries of “censorship,” it is also, I imagine, the explanation as to why the book has been so resoundingly ignored in the media. Many critical books about Israel are published and reviewed these days. Patrick Tyler’s recent book received a great deal of attention, and I have no doubt that John Judis’s harsh rendering of Israel’s founding and the role of the US government in its early development will do so as well. Both are books with a strong, critical point of view of Israeli behavior rather than a pro-Zionist point of view. Both books, however, were written by authors who recognized the fact that that to tell just one side of an extremely complex and multifaceted story can be worse than telling none at all. Blumenthal’s book is so patently anti-Israel in its orientation that it will excite and delight those already in the extreme anti-Zionist camp but prove anathema to anyone who does not already share his animus toward Jewish Israelis. Some people refer to this kind of thing as “intellectual masturbation” but I think this is unfair. Masturbation does no harm; the same can’t be said of deliberately distorted journalism.