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by Eric Alterman
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 at 8:43 PM
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York,
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 Liebowitz, 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” Liebowitz for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis, not—as Blumenthal might wish—because he called Israeli soldiers “Nazis” and told them not to serve.
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