Dec 16 2013
This will be my last political post of the year. As is my custom-I will place a moratorium on politics starting tomorrow, preferring instead to honor the holidays by writing about fun things.
But I thought today I would follow up on a post by James Fallows over at The Atlantic. In a recent post he discusses the newly released book by Max Blumenthal , Goliath. Blumenthal's last book was American Gomorrah-which told the story of the GOP's opportunistic alliance with evangelical Christians. This book is a discussion of Israel's immigration problem-with the influx of African immigrants coming Northward through Sinai and into Israel. It is something that Israelis don't like to talk about-because it shows the Jewish State in a very less than flattering light. The book has come under considerable criticism in Israel. Nonetheless, from my own travels to the country, I suspect that Blumenthal has hit a neve-because what he writes is very much true.
The case against Goliath, summarized here, is that it is so anti-Israel as to represent not journalism or reasonable critique but bigoted propaganda; plus, that in being so anti-Israel it is effectively anti-Semitic. With a few seconds of online search, you can track down the now-extensive back and forth. The furor has certainly helped publicize the book, but to me those claims about it seem flat mischaracterizations. Goliath is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.
The purpose of this book is not to provide some judicious “Zionism at the crossroads” overview of the pluses and minuses of modern Israel. That is not the kind of writer Max Blumenthal is. His previous book, Republican Gomorrah, was about the rise of the Tea Party and related extremist sentiment within the GOP. In that book he wasn’t interested in weighing the conservative critique of big government or teachers’ unions or Medicaid. That’s Brookings’s job. Instead his purpose was to document the extreme voices—the birthers, the neo-secessionists, the gun and militia activists, those consumed by hatred of Barack Obama—who were then providing so much of the oomph within Republican politics.
That book was effective not because Blumenthal said he disagreed with these people. Of course he did, but so what? Its power came simply from showing, at length and in their own words, how they talked and what they planned to do. As Blumenthal pointed out in this week’s New America session, that earlier book argued, a year before the Tea Party’s surge victories in the 2010 midterms: These people are coming, and they are taking the party with them. His account wasn’t “balanced” or at all subtle, but it was right.
His ambition in Goliath is similar. He has found a group of people he identifies as extremists in Israel—extreme in their belief that Arabs have no place in their society, extreme in their hostility especially to recent non-Jewish African refugees, extreme in their seeming rejection of the liberal-democratic vision of Israel’s future. He says: These people are coming, and they’re taking Israeli politics with them. As he put it in a recent interview with Salon, the book is “an unvarnished view of Israel at its most extreme.” Again, the power of his book is not that Blumenthal disagrees with these groups. Obviously he does. It comes from what he shows.
The issue of African immigration is a big one in Israel right now. It is made even touchier by the fact that Israel brought in a lot of Ethiopian Jews in the 90's-and they have never been fully accepted into the Israeli society, all protestations to the contrary. Of course there is justifiable concern about the economic impact -but in Israel there is always another concern: preserving the Jewish majority in terms of their demographics. This leads to some pretty ugly attitudes on the part of many Israelis. Watch this video to see what I am talking about:
My skills in Hebrew are limited-nonetheless I understand enough to assure you the translations in the video are correct.
Is the video one sided? Yes it is-nonetheless, it is a worthwhile documentation of some really ugly attitude in Israeli society. I've seen it first hand in my travels and walks through Tel Aviv. Its real-and it continues. Israelis don't like it being talked about because it does not portray the image of the country they want.
Nonetheless, it reinforces a point I have been making , and will continue to make. Most Americans do not understand Israel as it really is -rather than the idealized viewpoint so many American supporters have. I have a lot of respect for Israel and I count myself as a supporter. But I do not side with those who give the country a blank check to dictate American Foreign Policy. The interests of Israel and the US will not always align. And the US needs to be paramount.
And in this case-there is a distinct irony. Because in their invocations of exclusion, they are indulging in the exact same tactics the Arabs advocated during the Palestinian Mandate in the 20's and 30's. That should be of concern for many reasons.
It is a complicated problem-but Americans should understand the story has more than one side.
I'll let Fallows close this post:
The other point, familiar to anyone with even modest exposure to Israeli discussion, is how broad the range of debate on Middle Eastern topics is within Israel itself, compared with the usual range in the United States. Israeli writers, politicians, citizens, etc., say things about modern Zionism, the “peace process,” the future of their country, and everything else that would seem dangerously inflammatory in U.S. discourse. In part that’s natural: We feel free to criticize our own but don’t like outsiders doing it. Yet Blumenthal had an illustration of its odd effect. In its English version, the Jewish Daily Forward excoriated his book: “Max Blumenthal’s Goliath Is Anti-Israel Book That Makes Even Anti-Zionists Blush.” Whereas the Yiddish edition of the Forward has a review that (I am assured by someone who can understand it) is quite respectful of the book and the importance of such criticism.
Maybe Blumenthal’s perspective and case are wrong. But he is documenting things that need attention; no one has suggested that he is making up these interviews or falsifying what he's shown on screen. If he is wrong, his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration. If he's right, we should absorb the implications.