Not surprisingly, the skeptical response to Max Blumenthal’s latest video has been one of casual dismissal: OK, so he went and found some drunk frat boys hanging out together and filmed them making crude racial remarks. Not pleasant stuff, but not a huge deal, either.
“Man listen, hand me a fifth of Henny, a video camera, and an hour, and I'll show you Negroes claiming that God's messenger lives in a space-ship orbiting the earth,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his Atlantic blog.
Others have drawn a parallel to Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 movie “Borat,” in which a group of inebriated fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina yuk it up about Jews, blacks and slavery. It wouldn’t be fair to call them representative of American society, the thinking goes, so why should we read anything more into what a handful of boozy Israelis and American Jews in Jerusalem say?
Well, I have one suggestion why we should: because the man who is Israel’s new foreign minister, and who very nearly became its new prime minister this spring, is an absolute, unqualified bigot. Avigdor Lieberman’s rise (along with Benjamin Netanyahu’s resurgence) is confirmation that the mood in Israel (and among its ardent American supporters) toward the Arab and Muslim worlds has darkened dramatically. His rhetoric is as nakedly racist as George Wallace’s was in America 40 years ago—and he is now Israel’s ambassador to the world.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the basic attitudes and instincts that the ignorant, drunk racists in the video express are products of the same culture—in Israel and among its American backers—that has given rise to Lieberman, a culture that de-humanizes Arabs and Muslims and vilifies anyone (especially a black American with a Muslim middle name) who would dare challenge the dominant “Israel good/Arabs bad” narrative. Their parents’ and grandparents’ generations mask the rawness of these attitudes with sterile-sounding terms like “demographic problem” and “security fence,” but beneath it all is the same basic de-humanization that these kids are expressing. I suspect this video is a symptom of that culture.
But who knows -- maybe some of these kids’ parents are actually enlightened on the Israeli/Palestinian question, and would be appalled to hear what their sons are saying. Maybe this really is nothing more than drunk guys trying to out-macho each other—just like in “Borat.” But even if that’s the case, we are still left with the fact that one of the most powerful and popular elected officials in Israel embraces the same racism that they are voicing. And unlike this video, his rise can’t be explained away as some isolated, meaningless aberration.