Israel is a ‘corpse’ — Hedges on Blumenthal’s ‘Goliath’

Israel/Palestine
Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal

Yesterday Max Blumenthal’s new book on Israel, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, got the emphatic endorsement of two influential journalists, Chris Hedges and Andrew Sullivan.

First, here’s Hedges at Truthdig, hammer and tongs in an inspiring Old Testament manner: Zionism is a racist ideology, Israel is poisoned by the psychosis of war, and liberal American Jews deny this so as to fetishize the myth and themselves, but Blumenthal reveals the truth, Israel is a corpse.

Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military…

And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state…. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.

There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book.

And here is Andrew Sullivan, much more engaged by the swordplay between Blumenthal and Eric Alterman, and saying that Alterman committed a lazy hatchet job. But Sullivan lands where it matters, on Blumenthal’s excellent encounter with David Grossman, and all that demonstrated about the flaccidity of Zionist ideals:

one reason to pick [Goliath] up is the lazy hatchet job performed on it by one of the more egregiously nasty writers in America, Eric Alterman. Alterman’s critique can be read here, titled “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook”, and here. I urge you to read both…. The reason I urge you to read it all is because it’s essential background for Blumenthal’s response. It’s always a joy to see a smear artist exposed, trick by trick, con by con – and Max is relentless. To wit:

‘Alterman carps about the titles of several chapters in my book, claiming they were “titled to imply an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany.” He did not bother address the substance of the chapters, which explains the titles. The chapter titled, “How To Kill 51-jsDj2gPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Goyim and Influence People” detailed a Jerusalem conference of prominent state-funded Israeli rabbis who had gathered to defend the publication of Torat Ha’Melech, a book published by their rabbinical colleagues that the Israeli paper Maariv described as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.” (Among the book’s lowlights: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us…”)’My chapters titled “The Night of Broken Glass” and “The Concentration Camp” detail the officially sanctioned campaign of racist incitement and violence against Israel’s population of non-Jewish African asylum seekers. The former chapter described events leading up to the night of May 23, 2012, when, after an anti-African rally headlined by leading officials from the ruling Likud Party, in which Africans were described from the stage as “a cancer,” hundreds of Jewish Israelis rampaged through African-inhabited areas of South Tel Aviv, attacking their homes and cars and literally smashing the glass of their storefront windows. “I am as afraid to live in the Israel of 2012 as any right-minded German should have been in 1938,” Aliyana Traison, the deputy editor of Haaretz, wrote at the time.’

[Sullivan again] For good measure, Alterman concedes that the book is “mostly technically accurate.” I hate the bullying tactics of those suppressing a discussion of difficult subjects, so am glad to note that Blumenthal himself is not the only one shocked by the shoddiness of Alterman’s smear:

‘Other writers have already carefully deconstructed his tangled mess of factual errors and deceptive claims: Phan Nguyen, Corey Robin, Ali Gharib, Ira Glunts and Charles Manekin.’

I’d particularly recommend Corey Robin’s dissection of Alterman’s account of Blumenthal’s conversation with David Grossman, the legendary liberal Zionist. It’s both a thorough debunking of Alterman but also a disturbing revelation about what has happened to Israel, and why it matters.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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