If you are an American mainstream reporter in Israel, you have a real challenge, just about every day. You have to wilfully ignore much of the news that is happening right around you. Let’s take the events of May 23, 2012 in south Tel Aviv as an instructive example. That night, at least 1000 Israelis staged a violent protest against the presence of African refugees in the country. First, the angry crowd listened to vicious speeches by leading politicians, including a woman who had once served as chief spokesperson for the Israeli army who described the Africans as “a cancer” and called for mass deportations. In response, the protesters chanted, “Nigger, nigger, you’re a son of a bitch.” The mob then stormed through the streets for hours, viciously attacking Africans and pillaging their local shops. This racist outburst did not represent a small, isolated fringe; an opinion poll reported that 52 percent of Israelis agreed that the Africans were, in fact, “a ‘cancer’ in the body of the nation.”
This sounds like a good news story, full of violence and color, the kind of article we read regularly from eastern Europe or Africa. But the New York Times reporters who were stationed in Israel did not report it – until nearly a month later, when a story by Isabel Kershner appeared under the headline: “Crackdown on Migrants Tugs at Soul of Israel.” Her report had more sympathy for the uneasy consciences of some Israelis, who said they felt guilty their government was deporting refugees, than for the actual Africans, several of whom had been nearly murdered.
Self-censorship is part of the job description for the American mainstream journalist in Israel. This consistent bias, this refusal to report on the ugly truths right in front of you, explains why most Americans still have a dream castle view of Israel that resembles an updated version of the novel Exodus. Fortunately, Max Blumenthal has spent large stretches of the past few years there, and his big, outstanding book Goliath is indispensable if you truly want to understand Israel in 2013. He was not actually on the scene for that south Tel Aviv pogrom, instead relying on reports from other courageous, independent journalists, but he seems to have gone just about everywhere else in Israel/Palestine looking for the real story. He got inside Ofer Military Prison, where thousands of Palestinians are jailed. He spent the night with brave Palestinian resisters in a West Bank village as they waited for the 3 a.m. knock on the door from the Israeli military. He gives the best account I have seen anywhere of the apartheid wall and what it is really designed to do.
Visitors to this site and readers of The Nation are aware of the debate over Goliath between Max Blumenthal, Max’s supporters, and Eric Alterman. I respect Alterman’s writings on most other subjects, and I will continue to read his column in The Nation with interest. But Alterman’s most dangerous statement about Blumenthal’s book, above and beyond the snideness and the factual errors, is when he points out – and actually sounds satisfied – that Goliath is being ignored by the mainstream media.
Yonatan Shapira, the Israeli air force pilot turned courageous peace activist who is an important figure in Goliath, sometimes opens his talks by saying: “The joke used to be, ‘Three Jews, four opinions. Now, with respect to Israel, it is ‘100 Jews, one opinion.’” Yonatan’s quip explains why Goliath is still waiting to be assessed in the bigger book review sections, and why Max Blumenthal is not popping up all over National Public Radio.
A full-page ad in the New York Times costs anywhere between $142,000 and $203,000. Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land was featured in one the other week, and I would bet that part of what motivated whoever paid for it was the desire to use Shavit to try and bury Goliath. Max Blumenthal’s 410-page account is devastating to the view of Israel that still prevails in the United States. He has written a steady, sober, thorough chronicle of a country that is moving even more to the right, more racist, more militarist, and more anti-democratic than ever. Blumenthal has little patience with what he calls the Enlightened Public – the elite, Tel Aviv Ashkenazi Jews who are the face of Israel overseas, but are now almost completely ineffectual. (Blumenthal’s interview with the writer David Grossman, a leading figure in this Enlightened Public, has been criticized in some quarters, but I found it respectful and telling.)
Blumenthal makes it crystal clear that no solution to Israeli apartheid will come from within Israeli society alone. The dominant forces in Israel want to expel the remaining Palestinians from pre-1967 Israel, continue to steal Palestinian land on the West Bank, and forever maintain the occupation in some form or another. Worldwide resistance is the only answer. Blumenthal chronicles the history of the BDS movement, and portrays the courageous Palestinians who democratically drew it up and continue to fight for it nonviolently.
In the end, Goliath is not an unremittingly depressing book. In addition to Yonatan Shapira, he finds other extraordinary people, many of them Israelis, some of whom are no strangers to this website; Joseph Dana, Lia Tarachansky, and David Sheen are just a few of these moral giants. But there are not nearly enough of them. Without BDS and other pressure from outside, Max Blumenthal proves that Israel will continue to move toward real fascism.
(Editor’s Note: Just a friendly reminder that you can receive a copy of Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel if you donate $60 0r more to Mondoweiss before the end of the year. Thanks!)