Video streaming by UstreamLast week in a breakthrough, Max Blumenthal spoke at the New America Foundation, and Jim Fallows was there and has published surely the most important piece on Blumenthal’s book yet, inasmuch as he has broken the mainstream taboo on Goliath and called it out in doing so. He says the book must be reckoned with if we call ourselves a free society, in the same way that other polemics have been granted a mainstream audience, from The Shame of the Cities to The Jungle to The Grapes of Wrath to Gentleman’s Agreement to The Autobiography of Malcolm X to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Good company, huh?
Fallows is leery of endorsing Blumenthal’s outlook entirely, but he seems to know that Blumenthal is right: “ I can say that Blumenthal has made a sobering prima facie case that there are extreme forces to be aware of, and reckoned with more fully [than the] American discourse usually does.”
Here are some excerpts of Fallows’s comments:
I wasn’t involved in inviting Max Blumenthal, but having read his book before the session and now having heard him speak, I am glad that New America and its president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, stood by their invitation. That was the right call on general free-speech principles, and also because this book should be discussed and read…
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.
…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.
To see for yourself, just watch a few minutes of the video Blumenthal and his associates made a few months ago, about recent anti-African-immigration movements. The narration obviously disapproves of the anti-immigrant activists, but that doesn’t matter. The power of the video comes from letting these people talk, starting a minute or so in…
Someone other than me can put in perspective all the offsetting forces within Israel’s current political-social dynamics. But I can say that Blumenthal has made a sobering prima facie case that there are extreme forces to be aware of, and reckoned with more fully that American discourse usually does. And, very importantly, his doing so is no more “anti-Israel,” let alone anti-Semitic, than The Shame of the Cities and The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath were anti-American for pointing out extremes and abuses in American society.
Or Death At Any Early Age or The Octopus or Black Like Me or Gentleman’s Agreement or An American Dilemma or The Other America or The Autobiography of Malcolm X or Mississippi Burning or Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or any other documentary/dramatized polemic about American injustice. Or any more than David Simon’s magnificent The Wire saga was anti-American in portraying a society that, from top to bottom and in ways big and small, was violent and predatory and corrupt…. Free societies need this kind of cleansing discussion, and they need to be able to tolerate and hear it even when it’s “unbalanced” or “goes too far.”..
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.
I’d add that I made a very similar argument re The Israel Lobby, back in 2007, that it was an American polemic like The Silent Sea, the Jungle, and Unsafe at Any Speed — “journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect,” per Fallows. And why is it that that place is not recognized and respected here? And there is much more diversity in Israel? Because of the Israel lobby’s role as gatekeeper inside the U.S. discourse.