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Max Blumenthal’s guilt by association – with Jewish ethics

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

As Passover is about to end, right now I’m not thinking about next year in Jerusalem. Even if John Kerry accomplishes a last minute resurrection of the peace process in the coming weeks, he will be covering Jerusalem, Adam and Eve style, with a fig-leaf.

Better to go naked in Jerusalem like an ancient prophet than continue with these false hopes.

In a time when Israel, with Diaspora Jewish enablement, is permanently oppressing another people, Passover as a rescue package works only if we close our eyes. Or, as in recent days, by accusing prophetic Jews of demeaning Israel, Jewishness and being an accomplice to murder.

Guilt by association – when there isn’t an association, just the murderer’s website appreciation of someone’s work will do. Stupid, really, but the method is tried and true. Keep our eye off the prize. Enable oppression disguised as innocence.

So it goes for Max Blumenthal whose book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, and “association” with the Kansas City killer of three last week has thrust him into the international spotlight. Of course, there is no real association. Why deal with facts?

As a disclaimer, I know Blumenthal. We met once and have exchanged several emails. I’ve watched some videos he’s made and others he’s interviewed in. I haven’t finished his long and intriguing book yet. Since Goliath is made up of vignettes, I’m dipping into them out of sequence. Each one I’ve read is compelling. They’re backed with fact and insight.

Blumenthal’s book features outsized Israeli personalities who enable violence, cause suffering and seem not to care. It is filled with Palestinian victims who suffer for no reason other than where they live and the community they were born into. Blumenthal also follows Israelis and Palestinians who tilt their lives against Israel’s expansionist and occupation windmill.

Goliath is well written, enlightening, sobering and frightening. Blumenthal doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Israel but then how could he. Blumenthal would have to be in rescue mode to paint a different picture than what Israel has become. He would have to lie like those who seek to bring him down.

There’s little of God or Judaism in Goliath – at least in a positive way. Blumenthal doesn’t hammer home the Jewish ethical tradition as his base of operation. He’s an observer of Israel as it is. Blumenthal makes few claims beyond what he sees.

Appropriate to the season, Goliath ends on a Passover note – with a twist. The final vignette is titled “The Exodus Party” but the illusion is inverted. It isn’t a Passover Seder. The party takes place in Tel Aviv where a Jewish-Israeli, Edo, a computer programmer, bids his homeland farewell. Edo has decided to leave Israel. These are his farewell words:

I don’t have too many friends left in Israel. Over time, I realized I couldn’t really talk to anyone anymore. There is no place left for me in this country. It has turned fascist and that’s it. So I’ve decided that the best way to carry on the struggle was from outside. From there I’ll have to wait until Israel goes so crazy and commits a massacre so big that the world will finally see what it really is.

Troubling words from an Israeli who is profoundly troubled by what Israel has become. But, then, Edo, knows it firsthand. Like many Israelis, Edo has his boots on the ground, serving in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Edo’s experience in Lebanon and what he was ordered to do doesn’t buffer Israel’s image.

Edo’s story is a fascinating and sad commentary on Israel and the plight of the individual Israeli caught within a state that has lost its way. But Edo is hardly the only Jewish Israeli exiting Israel for reasons of conscience. If you haven’t met and talked with Israelis in exile, you should. They’re the vanguard of the Jewish people.

Radicalized and open, Israelis in exile have no time for propaganda. After all, they’ve been there and done that. At some point, they couldn’t do what they were ordered to do anymore. They couldn’t permanently oppress the Palestinian people.

Are these Israelis guilty by their association – with Jewish ethics? Does Blumenthal’s documentation of what Israel has become make him guilty by his association – with Jewish ethics?

At tonight’s Seder read the Passover story. But before the Seder dip into Goliath. You can start at the end with the Exodus party. Then see what you think of Israel’s ancient leave-taking and the one taking place today. It makes for an interesting contrast. Is today’s leave-taking a logical unfolding of a Zionist dream turned into a nightmare?

Be careful, though. You, too, maybe tagged with guilt by association – with Jewish ethics.

At the end of your Seder substitute the concluding lines of Goliath for the outdated “Next Year in Jerusalem.” True the force of Blumenthal’s words is a downer. No celebration here. The irony of it all – Tel Aviv to Berlin – is startling. Yet the call of Passover is to awaken from a dream-like state, especially when injustice reigns.

Let Blumenthal’s words serve as a mournful wake-up call for Jews everywhere who seek a liberated world:

There were, of course, many Israelis who had dared to reflect, to engage the hard questions about occupation, militarization, and apartheid, and who ultimately refused their designated roles in the project of controlling the Palestinians. Their sense of fatigue and demoralization was palpable during my time inside Israel-Palestine. Many Israeli human rights activists had resolved to stay and struggle, but there were others who decided to extricate themselves from despair by leaving Israel for good. And so in a steady stream they escaped for a better life in places such as Germany, seeking the free air of Berlin, where a rapidly growing community of Israeli exiles gathered.

Oppression in plain sight. Israel.

Gathering exiles. Berlin

Guilt by association – with Jewish ethics.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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16 Responses

  1. Kay24
    Kay24
    April 21, 2014, 10:18 am

    Israel has managed to fool the world, cover their crimes through the zionist media, especially in the US, pretended to be victims, while the true victims suffer with no end in sight, managed to brutally steal land, demolishing homes, and kept these poor Palestinians in open prisons, while they use the term “never again” to justify their crimes to all, pretending they are the victims of unarmed, powerless, occupied people.
    Apart from these crimes against the Palestinians, the zionists in Israel have been tremendously cruel, and shown arrogance, and a viciousness, no religion would condone. Unfortunately, Jews around the world, have to bear the embarrassment of what Israel does, and surely some must be torn between having loyalty to Israel, and their sense of decency that disagrees with the terrible crimes of the zionist. government.

  2. LeaNder
    LeaNder
    April 21, 2014, 11:00 am

    I like the drift from guilt by association to ethics by association. It’s true that Max’ books can be described as a series of vignettes, but strictly I would recommend to start at the beginning. Since you’ll meet, if you allow me to simply use my private theology, some very specific believers on the way. And this was the core of his book for me. And I think also the main challenge to the guardians of success versus the losers.

  3. April 21, 2014, 11:13 am

    I see all this as excellent PR for Max’s book on Israel. This magnificent book has been largely suppressed by the Zionist media. Hopefully this attention will sell many more copies of the book. After Walt and Mearsheimer’s book on the jewish lobby I see Goliath as the next landmark publication on the transparent exposure of Israeli crimes and Israeli violation of international law and international norms.

  4. Citizen
    Citizen
    April 21, 2014, 12:24 pm

    How historically ironic is what Max says on page 406 of his book, Goliath: ” Many Israeli human rights activists had resolved to stay and struggle , but there were others who decided to extricate themselves from despair by leaving Israel for good. And so in a steady stream they escaped for a better life in places such as Germany, seeking the free air of Berlin, where a rapidly growing community of Israeli exiles gathered.”

  5. lonely rico
    lonely rico
    April 21, 2014, 2:27 pm

    Thanks to Marc Ellis for his perceptive comments on Max Blumental’s important book, a book I read with horror and despair tinged with a glimmer of hope. Despair at the detailed portrayal of the maliciousness of the Zionist state and the true believers, particularly (but not exclusively) against the Palestinians; hope by Blumenthal’s (and others) courage, standing up to this viciousness.

  6. Shmuel
    Shmuel
    April 21, 2014, 4:45 pm

    At tonight’s Seder read the Passover story. But before the Seder dip into Goliath. You can start at the end with the Exodus party. Then see what you think of Israel’s ancient leave-taking and the one taking place today. It makes for an interesting contrast. Is today’s leave-taking a logical unfolding of a Zionist dream turned into a nightmare?

    And our parents, once moved by Zionist ideals to immigrate to Israel, say to us: “But you are retracing our steps, returning to the ‘Land of Egypt’, reversing our ideals, going ‘from freedom to slavery’. What does that say about our lives, beliefs and sacrifices?” Some are pleased that at least we are getting out, saving ourselves and their grandchildren, while others merely feel humiliated, rejected and angry.

  7. jayn0t
    jayn0t
    April 22, 2014, 5:17 pm

    The recent attacks on Max Blumenthal by Zionists sound ridiculous, but they have a purpose. One of the aims of these kind of attacks is to give credibility to moderate, ineffective critics of Israel, some of whom make equally intemperate attacks on real critics of Israel. Hysterical denunciations of Max Blumenthal, Omar Barghouti, Judith Butler, and so on, have the effect of making them look, within the Palestine solidarity movement, effective – if Zionists fear them, they must be doing a good job, we are tempted to conclude. Alison Weir made the same mistake, when her organization was attacked by the Anti-Defamation League. She thought it was a compliment.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      April 22, 2014, 7:04 pm

      Alison Weir made the same mistake, when her organization was attacked by the Anti-Defamation League. She thought it was a compliment.

      I am enormously critical of the ADL, e.g. it’s simplistic worldwide antisemitism polls that seem to have a purely political function and to feed the issue into the news. I could list a series of other complaints. But without knowing what they wrote about Alison Weir, she does create a very strong defensive reaction in me. Not only with her use of language. She pushes the wrong buttons in my case. She does in fact create such a strong aversive reaction that I cannot read much what she writes. Without doubt she may not be aware of how she triggers this response in me with the unreflected use of language and sources sold as sensation.

      • puppies
        puppies
        April 23, 2014, 4:57 am

        @Leander – I would imagine that Ms Weir is not writing with the sole purpose of getting your goat, or even that she doesn’t know you.
        Meanwhile, you may try to be helpful to others by formulating clearly what, in her well-documented, well-aimed prose, happens to incur your disapproval. She has been opposing Zionism longer and more consequently than most people I see here, so what pushes you buttons must be something very serious and obvious. Why can’t others see it?

      • annie
        annie
        April 23, 2014, 5:30 am

        without knowing what they wrote about Alison Weir, she does create a very strong defensive reaction in me…. She pushes the wrong buttons in my case. She does in fact create such a strong aversive reaction that I cannot read much what she writes.

        this tells us much more about you than anything about her. just thought i would mention.

      • just
        just
        April 23, 2014, 6:23 am

        Oh dear, LeaNder. IAK is very important, imho. Alison pushes exactly the right buttons for me.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        April 23, 2014, 7:04 am

        @ LeaNder
        Alison Weir has a new book out, and she has a web site. Care to give us a few examples from there of those wrong buttons she pushes for you? What does she say or write that makes you so defensive? I’d really like to know because she pushes all the right buttons for me. She spoke at the recent National Summit on the US special relationship with Israel: Here’s a link to the transcript of her short speech–it also contains a link to the video of that speech: http://natsummit.org/transcripts/alison_weir.htm

      • MRW
        MRW
        April 23, 2014, 8:30 am

        I was surprised at how well-written and well-sourced Weir’s Against Our Better Judgment is.

    • annie
      annie
      April 23, 2014, 5:35 am

      when her organization was attacked by the Anti-Defamation League. She thought it was a compliment.

      in a backhanded way, it is. it means one is making waves. it’s only negative to the degree one respects the adl. frankly, i just don’t.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        April 23, 2014, 7:05 am

        @ Annie Robbins
        Ditto here.

  8. seafoid
    seafoid
    April 23, 2014, 7:46 am

    She is very impressive. Went there in 2000, compared what she saw to what she knew from the MSM and got working.

    Israel is unsustainable.

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