Opinion

The Minds of Others: An interview with Max Blumenthal

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And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism:
that for too long it has diminished the rights of man,
that its concept of those rights has been – and still is –
narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and,
all things considered, sordidly racist.

Aimé Césaire (1955/1972), Discourse on Colonialism.

The following interview was conducted in Berlin, Germany on November 13, 2014.

Anna-Esther Younes: Mr. Blumenthal, you had quite a turbulent stay in Germany. You and David Sheen, a journalist from Israel, came to speak about the atrocities committed in Gaza by the Israeli army this summer and Mr. Sheen came to talk about racism in Israel before, during and after the Gaza war. However, you were denied your first public speech at the Volksbühne due to an intervention by the Left Party (Die Linke) that stopped it from happening around 15 hours before the event was supposed to start. The allegations were that of “severe Israel hatred” and “Anti-Semitism”, which were ostensibly the reasons for some people in the Linke to stop both of you from speaking. Instead, you needed to give your talks in a small and crowded anti-war café nearby. At the same time you gave your talk, Neo-Nazis were allowed to march and protest less than a kilometer away at the center of Berlin, at Alexanderplatz. Furthermore, the MPs that invited you are now facing a public call with more than 500 signatories in just a few days for their exclusion from the Linke party. The Spiegel, the most internationally renown German magazine, ran an article by Sibylle Berg who writes: “Almost mischievously, I dare a Freudian analysis and of course it is completely speculative, but I want to suggest that the cause of their resentment is of a sexual nature. Let me guess: Inge and Annette, the left-wing ladies critical of Israel, once went on a holiday in Gaza.” The articles alludes to the idea that the women MPs are primarily interested in Palestine due to a sexualized interest in Palestinian men and their revolution. Did you expect this when you came to Germany?

Max Blumenthal: Based on what I knew about Germany and its national pathology and its failure to really take the right lessons from its own history, I was hardly surprised by the reaction that I received for attempting to describe the situation in Israel-Palestine. For instance, I wasn’t surprised that there were attempts to shut my talks with David Sheen down. However, when I was so promiscuously described as an anti-Semite, including by gentile politicians like Volker Beck, and that this behavior was considered perfectly normal in German society, I have to admit to some level of shock.

Are you calling us pathological?

Max Blumenthal: Yes, this is a sick society that hasn’t addressed the core political and psychological and social trends that lead to the Holocaust. If anything it’s simply repackaged them beneath the fog of Holocaust guilt.

But “because of the Holocaust, we need Israel”. It’s one of the most important lessons for many people in this country.

Max Blumenthal: According to the commonly accepted German national narrative, because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel Dolphin class submarines with launching tubes retrofitted for launching nuclear missiles. And because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel discounted Corvette boats to attack fishermen in the Gaza Strip who are ghettoized and permanently confined to the second most densely populated place on Earth, surrounded by walls and remote controlled machine gun turrets — all because of the Holocaust. How this honors the millions turned to ash is beyond me.

But at least Jews are strong and they can defend themselves!

Max Blumenthal: In the German cultural frame, Jews can only be strong within the Israeli military, which means that Jewish strength is synonymous with the oppression of Palestinians. This warped understanding of Jewish strength implicates all Jews in Israel’s crimes, which is also what actual anti-Semites seek to do. It also hollows out the identity of Jews who have no interest in Israel or in living inside of it, and casts them as weak, as lesser Jews.

Bild Zeitung, the most famous German daily newspapers, called Sheen and Blumenthal "Insane Israel haters" in this headline and later on refused comments concerning their allegations to Sheen and Blumenthal.
Bild Zeitung, the most famous German daily newspapers, called Sheen and Blumenthal “Insane Israel haters” in this headline and later on refused comments concerning their allegations to Sheen and Blumenthal.

So are you a weak Jew then? Do you see yourself as a weak Jew? Are you a Jew according to their address?

Max Blumenthal: In Germany I apparently am not as Jewish as Volker Beck, a man who has never had a Bris or a Bar Mitzvah.

On top of that, you and David Sheen have been accused of anti-Semitism. How does that personally feel for you?

Max Blumenthal: My work was called “consequentially anti-Semitic” in the Berliner Morgenpost by Volker Beck, who has never read anything I’ve written.

But how does it feel, Mr. Blumenthal?

Max Blumenthal: This is not the first time I’ve been to Germany but it’s my first visit as a political actor. And my initial feeling was that I was an alien exploring another planet. Now that I’ve had more time to insinuate myself into the political environment, I can make out a vision of what Zionism is doing to Jewish identity, and how this political ideology is permanently altering what it means to be a Jew. I am terrified by the sight.

As long as Judaism is conflated with Zionism, a pro-Israel gentile like Volker Beck can declare himself in so many words more Jewish than I am, and I can be essentially de-Judaized; my Jewish identity can be negated, simply because I’ve defined it outside the frontiers of Israeli nationalism and to some extent, against Zionism.

Does that make Germany a Jewish friendly country?

Max Blumenthal: It makes it a white country where Zionism is proscribed as part of the hegemonic narrative that’s imposed on everyone and used to advance the culture of whiteness. Germany is the whitest country in the world. It’s so white that it doesn’t know that it’s white or what whiteness is.

Could you explain what you mean by “Whiteness”, please? 

Max Blumenthal: Whiteness is the supreme embodiment of privilege. Whiteness is expressed through the wielding of power against calls for equality and the simultaneous denial of the very existence of the privilege to do so — a willful lack of self-awareness.

In my own country, we Jewish-Americans have generally superseded the WASP’s as the new elite, as the new “whites.” But unlike other white people in America, we are able to claim persecution when anyone challenges our privilege, and our claims of persecution will be taken very seriously. For example, when pro-Israel students complain to university administrators that their identity as Jews was threatened by some Palestinian solidarity demonstration full of brown skinned Muslims, those demonstrators are often punished or sanctioned. We saw that take place recently at Loyola University in Chicago, where a bunch of affluent, all-white students claimed they were “bullied” by Palestinian-American students who had attempted to sign up for Birthright Israel, the free, Jews-only tour of the Holy Land. In the end, the Palestinian-American students were charged with “discrimination” for protesting a Jews-only luxury vacation to historic Palestine. Can you imagine what would have happened if African-American students were punished for protesting an all-white vacation tour to the American South? There would have been a national uproar. So from my perspective, pro-Israel organizations on American college campuses are functioning as White Students Unions that are pandered to instead of properly stigmatized. And they reflect how the anti-Semitism trope is employed to defend Whiteness.

And how does that whitewashing of Jewish identity relate transnationally to the politics inside of Europe, North America and Israel-Palestine. Where is the connection?

Max Blumenthal: The completely mono-cultural narrative on what it means to be a German holds that the Holocaust towers above all other crimes, that those who perished in it were the ultimate victims of history, and that the Jewish nation that rose up in its wake must therefore float above the weight of history. Inadvertently or not, Germany is instrumentalizing the Holocaust and Zionism to compromise the citizenship rights of Muslim and Arab immigrants, to silence their narratives, and to complicate their naturalization process. The hegemonic narrative makes whiteness the ultimate qualification for full German nationality, since only native German whites can sincerely express guilt for the crimes their own ancestors perpetrated, and only German whites can genuinely transmute their guilt into unwavering, unthinking support for the Jewish state. And, as you explain in your article, it also allows for a new discourse of security to be directly connected to an unwanted, unassimilable and ostensibly “anti-Semitic” Muslim figure, inside Germany and beyond, which is then also connected to the right to be a citizen – or not. [1] In fact, under the Hessen citizenship test, which asks immigrants several questions about the Holocaust and basically demands they recognize the state of Israel’s “right to exist,” they can literally be denied citizenship.

But is it not deeply Anti-Semitic to view Jews as a special people, or as special victims? 

Max Blumenthal: Of course. Germans have gone from believing that Jews are especially pernicious to believing they are special victims who require an ethnically exclusive state as a token of their suffering. They simply can not accept that Jews are normal people capable of being oppressors like everyone else; of practicing apartheid or developing a class of extremists who behave almost identically to Christian neo-Nazis. We have to recognize that the kind of settler-colonialism that Israel practices is a completely normal project in the context of Western history. White people from the West have practiced ethnic cleansing before and they will likely do it again. Germany is one of these “normal” nations — displacing the natives is normal European behavior. But through its fetishization of Jews and its unfortunate conflation of Judaism with Zionism, Germany’s meta-narrative places Israel outside the frame of history and above scrutiny.

Amongst all those racialized and genocidally exterminated by white Europeans, why do you think have Jews been singled out from all racially persecuted minorities in Europe in your opinion? 

Max Blumenthal: Because European Jews were white and in these societies the hegemonic narrative demands reverence for Whiteness as a representation of national identity. The only victims who can be respected are the white ones. That must be why we see so much more uproar when a random neo-Nazi shouts something anti-Jewish at a protest in Berlin against the war on Gaza then when the German government passes a law to allow for the mass deportation of Roma to supposedly “safe” countries in the East.

Aimée Cesaire is making a similar argument like you and said that fascism came back from the colonies to Europe during the 2nd World War. Cesaire made the argument that fascism was practices already in the colonies and was practiced by Europe for a long time before already, however, not within European borders. What does that mean for people who are against a fascist narrative? And what does it mean for people who are Jews and who are against that narrative?

Max Blumenthal: In Germany, Jews like me who have been called Anti-Semites by Christians like Volker Beck are actually being otherized, if not racialized. We get lumped together with the rest of the people in Germany who don´t accept the hegemonic narrative — Muslims and black immigrants — and whose citizenship is compromised as a result. So you go from being placed above history and above criticism and fetishized to being placed below history and denied the ability to have any influence on it. It seems that the allegation of anti-Semitism is wielded in an especially aggressive way in Germany against anti-Zionist Jews because of the danger they present to the narrative that protects whiteness above all else.

In what way is your experience in Germany as an outspoken anti-racist and critic different from the US context? 

Max Blumenthal: My experience here in Germany has been dramatically different from what I’ve lived through in the U.S. The sorts of allegation that have been leveled against me here are not taken seriously in the US, except by right-wing pro-Israel elements that might have loads of money but have no grass-roots base. The most popular talk show host in the US, Jon Stewart, recently called right-wing attacks on Israel critics “fascistic,” and said something really important that Germans can’t seem to understand: ‘The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.”

Obviously we have a long way to go in the US before views like mine are entertained in the mainstream, but we have competing traditions and a massively diverse society that is in constant flux, so it’s possible to introduce new ideas on supposedly taboo subjects without being demolished under the weight of a single-note master narrative.

Do you see any development in the long or short run. Do you think that you broke a little bit of this discourse; do you think you achieved anything?

Max Blumenthal: I think the cyborg-like German media was able to reinforce the dominant narrative with machine-like efficiency. Whether it was the media owned by Axel Springer, which literally demands all of its employees take a loyalty oath to the German special relationship with Israel, or the left-of-center papers like Der Spiegel, they all repeated the same fabrications and distortions about me. They each painted me as an anti-Semite in a uniform fashion without ever referring to the content of my work as a journalist. None of them called me for comment and all played their role in shielding the public from a counter-narrative. So I can’t claim that I opened the debate. It seems clear to me that Germany is encircled by psychological wall, which is at least as damaging to its culture as the Berlin Wall. The only way that I see change occurring in Germany is through the involvement at high levels of society of immigrants who can disrupt the mono-cultural national discourse.

There’s been nobody else who wrote you any letters of sympathy? 

Max Blumenthal: I’ve met quite a few white Germans who are supportive of the idea of Palestinians having basic human rights and are actually willing to do something about it. But it seems to me that they have been medicalized in their society as lunatics. As Erich Fromm said, the sane man in the insane society is always portrayed as insane.

So, what do the German elites gain from using that anti-Semitism trope?

Max Blumenthal: Genuinely left-wing anti-racists tend to be supportive of Palestinian rights. And through the anti-Semitism meta-narrative, German elites are able to weaken and divide the left by painting its most devoted activists as Jew haters; they are able to sever solidarity between Palestinians and Black Germans and other refugee groups in Germany by demanding immigrant support for Israel, and of course, they receive material benefits through the military relationship with Israel. The weapons sales not only take the form of state-to-state transactions, but also benefit the mercenary force Frontex, which uses to maintain the fortress Europe that Germany demands.

If you come back, would you do anything differently?

Max Blumenthal: If I return, I’ll operate more as an observer and chronicler. It is truly fascinating to observe this freak-show as an outsider. And as an American I have a natural attraction to freak-shows.

Thank you for the interview.

Notes

Thanks to Pary El-Qalqili and Mona Katawi for helping with the interview.

1. Younes, Anna-Esther (2014), A Chronicle of A Disappearance. Mapping the Figure of the Muslim in Berlin’s Verfassungsschutz Reports (2002-2009), Islamophobia Studies Journal (forthcoming).

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Max is quite possibly the most brilliant, articulate, and fearless American humanist/journalist/author alive today.

He gives me hope and something tangible to aspire to and work for.

“And as an American I have a natural attraction to freak-shows.”

(he’s lol funny, too)

Two theories might explain the German pro-as-is-today-Israelism. Max says its a Whiteness fixation (White makes right). Could be. But an equally explanatory explanation seems to me to say that Germans need to feel comfortable after the holocaust and hacve done so by all the reparations payments, and all the rest… Read more »

It’s so white that it doesn’t know that it’s white or what whiteness is. In the late 1960s, after I got out of the US Army, I volunteered with the Quakers to get US draft dodgers into Canada. Some stayed. Others came back. One who came back commented, “Canadians are… Read more »

a few good jokes…………..lol Max Blumenthal: Genuinely left-wing anti-racists tend to be supportive of Palestinian rights. – Max Blumenthal: Whiteness is the supreme embodiment of privilege. Whiteness is expressed through the wielding of power against calls for equality and the simultaneous denial of the very existence of the privilege to… Read more »

This is brilliant, and required reading for every so-called morally serious German (& Austrian) on the planet.