Around the time of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, I attended an event at a synagogue in Washington DC. The speaker was Abba Eban … former Foreign Minister of Israel, Cambridge-educated, erudite, probably the best public spokesman the state of Israel has ever had.
He was there to make the case for Israel on a number of matters, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He used his famous line about Yasser Arafat, "he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace."
Eban, however, was quick to assure his mostly-Jewish audience that the Palestinian problem was not solely their fault. There was plenty of room for the Israeli government under Begin-Sharon to do more for peace.
Touching on how difficult his fellow countrymen could be to deal with, I remember, vividly, him saying that, "There are Jews in Israel that believe it's not murder if a Jew kills a non-Jew." A significant portion of the audience gasped.
I was surprised, not so much by the substance of the remark, but that he, one of the founding fathers of Israel, would say it in public in the US. Good for him.
Max Blumenthal does not have Abba Eban's stature. Not by a long shot. He has, however, told some powerful and discomforting truths about life in present-day Israel. In doing so, as a Jew, he has no doubt alienated himself from a not-insignificant part of his own community in order to tell a story that the American press, in its pathetic timidity, is loathe to tell. Good for him. Damn good for him.
WHO IS MAX BLUMENTHAL?
Max Blumenthal is definitely not a household name. He does have a solid book under his belt, Republican Gomorrah, and a substantial body of writings in online publications Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, and a Lebanese publication, Al Akhbar. He is also the son of Sidney Blumenthal, who was a significant figure in the Clinton White House in the second term.
So while it's safe to say we're not hearing from Edward Said or Noam Chomsky, Blumenthal didn't come to town on a turnip truck, either.
WHAT DOES BLUMENTHAL HAVE TO SAY?
He says a lot in over 400 pages, with 60 pages of notes. A lot of it is tedious. He speaks of attending any number of demonstrations in the occupied territories, and what happened, and who was there, and where he stayed.
Generally, not terribly compelling stuff, except that it establishes his credentials as someone who was there, on the ground, seeing nasty stuff as it happened. He also makes the point that he, as a Jew, had rights far superior to a Palestinian, even though Blumenthal lived in the US, and the Palestinians he was working with had ties to their villages for generations. Blumenthal could go where he pleased, while Palestinians faced endless checkpoints, delays, and harassment going from place to place.
While that, in and of itself, is not news, it does set context for what is new. There is plenty in Blumenthal's book that is new, hard-hitting, and told with brutal, in your face language.
In one place he talks about how the Israelis took over a mosque in the West Bank and turned it into an S & M club. He doesn't stop there. He tells you what's going on inside the new "club." You don't want to know.
Let me explore three of the seventy-three chapters that I think are representative, and go to the heart of what Blumenthal has to say. I will use, verbatim, the language in my sub-heads that Blumenthal used in his chapter titles.
These Are The Things They've Done To Us
One cannot talk or write about Israel very long without talking about the Holocaust. In this chapter, Blumenthal tells us how that historical event not only explains, but to a degree, governs life in Israel today.
The Holocaust is key to understanding "the Israeli psyche." Blumenthal tells us, "State leaders have justified the country's seemingly-permanent state of siege by invoking the immediate prospect of a second Holocaust."
The Holocaust is a major focus of study in the education system. Thousands of young people per year take trips to Poland to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz. They are often told in advance that it is known that "Jews are hated." They are told by security officials accompanying them not to interact with Polish locals, because these are people, "who do not like us."
Blumenthal recounts how one young Auschwitz tour participant felt hardened to violence as a result of taking the tour of the camp. "When we see an Arab home demolished by our army on the news, we might say, It's not too bad. We faced worse."
This storing-up of prior wrongs, hurts, and humiliations is not a practice that is embraced by all. Blumenthal quotes a teacher leading a class tour of Auschwitz. "We perpetuate death, and that's why we will never become a normal people, because we emphasize death and what happened. We live too much in it."
Blumenthal closes this chapter with a particularly poignant incident. It involved Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint outside Nablus requiring a Palestinian boy to take out his violin and play a "sad song" for their amusement. An ugly reenactment, as it were, of the humiliations that Jews, with musical talents, faced at the hands of the Nazis in the camps.
In a society that has turned its back on checkpoint abuses of Palestinians, this one struck a responsive chord. A well-known Israeli author, who had written on the subject of Jewish musicians being humiliated in the camps, weighed in. "The soldiers who abused the little boy should be punished, not for abusing Arabs, but for disgracing the Holocaust."
That may be one way to look at it, it's certainly not the only way.
How To Kill Goyim And Influence People
One of the criticisms of Blumenthal's book has been his choice of language for his chapter titles. The "Kill Goyim," language has drawn its share of attention.
When I heard Abba Eben touch on this topic over 20 years ago, he gave the impression that anyone who felt it was not murder when a Jew killed a non-Jew was obviously crazy and not, in any way, a part of the mainstream of political thought in Israel. Judging by the audience reaction, I had every reason to believe that they shared that view.
To make his case, Blumenthal cites a document entitled, "Torat Ha'Melech" that was published in 2009 and written as a guide for military personnel seeking guidance on rules of engagement. The authors were Rabbi Yitzak Shapira and Rabbi Yossef Elitzur.
Blumenthal summarizes some of the points in the 230-page document, including the following:
1. Non-Jews are uncompassionate by nature.
2. If a Gentile is killed who has violated one of the seven commandments of Noah, there is nothing wrong with the murder. (Heads up to LGBT community.)
3. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear they will grow up to harm Jews and, in such a situation, they may be harmed deliberately and not only during combat with adults.
4. Babies and small children may be killed to create a correct balance of fear, or to satisfy the need to take revenge.
5. The commandment against murder refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not to a Jew that kills a Gentile, even if that Gentile is one of the righteous among the nations.
The Israeli paper, Maariv, panned the document, calling it, "230 pages of laws concerning the killing of non-Jews … a kind of guidebook for anyone on when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew."
The authors of Torat Ha'Melech were detained briefly by police. Two leading state-funded Rabbis (that means funded in part by US taxpayers) endorsed the book. When they were summoned for questioning, they refused to appear, and suffered no consequences.
Blumenthal sums up his view on how this whole matter is instructive on the question of the power structure in present-day Israel:
"Following the publication of Torat Ha'Melech, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu strenuously avoided criticizing its contents, or the authors' leading supporters. Netanyahu's submissive posture before the country's far right highlighted the power religious nationalist figures wielded both in his own party and in his governing coalition. For the Prime Minister, a showdown with the Rabbis threatened to unravel his coalition, derail his agenda, and alienate his party's hardcore base in 'Judea and Samaria.'"
The Concentration Camp
Every country has prisons. But if your country is a de facto theocracy with state-funded right-wing Rabbis having outsized influence over the government, and you occupy captured lands and feel it necessary to maintain a Jewish majority, and if you imprison people without trial and hold them for years, your country is going to need some really big prisons and some really awesome walls around what you say, but nobody else agrees, are your borders.
Israel meets all of the above criteria, and it has the prisons and the walls to match with plans to add more of each.
Blumenthal reports that Israel's mega prison in the Negev Desert, which once held thousands of Palestinians, is being renovated to hold 8,000 Africans fleeing persecution in Sudan. According to the British newspaper, The Independent, it will be the largest prison in the world. A massive wall is being planned across Israel's border with Egypt, and "sea fences" are being considered at the highest levels of the Netanyahu government.
Does anybody think that the US aid package to Israel, for years the largest in the world, is going to get smaller?
Max Blumenthal has performed a valuable service at significant personal cost. He's done his homework. He's spent significant time on the ground, and put himself in high-risk situations so he could tell a story that most members of America's media are too "career-conscious" to touch.
It will be difficult for Israel's attack dogs in the US to take him down in a public setting. He's calm, and handled himself very well in the one instance I saw of him in a public setting.
It remains to be seen if the mainstream media has the courage to put him on the air.
I will post again on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Name and town if you wish to opine. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.