Joshua Frank interviews Max Blumenthal about his new book Goliath and how it has exposed the many PEPs (progressive except for Palestine) in the US who will talk freely against injustice except when it comes to the apartheid policies of Israel and the support it gets from the US government and Congress as a result of the powerful Israel lobby. On this issue, the PEPs become strangely silent or attack those who try to bring greater awareness to what life in Israel is really like.
In his very first response, Blumenthal lays out why his book is different and why it has triggered a fierce response.
Goliath is the first on-the ground, journalistic portrait of the real Israel that has been whitewashed and covered up by the mainstream American media. The book reveals a society overrun with extremism, with open racism emitting from the highest levels of government, inspiring anti-Arab and anti-African riots from the West Bank to Tel Aviv while the siege of Gaza deepens. Many of the pivotal events I detailed at length through background research and first-hand reporting were buried or ignored by the New York Times and have scarcely been examined even in progressive American media.
The atmosphere I captured in the pages of Goliath is the one that veteran Israelis from Uri Avnery to former Maariv editor Amnon Danker to former Haaretz editor-in-chief David Landau have described in no uncertain terms as fascistic. Through the experience of almost a year on the ground in Israel-Palestine, I was able to capture the feeling of the atmosphere they described and to bring it to life on the pages of my book. Obviously, pro-Israel zealots were not terribly happy about this.
There was also the fact that I did not write Goliath with concern for Israel’s anguished “soul,” or with any abiding belief in the absolute necessity of a Jewish state; that I did not advance the fantastical notion that the Israel that exists behind the 1949 Armistice Lines is a vibrant democracy. And I refused to pay lip service to the idea that the Palestinians were partially at fault for their own dispossession — that “both sides” were responsible for the crisis. This is what you are expected to do if you wish to cater to Jewish-American opinion from a liberal perspective. I refused to take this approach not only because I reject the Zionist narrative but because it is deeply dishonest and actually requires intellectual contortions about the present and the willfull distortion of the past. That my book managed to gain traction despite my rejection of the established liberal Zionist narrative framework was another reason so many viewed it as threatening.
I presented Israel without sentimentalism or nostalgia, painting a portrait of a state that controls all people between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea under a regime of ethnic separation with no national borders. Some of those who have grown accustomed to the hackeneyed liberal Zionist narrative found my factual portrayal of Israeli society deeply discomfiting. And neocon types were absolutely infuriated that I was able to generate publicity and attention. But of all those who have attempted to destroy my book, none have been able to challenge it on its merits or disprove any substantial facts in it. None.
He says that the systematic nature of the oppression in Israel will inevitably lead it to harsher and harsher anti-democratic measures in order to preserve itself, because that is the intrinsic dynamic of repressive states.
Israel is the product of a settler-colonial project that requires perpetual campaign of violent demographic engineering against the wishes of the indigenous Palestinian population.
The looming terminal stage of Zionism will be marked by crusades to crush the free speech rights of citizens inside Israel and across the West — to restrict their very ability to organize for the rights of Palestinians. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren reflected the increasingly anti-democratic undercurrent of pro-Israel advocacy when he took to Politico to call on Congress to pass laws illegalizing Palestine solidarity activism and punishing Americans for protesting Israeli officials in public forums.
What shocked me was the degree to which Israel was able to fuse Western-style neo-liberalism so seamlessly with settler-colonial apartheid.
He describes the intense indoctrination that young people in Israel receive so that they become willing to join the security forces and mete out harsh treatment to the Palestinians.
These Holocaust tours, called “The March of the Living,” are explicitly designed by the Israeli Ministry of Education to produce more nationalistic attitudes among Jewish youth and a more favorable impression of the army. In his devastating documentary about the exploitation of anti-Semitism, Defamation, the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir accompanied a group of Israeli students to Auschwitz. He showed how after a week of unrelenting indoctrination, the students were reduced to tears of rage, with some declaring that they wanted to go out and find some Nazis to kill. Of course, the Nazis are all dead, or maybe a few of them had their brains frozen in cryogenics labs somewhere in the jungles of Paraguay. So all that is left to do is lash out at those explicitly designated by Netanyahu and other societal leaders as the Nazis’ heirs: the Palestinians.
Those who are not familiar with Blumenthal’s earlier work may not realize that he is actually a funny guy. He has written a lot about American politics and I have linked in the past to his videos where he goes to right wing political or religious events and asks questions of the attendees in a matter-of-fact way that elicits very revealing answers that show how extreme these people are. His videos were so effective at bringing unflattering attention to these groups that organizers would try to either keep him out or surround him with a cocoon of hostile people. But this never seemed to faze him and he would endure the taunting with a smile and continue to pose questions.
He still retains his sense of humor, as when he describes all the attacks that the pro-Israel zealots have thrown at him, ending with this.
Finally, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, just named me the 9th biggest anti-Semite of 2013. Like so many other Jews, I strive to be at the top of my field, so I was really disappointed to find myself so low on this Islamophobic outfit’s blacklist. Next year, I promise to try harder and aim for number one.
But he says that all this effort to shut him up has not worked and his book is now in a second printing.
Finally, the response to my book across the country has been nothing short of incredible. With absolutely no mainstream coverage, sizable, extremely energized crowds in cities across America have appeared almost spontaneously to hear me discuss my work. The audiences are diverse, with people of all ages, including hardcore activists and new faces who are generally curious about the issue, but they are all united in their disgust at the repression both inside Israel-Palestine and in the US. Something is happening out there and I truly believe a tipping point is approaching. At the very least, we can conclude that the gatekeepers are rapidly weakening.
He ends with suggestions for what people can do to improve the situation.
As long as the status quo in Israel-Palestine persists, all of the trends detailed in Goliath will intensify. And since 1967, the US has been the primary guarantor of the status quo. So when I speak to audiences around the country, I encourage them to give up all hope on their elected representatives and societal elites doing anything decent or courageous to challenge Israeli apartheid. After all, these are the same people who have enabled apartheid to retrench itself across this country, either by actively driving inequality or through cynical negotiations with the corporate forces behind it. If Americans want to see genuine change in the Holy Land, they can participate in grassroots, Palestinian-led campaigns like the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement. This movement is growing rapidly and sending shockwaves through the pro-Israel establishment. And that’s a very good thing considering that Palestinians may have few effective tactics left to resist a project aimed at their absolute dispossession.
The whole interview is well worth reading.