The rapid rise of racism in Israel

Max Blumenthal has spent considerable time in Israel and has written a new book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and he says that there is an increased right-wing trend in Israel, and that intolerance and outright racism are taking hold, even among the secular youth, and that these disturbing trends are being encouraged by the central institutions of Israeli society.

According to the book’s description:

As Blumenthal reveals, Israel has become a country where right-wing leaders like Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi Netanyahu are sacrificing democracy on the altar of their power politics; where the loyal opposition largely and passively stands aside and watches the organized assault on civil liberties; where state-funded Orthodox rabbis publish books that provide instructions on how and when to kill Gentiles; where half of Jewish youth declare their refusal to sit in a classroom with an Arab; and where mob violence targets Palestinians and African asylum seekers scapegoated by leading government officials as “demographic threats.”

Blumenthal says that he was most surprised by the ubiquity and banality of the racism that he found in Israel and the fact that this highly disturbing trend has not registered in the US media. Alex Kane, in an interview with Blumenthal titled Exposing the Dark Underbelly of Israel: The Horrors Your Tax Dollars Support, “details the horrific reality Israel has created for the Palestinian people.”

Blumenthal expands on what his book says and why he wrote it.

I wrote this book because I wanted to show Americans what they’re paying for. Every American’s relationship to Israel can be summed up as money for nothing and checkpoints for free. We’re giving them $30 billion over the next 10 years to guarantee their qualitative military edge over all other countries.

And the other reason is much more simple: that we are paying for the only open ethnocracy in the world, and its entire existence and its domination and control over the lives of millions of Palestinians and the exclusion of millions more Palestinians simply because they’re not Jews. The whole fate of all these people who are living between the river and the sea, mired in misery and refugee camps, is in the hands of the American people and Washington.

And while Israel plants non-indigenous trees over destroyed Palestinian villages to conceal its own crimes of expulsion and dispossession, the Israel lobby in the United States is attempting to erect a curtain of silence around this conversation we’re having. So what I’ve done with this book is clinically detail the facts on the ground that have been concealed from Americans through intimidation and conspiracy of silence. I don’t want just to pull back the curtain a little bit, I want to tear it down.

Blumenthal is a well-known observer and writer on politics, practicing a form of journalism where he spends a lot of time with the people he is studying, getting to know them, and letting them speak for themselves so as to understand better what drives them. His previous work such as Republican Gomorrah focused on the growing influence of the radical Christian right in the Republican party in the US and was a bestseller. He says that he used the same investigative technique for this book as he used for the earlier one, immersing himself in the group he was studying so that he could try and understand them up close. But because the result this time is critical of Israel’s policies, many major news outlets in the US, even those ostensibly considered ‘liberal’, have refused to review it, since many of the people are PEPs (Progressive Except for Palestine).

And through my book Republican Gomorrah I was able to detail the psychology of the Christian right and compose a book that wasn’t your typical political gotcha polemic. It was much deeper than the pulp that is usually marketed to liberals. At the same time, a lot of people who were progressive Democrats, who really represent the party base, the people who watch Maddow who are like 50 and older, they loved what I had to say when they heard me on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air. They were the ones who showed up at my talks and made my books a bestseller.

But on this book tour, I don’t expect that much fresh air. Terry Gross has refused to have me on, and a lot of other hosts have just basically helped stitch the fabric of this curtain of silence we mentioned before.

I was recently told by the editor of a progressive publication that, I, unlike other writers, have to be extra-careful with everything I do when they publish me because they are terrified of what could happen to them if I get a fact or two wrong. So even before publishing me they have surrendered to the paper tiger of the Israel lobby.

The other thing that’s interesting is how reluctant liberal Zionists are to engage with me. I invited Peter Beinart to participate in my opening event and he refused and he’s refused at other times to participate in panels with me.

Blumenthal talks about the steady dispossession of the Palestinians, the deliberate effort to make their lives so miserable so that they will leave.

My time in Jaffa, this beautiful seaside place, was a generally depressing time. Everywhere I looked I saw the effects on the Palestinians who had remained, which is that they’re resorting to the black market to survive, mired in poverty, they can’t get permits to build their house, there are 500 standing eviction orders in this community, and they’re being heavily gentrified out of their own neighborhoods.

So you would see the legacy of the Nakba in your daily life. The Nakba is a continuous process of dispossession, and I wouldn’t have to go into occupied territory to see homes get bulldozed. This happens all the time inside the Green Line to Bedouins, to Palestinians who build without permits because they can’t get them. I witnessed bulldozed homes in the Lod ghetto, just 15 minutes east of Tel Aviv.

He talks about the astounding racism that he found among young people in Jerusalem and what it says about the state of Zionism, some of which was shown in a short video titled Feeling the Love in Jerusalem that was released some time ago. (Caution: Strong racist and sexual language.) It was banned by YouTube, Vimeo, and Huffington Post so Joseph Dana, one of the filmmakers, has hosted it himself.

There were two components of that video which needed to be taken seriously but which were not, and those who condemned it did all they could to prevent that message from setting in. It was that Zionism in its current phase provokes an unending moral free-fall in Jewish life, in world Jewry, and it’s had an extremely toxic effect on certain sectors of Jewish American life. And these kids you saw in the video were perfect examples of it — they don’t see anything wrong with blending the lessons of the Holocaust into calls for assassinating Obama and carrying out genocide on the Palestinians.

The second serious point we wanted to make is that this kind of incitement leads to physical action, and in Zion Square, where we filmed it, a year later, Jamal Julani, a teenage Palestinian kid, was beaten into a coma by dozens of Jewish youth who had heard he made a pass at a Jewish girl. It was like being in 1940s Alabama, being in central Jerusalem. And we had tried to warn the American public with this video, and warn the Jewish world, that this area of central Jerusalem, which they consider to be a spiritual home of the Jewish people, is also a mecca of racist incitement and nationalistic violence. We were ignored and our worst fears were realized.

He talks about the fact that young Jews in Israel who cannot stand this growing racist ethos are simply packing up and leaving the country in droves and ending up in places that you would not expect.

The last chapter of my book describes a major debate that’s riveting Israel right now. Not only do one million Israelis live outside Israel, but the destination of choice for young Israelis who are educated and secular and cosmopolitan is the place where the Final Solution was planned: Berlin. And at least 15,000 young Israelis are living in Berlin. That’s a massive community of expats in a city like that. They get citizenship there and they love it. They don’t want Netanyahu’s doom and gloom. They don’t want to live the spirit of the Holocaust every day. And most of all, they don’t want to control other people who they could just as easily see as their friends and neighbors. And so they’re leaving. They want light and justice and some of them might even want to embrace more positive aspects of Jewish values than those taught to them by the Jewish state. This exodus is going to continue as long as the present system is in place in Israel.

Here Blumenthal is interviewed on Democracy Now!.

I haven’t read the book yet. I have ordered it and will write more about it once I’ve had a chance to do so.

I attended Jeff Halper’s talk last evening. He is an Israeli who has lived almost all his life there and he reinforced many of the things Blumenthal said. I will give a summary of his presentation when I have the time to write it up.


  1. pianoman, Heathen & Torontophile says

    I am not shocked by this. I have been hearing whispers for a while now that some Israelis are, in effect, yearning for an end to all Palestinian being in that country, and by whatever means necessary.
    Earlier this year, I watched a segment on ESPN that focused on the Beitar football club in Israel and the appalling racism of their fans. It was rather insidious to see them behaving in this way but to then hypocritically toss claims of antisemitism at those who would do the same to them.

    If this is the path Israel wishes to take, they will do so at their own peril. The right-wing Christians in the US will probably remain silent, as they love Israel (well, the land itself, not the people).

  2. left0ver1under says

    This isn’t a new story, it’s just the latest reporting of it. From earlier this year:

    Discrimination against immigrants to Israel has been going on since the fall of the Iron Curtain, and not just to non-jews or non-white people. Russian jews are emigrating back to Russia in larger numbers than they are entering Israel because of discrimination by their own people.

    People forget or are never told that those who founded Israel were not the jews who suffered in the death camps nor fled other countries for Israel after the war. They are the still the dominant political force, discriminating as much against their own, like sunni and shia muslims, or catholics and protestants against each other.

    Even being white and jewish doesn’t protect people. Reparations that Germany paid since or after World War II was intended to go to the survivors of the death camps. Instead, many survivors live in poverty, dying of preventable illness and starvation, while the money is kept by the government. It’s like North Korea, money and food redirected to the military instead of its starving populace.

    Those in power seem to view the death camp survivors the way the powerful in the US view those in the military. They’re useful for scoring political points (“Support the troops!” = “Never again!”) but when those who did the dying and suffered actually need help that they have a right to expect, they’re seen as annoying “takers”. It’s almost as if those in power would prefer that they die because corpse worship is cheaper.

    Israel is not just an ethnocracy and theocracy, it’s a military state. Some in Israel are trying to legalize hiring discrimination against those who have not served in the military, which will obviously include immigrants and non-jews. Whether such discrimination will happen to the ultraorthodox jews remains to be seen. It’s far easier to indoctrinate people with political and racial ideology when they are subjected to military “basic training” (read: brainwashing).

    And yet if you mention any of this, deluded extremists will inevitably label you an “anti-semite”.

  3. says

    If Israelis are moving to GERMANY to get away from the racism, that’s a pretty clear admission that the whole “Jewish state” experiment is turning out to be a failure.

    Before reading this article, it was hard for me to remain as pro-Israel as I used to be. Now it’s impossible. We can argue over who is most to blame for that failure, but none of that changes the fact that it is indeed a failure, and it doesn’t look like it can be rescued in the foreseeable future.

    I think one of the reasons this state was doomed from the start, is that its founding philosophy is based on some totally irrational demands — such as the demand that the state occupy certain land because it’s considered “holy,” not because it’s, say, uninhabited, defensible, or rich in some valuable resource.

    Another problem is that once they declared their state to be a “Jewish state,” that pretty much created the expectation of an exclusive Jewish theocracy — an expectation that the most extreme, exclusivist, and backward Jewish sects are eagerly fulfilling. So the kind of Jews who want to live in an open secular diverse society will inevitably be displaced by the kind who withdraw from the modern world and associate only with other Jews in what one commentator called “Old Testament fantasy-camps.” (That’s why they’re building so many settlements in occupied territories, rather than on their oroginal land — they’d rather be on a frontier fighting off foreign savages than rubbing shoulders with friendly but still-too-cosmopolitan fellow Jews.)

  4. 2up2down2furious says

    I think it’s a myth that Zionism was founded by or is maintained primarily by religious extremists. Many early Zionists were quite secular (or even atheists), and currently the most zealous religious extremists tend to avoid things like IDF service and a small portion of them are even anti-Zionist for religious reasons.

    While there is a definite religious element to Zionism, as Blumenthal notes in the chapters in his book concerning state-funded rabbis and their embrace of racism, I don’t think that Israel is necessarily in danger of becoming a theocracy like Saudi or Iran. Is is an apartheid state under the ICSPCA definition of the term, it is founded on ethnic cleansing and ethnosupremacy, and it is continuing that ethnic cleansing through policies like the Prawer Plan. However, in spite of the troubling closeness between synagogue and state, I think it’s hyperbolic and inaccurate to pin Israel as a theocracy.

  5. doublereed says

    Aren’t we supposed to have influence over Israel????

    I mean, I get that America has plenty of racism itself, but the fact is that Israel is directly making the US look bad because of our support.

  6. colnago80 says

    The last chapter of my book describes a major debate that’s riveting Israel right now. Not only do one million Israelis live outside Israel, but the destination of choice for young Israelis who are educated and secular and cosmopolitan is the place where the Final Solution was planned: Berlin.

    This points up a very interesting issue relative to German law. I bet tht Blumenthal is unaware of it; hell, I wouldn’t know anything about it if I hadn’t had some interaction years ago with an Israeli born gentleman named Alon Levy, who at that time was a 1st year graduate student at Columbia, Un..

    It turns out that there is a section of law in Germany that says that someone who had 1 grandparent who was a citizen of Germany in 1933 who was forced to emigrate because of the NAZI regime is eligible for instant German citizenship. Such applied to (now) Dr. Levy who had such a grandparent and who was thus issued a German passport on which he travels, despite never having visited Germany and not speaking German.

    I wonder how many of those 15,000 folks living in Berlin are eligible to take advantage of this law and have done so.

  7. trucreep says

    The more I read about it the more and more it looks like that relationship is the other way around; they have influence over us. Because we’re completely fucking obsessed with having control over the middle east, Israel knows how to exploit that.

    I’m really surprised Terry Gross is refusing to have him back on though…I’ve always respected her.

  8. says

    I didn’t say “Zionism was founded by or is maintained primarily by religious extremists;” I said that Zionism was based on enough irrational precepts that the resulting state would inevitably be compromised and corrupted by the irrational beliefs and policies such irrational precepts lead to.

    And I didn’t call Isreal a theocracy; I said that creating and advertizing it as a “Jewish state” would inspire and attract theocratic attitudes.

  9. Pen says

    When I visited Israel (which was 20 years ago) I was shocked at the way the media cons the Israeli public into bigotry and they consent blithely. There had been some troubles resulting in the deaths of half a dozen Jewish soldiers. The television consisted of all day, several hour long biographies of each of them, interviews with their families, reviews of pets they’d ever owned, etc. In the newscasts between, it was quickly mentioned that some tens of Palestinian civilians had also died. No photos, no mourning. In terms of representation, their lives were worth less than 1% of that of the Israeli soldiers. That was just one detail of many. When people are subjected to that kind of atmosphere as normal, even horrifically bigoted behaviour starts to look generous.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    “details the horrific reality Israel has created for the Palestinian people.”

    Its all Israel’s fault then you think?

    Nothing to do with ,say, all the constant wars aimed at exterminating the Jewish nation from the Arab side?

    Nothing to do with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the PLO before that and all *their* acts of appalling terrorism , all the homicide-suicide bombings, the plane hijackings, the ship hijacking (Achille Lauro) and so on, ad nauseam..

    What about the racism and refusal to make peace even when Israel has made incredibly generous offers swapping land for peace and even withdrawing from whole regions such as the Gaza strip without getting anything in return on the part of the Palestinians? Nothing there about how the Arabs have portrayed and spoken about Jewish people as “dogs and pigs and apes” and so on.

    But, no, I guess its all big bad Israel’s fault whatever the actual reality of that much demonised and besieged nation, eh? Scapegoat much?

    Is there a sequel on how racist the Palestinians and Muslims attitudes toisrealis are?

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Is it really surprising that Israelis don’t like a group(s) of people that has never been reaonable or fair or compassionate towards them?

    Do you expect Israel to care about Palestinian casualties when the Palestinian people themselves do not seem to care about their own losses and celebrate each Israeli they murder like its Christmas, like its a great thing they’ve managed to kill? Remember how they danced on the streets of Gaza when 3,000 Americans were killed on the 9th September 2001? But, now they expect us to sob when any of them are killed because of their own tactics and refusal to compromise and live in peace.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Where’s the consistency or fairness in that?

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