Notebook, 8 January 2014: Review of Goliath, by Max Blumenthal

Before Blake Hounshell left Foreign Policy Magazine for Politico, he once tweeted something to the effect that he was wondering then if the entire body of “academic” foreign policy literature was best avoided. (I, who spent many hours immersed in it – they’re a stuffy, verbose lot – told him he wasn’t missing much.) The treatment of policy by elites in the US, from Fareed Zakaria (and almost uniformly throughout all the US press) through the corps of lobbyists over at The Council of Foreign Relations (and the rest of American officialdom), suffers from a sterile abstraction. Much needed, Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is a glorious thumb-in-the-eye to all that. He covers a lot of territory here, almost all of it from the ground in Palestine. What he finds there isn’t a pretty sight to behold. Insulated by the shallowness of “balanced” press treatments of the Middle East, ordinary Americans can live out their entire lives unaware of what the street wisdom in East Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah (or, for that matter, in Cairo, Benghazi, Tehran, Kabul or Baghdad) has to teach us. Blumenthal hit the pavements of Israel and the occupied West Bank to tell it.

Disclosure: I have committed two errors no reviewer should ever commit: I have passed a few tweets with @MaxBlumenthal (which is why I’m writing this. I hadn’t planned to) and I read one column (not really a book review, but something better – a discussion of the merits) about Goliath. As for the latter, I cannot remember by whom or where I read it, but the point of the post was, if Blumenthal wanted to convince more readers, he’d have taken a more objective tone. He wouldn’t have inserted his own point of view into the text. There’s some truth in that, but I get the feeling that whoever wrote that hadn’t read beyond the first handful of chapters, in which the author doesn’t try to hide his disgust for the right wing in Israel, and especially it’s leadership. After that, he lets the subjects of his book, both Israeli and Palestinian, speak for themselves. It doesn’t take long before it becomes clear that they are simply telling it like it is.

As for the short exchange of tweets passed between us (I have never met or spoken with Max Blumenthal otherwise), I mentioned that I had been a supporter of Israel right up to the moment I saw the photogrpahs coming out of Gaza in the aftermath of the indiscriminate bombing of Operation Cast Lead. He replied that this moment of epiphany was shared by many he’d spoken with.

Though I do keep up (I have a page in my RSS reader devoted just to news out of Palestine), my own journey away from Israel and toward Palestine has been more in the nature of historical scholarship, and if I can find one fault in Goliath is that it doesn’t stress enough that the rise of Jewish fascism (their word, not mine) was inevitable, and that the whole sorry, tragic spectacle we witness today was predicted almost a century ago. All one must do is read the debate which took place in the House of Lords on 21 June, 1922 on the motion to drop the Balfour Declaration from the Palestine Mandate. Blast the English with their penchant for understatement. “Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.” – doesn’t even begin to tell it. Overwhelmingly, Lords voted 60-29 against Balfour.

The author’s journey is both winding and admirably comprehensive. You’d think Jews, for instance, of all people, would react viscerally (official opposition has abandoned the field entirely leaving a tiny, embattled minority of activists holding the bag) against the notion of their state would come to create their own Gestapo (Shin Bet), build concentration camp (Ketzlot, for African refugees), emphasize racial purity while demonizing miscegenation (rationalized as the “demographic” problem, but more significantly given religious and racial expression in groups like Lehava), using the police state, not just against enemies, but to crush dissent and ghettos (the walls are sprouting up all over Palestinian towns in the West Bank and, of course, there’s always Gaza). Even Kristallnacht was recreated by what amounts to an officially sanctioned anti-immigrant pogrom in Tel Aviv, in May of 2012.

Yes, you’d be mistaken. Reading Goliath, the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s Israeli regime are impossible to avoid.

And it’s not hard to see why. A phrase written by John Brady Kiesling has resonated with me since the moment I first read it:

“. . . the logic of nationalism is implacable”

and if the Zionist experiment has many enemies without (full disclosure: I count myself among them), there is also the fact that a poisonous seed is enclosed within. Blumenthal closes Goliath with a look at one of growing numbers of Israelis so disenchanted with what their state has become and have chosen to leave. How the worm has turned. I’ve always held that irony will get you every time, and in this case the it’s crushing: after the US, Germany is the destination of choice for young Israelis looking to escape a fascist regime.

Indeed. Born out of a nineteenth century worldview in which race and smugly superior assumptions about the place in the world occupied by the West, Zionism is yet another illustration of how the imperative of the nation-state distorts and diminishes simple, shared humanity. One would think this lesson would have taken by now. As I read Goliath, one thought (and here I am guilty of the kind of abstraction that I accused the West’s foreign policy “elite” of) kept cropping up throughout: Apart from the specific group, it’s flag, and all the other trappings of a national mythos and its veneration, are the aims and methods of the “pure” Zionist state so very different than those of the “pure” Aryan one?

For its street level perspective of Zionism in practice, Goliath is a Must Read.

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