Are we trying to “blow the other guys out of the water” – or “start a serious discussion”?

A friend recently sent me a review of Max Blumenthal’s recent book “Goliath”, which appeared in Counterpunch

Along with the link, he added a note saying “IMO, Blumenthal is the most perceptive and courageous Western critic of Israeli society. Have you considered inviting him to speak?”

I have not read Blumenthal’s book, but have read a few reviews, and by all account it is a blockbuster attack on Israel. It has provoked a lot of controversy in the USA, and several moves to prevent him from speaking.

But somehow I was not comfortable with inviting him as a speaker, yet couldn’t articulate clearly why I hesitate.

Then I read this review by M.J Rosenberg which compared Blumenthal’s book to another written by well known Israeli writer Ari Shavit.

I have not read Shavit’s book either, but have read Shavit’s recent article in the New Yorker (Lydda, 1948) about the Lydda massacre carried out by Zionist forces during the Nakba. Shavit’s article was remarkable for two reasons. First because it was in the New Yorker, a widely circulated mainstream liberal/Jewish US publication. Secondly, because he described the massacre in grisly, gory detail… and then ended up saying “well, its too bad, but they did the dirty work that was necessary for us to have the State of Israel”.

Shavit’s article appears to have fallen like a bomb in the liberal New Yorker readership, judging by the letters to the editor that appeared in the next issue.

However, in the Rosenthal review of the two books, one line really struck me. It reads:

“But Blumenthal is simply not credible, even though the facts are on his side, because the book drips with hatred of Israel.”

I think Rosenberg put his finger on what it was (and is) that makes me uncomfortable with Blumenthal, and more generally with broadside attacks on Israel. To most people they are incredible… even if they are true, because they seem to be motivated by something darker than just trying to tell the truth.

Put another way, I think Blumenthal is trying to “blow the other guys out of the water”. No doubt this will work with a certain section of the population. But I think the Shavit book (and his article) are much more effective in “starting a conversation”. Shavit is credible. He certainly does not hate Israel. But he is profoundly anguished over what Israel has done.

I would like to give a personal example. Over Christmas, one member of my family asked me what I thought about the Shavit article. She knows I am concerned about the Palestinian issue, but normally avoids discussing it with me because my enthusiasm makes her uncomfortable. But the Shavit article, coming from an anguished Zionist, planted a doubt in her mind that I have never been able to sow.

I do not think that Bluementhal is wrong, or that his book should not be written (or read). But I am convinced that our main task in Canada at this time is to “start a conversation”. In this I think that Shavit is much more helpful.



  1. I agree with everything Peter writes. I want to pursue it a step further.

    After studying the subject for more than 30 years, and having visited many times, let me say that, despite its many positive and enjoyable attributes, Israel is an easy country to hate. As Rosenberg writes, “Shavit’s description of how Israel was created is almost literally nauseating … He describes exactly how Israeli forces managed to get most Palestinians to leave the country, which was through horrific violence.” Then Israel claimed — and teaches its children — that Palestinians left of their own accord, a classic case of blaming the victim, if there ever was one. As Rosenberg writes: “They were driven out. Period.”

    That’s the past. About the present, Rosenberg cites Blumenthal, who “depicts the horrors of the occupation in gory (and true) detail. The settlers are like something out of a European Jewish nightmare (armed thugs tormenting their helpless victims).” About Israel’s treatment of African migrants, Rosenberg comments, “It is sickening to see how easily Israelis have adopted the language and style of American white supremacists.” (Both bracketed sections are in the original).

    Rosenberg isn’t precise, but clearly the “European Jewish nightmare” to which he refers is the Nazis. Or maybe it’s just the pogroms of eastern European.

    Peter left out an important part of what Rosenberg says about Blumenthal’s “hatred of Israel.” It’s the evidence. Rosenberg writes that the book “concludes with a section called ‘Exodus Party’ which expresses what he clearly hopes is Israel’s future: its collapse with its people moving to Europe.”

    I think that’s important. Rosenberg’s evidence of hatred is Blumenthal’s hoping for the end of Israel. I don’t recall those who fought apartheid calling for an end to South Africa, or those who fought Franco calling for an end to Spain. The fight against Communist dictatorship did result in the collapse of the Soviet Union, though it’s hard to compare the Soviet empire with Israel. In general, those who fight for aboriginal rights to call for an end to Canada or Australia.

    I would agree with Rosenberg, then, that calling for an end to Israel is not – to use Peter’s words – a good way to start a conversation.

    Rosenberg writes: “More and more, I view the self-proclaimed anti-Zionist left as primarily being in the hate business, every bit as much as the ‘pro-Israel’ right.” I disagree with him, on a technicality. I think the hardline “anti-Zionist left” is motivated not by hate but by an extreme moralism dressed up as neo-Marxism. But that’s a different matter.

    My question: Is demanding a “single state between the Jordan river and the sea, with democratic rights for all its citizens” the same as calling for the end of Israel?

    I would say, essentially, yes. One might hope that, at some point, an independent Palestine (or an organization representing Palestinians) and the State of Israel agree to unite, but that is to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its legal right to exist.

    Hard as it may be, we must accept Israel’s right to exist, because it is tactical to do so and because it has a legal right to exist.

    It is tactical because we cannot otherwise carry on a conversation with the vast majority of Jews and the large numbers of progressive non-Jews who remain wary of anti-Semitism; and Israel has a legal right to exist according to the same principles and body of law that render its occupation, settlements and treatment of refugees illegal.

  2. Correction: It should be “… those who fight for aboriginal rights do not call for an end to Canada or Australia.” (Peter, can you or I edit the original?)

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