Blumenthal’s Goliath and PEP Critics like Eric Alterman
Sunday, October 20, 2013
By Jerry Haber
I read half of Max Blumenthal’s new book Goliath on Shabbat, and I would like to send a copy to every Jew I know, especially every PEP Jew I know (“PEP” means “progressive except for Palestine.” ) This is the sort of book that even if you want to diss it, you can’t dismiss it. To quote PEP critic, Eric Alterman, the book is “mostly technically accurate”. And that should be enough to make anybody’s hair stand on end.
Clearly, Alterman and other leftwing American secularists can’t accept the unstated conclusion of the reportage that some of the fundamental problems of Israel are not due to a bunch of right-wing religious fanatics and nationalist Russians – not even due to Bibi and his crowd – but that, on the contrary, to core Zionist principles of the Ben Gurion school. As Ari Shavit put it bluntly in this week’s New Yorker, you could not have a Jewish state without inducing the mass departure of the native Palestinians in strategic areas like Lydda and elsewhere. And that is one of the foundations of the State of Israel today for all Israelis, left and right. Anybody who opposes the return of Palestinians refugees to their homes, or allowing their immigration and naturalization, because of a “demographic threat” justifies post factum that ethnic cleansing. (There may be other humanitarian reasons for opposing such a mass return, but that’s another issue.) That is the inexorable logic of Ben Gurionism that managed to refashion Zionism in its image. That is the core philosophy of the 1948 regime. It was not the core philosophy of Zionism before the 40s.
In his response to Goliath, Alterman reveals himself to be an am-haaretz (ignoramus) when it comes to Israel . My favorite howler is his criticism of Blumenthal’s appeal to the philosopher Yeshayah Leibowitz. Alterman writes:
Jews all over the world “revered” Liebowitz (sic!) for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis, not—as Blumenthal might wish—because he called Israeli soldiers “Nazis” and told them not to serve.
Alterman (or his research assistant) may be interested to learn that Yeshayah Leibowitz didn’t write any Talmudic exegesis and was NOT revered by Jews all over the world — in fact, nobody outside of Israel knew who he was, despite his being considered 20th on a list of influential Israelis. I don’t know whether Alterman’s informant confused Yeshayahu with his sister Nehamah, who was indeed revered by Jews for her books on Biblical (not Talmudic) exegesis, or whether the informant may be confusing him with the orthodox theologian, Rabbi Soloveitchik. [UPDATE: One reader has suggested that he was mixing Leibowitz up with Saul Lieberman or Emanuel Levinas.]
By the way, Leibowitz didn’t call Israeli soldiers Nazis. He said that were they to do the things that they were said to have done in Lebanon, then they would be acting like Judeo-Nazis. And yes, he counseled soldiers who asked him to refuse to serve in an immoral war.
That, sadly, speaks volumes about the ignorance of the American Jewish leftwing Zionist.
In fact, as books go on this subject, I thought Blumenthal’s book pretty moderate — yes, there is the occasional sarcasm and yes, it is pretty much only the dirty laundry, of which there is a lot. Most of it is reportage with the obvious implication of advocacy. It is certainly not charitable or even-handed to the colonizer (although it is not particularly charitable to Hamas or the PA either. When will the hasbara trolls who “review” books on Amazon learn that the story is not just about one ethnic group vs. another but also about civil society and civilians vs. politicians and leaders?)
But when Alterman says that one has to take into account the “context” I wonder whether he read the book. The book is ALL about context, it is the context of the sort of Zionist ideology that never left Israel (except dying down maybe for a few years in the early eighties) and which has come back with a vengeance.
The difference between an American leftie like Alterman and somebody like Blumenthal is partly generational but mostly experiential. Alterman, I imagine, spends maybe five minutes a month thinking about Israel. He clearly doesn’t read Haaretz or YNET daily; he hasn’t spent months in the Occupied Territories; he gets his reporting on Israel from the mainstream media. For every Alterman there are many others of his generation. These are the “I-oppose-the-Occupation; I-support-Peace-Now;-I-believe-in-Two-States-I hate-Bibi” crowd who can’t get past their self-imposed veil of ignorance. And it is self-imposed. If you want to write a criticism of Blumenthal, tfadal, go ahead. There is enough to critique.
But first, as Hillel said, Go study.