Journalist Max Blumenthal's latest book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel has been one of the most controversial and enlightening books of 2013. It's a fearless, no-holds-barred take on life in Israel and the brutal occupation of Palestine. Needless the say, not all have been happy with Blumenthal's take on Israeli culture and politics. I recently caught up with Max to discuss his new book and the backlash he's received from the pro-Israel coterie. -JF
Joshua Frank: Max, seems your latest book Goliath has really caused a stir among right-wing Zionists and other liberal defenders of Israel, like your Nation colleague Eric Alterman. What's all the fuss about?
Max Blumenthal: 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.
JF: What is it about criticism of Israel that creates such a fervor?
MB: If Zionism had succeeded in building a democratic state that enjoyed normal relations with its neighbors, the international hasbara apparatus that exists to crush criticism of Israel and propagandize on behalf the Jewish state would be superfluous. Unfortunately, this was never the point of the Zionist movement. 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 project continues before our very eyes in the Negev Desert, the South Hebron Hills, and along the electrified walls of the Gaza ghetto. Unless you are some kind of bellicose nationalist, there is not much about it to be proud of.
In the post-Oslo Israel that I bring to life on the pages of Goliath, Jewish Israeli society has doubled down on its anachronistic settler-colonial project, entering what could be described as the "neo-Zionist" era. With no hope of achieving international legitimacy and little desire to do so, Israel must call on its partisans across the globe to crush political opposition by all means necessary.
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. 11 students at UC-Irvine have already faced a criminal prosecution for protesting Oren for literally two minuntes during a public event. So the campaign to block me from discussing my book at venues across the United States was of a part with the McCarthyite tactics that form the heart of today's pro-Israel playbook.
JF: The Obama administration, and in particular Secretary of State John Kerry, are set to present a "framework agreement" to jumpstart new Israel/Palestine peace negotiations. What can we expect to come from this?
MB: We can't expect much, at least in the sense that Kerry has made the Palestinian Authority an offer it can't accept. The details of Kerry's plan are slowly leaking out, and they amount to transforming the already ghettoized West Bank into another Gaza Strip. Kerry is advancing Netanyahu's main demands, including the erection of a gigantic wall along the Jordanian border that would imprison Palestinians from the east while the Israeli separation wall confines them from the west. Israeli Army Radio has reported that "the Palestinians will be imprisoned between the two fences" -- that is the actual language the network used. Additionally, the US will authorize Israel to patrol the West Bank's airspace with drones on a 24/7 basis as it already does with the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops will be allowed to maintain a presence on the Palestinian border with Jordan for an indefinite period, but even this is not enough for the Israelis. Israel's Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon is leading a chorus of outrage from cabinet level officials who demand that Israel receive near-permanent control of the Jordan Valley -- that's where much of the West Bank's arable land is. And the younger, up-and-coming legislators from Netanyahu's party -- the future of Likud -- may soon introduce proposals in the Knesset to annex the Jordan Valley.
General John Allen, the retired former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has helped devise the arrangements that will consolidate Israel's control over the West Bank. It is safe to assume that the plan will be a major boon to US and Israeli private security contractors, who will supply the "early warning" systems that will spy on the Palestinians permanently confined to this dystopic, Gazafied Panopticon. Unsurprisingly, Kerry has not faced a single tough question about his plan from the American media. Instead, he was recently hailed by Jeffrey Goldberg for his "uncomplicated affection for the promise of Zionism."
JF: In Goliath you write a lot about realities on the ground in Israel. What were some of the more surprising ones you discovered?