The Lensic in Santa Fe holds 821 people but last night I think they must have squeezed in a few more to hear Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) and Max Blumenthal. I only got in because my friend had the foresight to pick up tickets early. If you missed out, I think the program will be available online next Sunday — check here.
The focus of the evening was Max Blumenthal’s new book — GOLIATH: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel — Nation Books (2013). Unlike his earlier book — REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party — which received a boatload of attention from media and talk show hosts, this time the reception in the U.S. has been silence. Amy Goodman interviewed him about his book here and here, but you might be hard-pressed to find any other interviews.
Why the silent treatment, even from some of the “liberal” and “progressive” media? Blumenthal shared PEP with the audience, an acronym I first heard this summer, “Progressive Except Palestine.” I’ve used PEP to describe several Facebook friends who, needless to say, have chosen no longer to be Facebook friends!
I’ve never understood how many self-described “progressives” can have a blind spot when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Last night, I think I came up with an explanation.
Blumenthal described what he witnessed in the Gaza Strip during a ceasefire in Israel’s 51-day assault (“Operation Protective Edge”) this past summer. I’m still scratching my head, trying to understand how he managed to get into Gaza through the Erez Crossing.
In addition to reciting facts and figures, many Arabic and Israeli names rolled easily off his tongue, as if they were neighbors or good friends. The Gaza fishermen who took him out on the sea one night. Max Steinberg, a Jewish jihadist from Los Angeles, who joined the elite Golani Brigade in Israel and died in Gaza this summer. The men in Gaza who served Blumenthal tea while standing in front of a pile of rubble, their destroyed homes. He mentioned Refaat Alareer by name — a university professor in Gaza and Editor of Gaza Writes Back — and I decided right there and then that I would ask Blumenthal to autograph a book for Refaat which I plan to deliver when I return to Gaza.
Blumenthal spent 4 years researching Goliath. About the research, he says:
Thanks to my U.S. passport and Jewish heritage, I have been able to report from the frontiers of Israel-Palestine with relative ease, receiving favorable treatment from ethnic profiling experts at Ben Gurion International Airport, passing effortlessly through checkpoints, and cruising from the West Bank to Tel Aviv on highways made off limits to most Palestinians. I spent months living in Ajami, a rapidly gentrifying Palestinian ghetto just south of Tel Aviv; in central Jerusalem, an increasingly frenetic hotbed of Jewish religious nationalism; and in Ramallah, the occupied, seemingly prosperous capital of a Palestinian state that may never be. I have interviewed leaders of Israeli political parties and leaders of Palestinian protests…These are the stories of people living under a regime of separation, grappling with the consequences of ethnic division in a land with no defined borders.
Imagine 89 families (entire families) wiped out or “liquidated” by the Israeli military this summer. Blumenthal says that raises the question of of genocide. I would agree.
He just returned from the Russell Tribunal, the People’s Tribunal, earlier this month where he presented testimony about possible war crimes. Listen to some of the horrific stories he heard in Gaza. (15 minutes)
Max Blumenthal came under fire from liberal Zionists for portraying Israel in such a critical manner, but Operation Protective Edge has proven him right, and now those liberal Zionists have nothing to say. The reality of Israel today is much worse than what he describes in Goliath.
“The mask is off” Israel now and Blumenthal believes there has been a “massive shift in public opinion in the U.S.” There are now more Jewish Voices for Peace chapters on university campuses in the United States than there are J Street chapters, whose members have been moving to JVP in droves.
When asked by a member of the audience to speak about AIPAC, Blumenthal acknowledged it was the second most powerful lobby (after the NRA) in the U.S. but it has no base; it’s top heavy and buys off the the elites.
Blumenthal is a great story-teller (on paper and in person) and his descriptions of Shu’jaya and Rafah and Gaza City drew me back to my Palestinian friends with both great sadness and joy because his experience mirrored so many of my experiences when I lived there.
The evening’s take-away message for me — the one I don’t want to forget — is that there is no hope of reforming the State of Israel or ending the military occupation from the inside. Israel has moved so far to the right politically, and Israelis have been so isolated from Palestinians, that Blumenthal believes they’re preparing for a permanent occupation of Palestine. Force has to come from the outside in the form of the BDS movement, in international public opinion, and from action at the ICC to hold Israel accountable.
So here’s my PEP theory — why self-described progressives can turn a blind eye towards the injustices that Israel’s military occupation is perpetuating on Palestinians. Some of these PEPs are good Jews who visited Israel during their impressionable years on a “birthright” tour, just like Max Blumenthal did when he was a young man, and accepted without question the “special” stories they heard. To challenge those messages now would (1) make them feel foolish or (2) upset their moral universe in which Israel = good and Palestine = terror/bad.
Psychologically, when someone’s identity is so tied up into a place (Israel), he can’t acknowledge the evil warts that exist in that place without acknowledging his own warts. Even though, rationally speaking, a state and an individual don’t have to be so intertwined, Israeli leaders don’t want any daylight to exist between the State and the good Jew so that they won’t question the actions of the State. And that’s why I fear that my friends and family who find themselves intertwined with the State of Israel in this way are in for a very big fall.