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‘Goliath’s’ Missing Pieces

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Posted on Nov 20, 2013
AP/Oded Balilty

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men watch Israeli surfers during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod.

By Bill Boyarsky

Cowardice. That’s the reason why I, a Jewish journalist, avoid writing about Israel. It’s a loser, my points buried amid the give-no-quarter arguments of supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggressiveness and the portions of the American left hostile to Israel. Who needs it?

When I was a Los Angeles Times journalist, I spoke to Jewish groups about our news coverage of Israel and Jewish affairs. At many of these events, I got hit with accusations that our paper was anti-Israel and our correspondent there—whoever it was—was pro-Palestinian. I took heat from stories about Jewish-American politics. When Bob Scheer, another Jew then on the Times staff, took a groundbreaking, deep look at the Los Angeles Jewish community, he and the paper were swamped with criticism.

One of my most unpleasant experiences occurred in 2006, after I had retired from the L.A. Times, when I was on a panel discussion put on by the Women’s Alliance for Israel. The subject was the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. On the panel with me was David Lauter, then the deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times. Although the religiously observant Lauter was wearing a yarmulke, it didn’t stop the audience from going after his scalp for his paper’s “anti-Israel” coverage. Afterward, I wrote in my column in The Jewish Journal, “I’ve spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I’ve never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.”

Truthdig has featured several reactions to the book “Goliath.” One by Larry Gross, and another by Chris Hedges. We also recorded an interview with the author, Max Blumenthal, which you can listen to here.

Then, there are my own opinions. They are deeply held and personal, and I don’t enjoy getting into arguments about them, especially with the vituperative types who dominate the Israel debate. My feelings toward Israel and Judaism have been shaped by a grandfather who was an original Zionist; by cousins born and raised in Israel; and by a strong identification with the American Jewish community, even though I share few of the beliefs of its more religious members. My parents influenced me, as has what I’ve read, along with a visit to my Israeli relatives. Finally, I believe in a two state solution for Israel, with Jews and Arabs living in side-by-side countries. This appears to be an increasingly unpopular view.

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So when Scheer, now my editor at Truthdig, asked me to review Max Blumenthal’s new book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” I thought it would be nothing but aggravation. Possibly intrigued by what I might say, the contrarian Scheer urged me on.

“Goliath” is an important book, although I disagree with much of it. Blumenthal has taken an exhaustive look at the lives of Palestinians pushed around, often brutalized, by an Israeli government that treats them as a subject, even captive, people. “I have interviewed leaders of Israeli political parties and leaders of Palestinian protests,” Blumenthal writes in his preface. “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.” This was a difficult task, and the fact that “Goliath” has been ignored so far by mainstream publications is distressing. The results of Blumenthal’s intensive reporting should be read and discussed as a valuable contribution to understanding a dispute that has gone on for many years, possibly back to biblical times.

He accompanied Palestinians and peace movement Israelis into Palestinian villages and witnessed the conduct of Israeli troops and police. He described assaults on protesters in the village of Ni’lin: “The soldiers let loose a volley of teargas on the demonstrators, filling the skies with large rubber coated projectiles designed to bounce after hitting the ground, scattering gas in all directions.” He fell back and talked to an Israeli lawyer who represented Palestinian demonstrators. The lawyer had been hit in the head with a rubber bullet in a demonstration in 2008 and after several operations, still suffered from memory loss and impaired vision. Blumenthal saw an Israeli soldier armed with an M-16 headed toward them. They fled to a hillside and watched soldiers fire more tear gas.

Blumenthal also digs into the links between Netanyahu’s right-wing government, the American Christian right and the pro-Likud elements of the American Jewish community. This reached a peak during the last presidential election, with the Israeli prime minister all but campaigning for Mitt Romney and against President Barack Obama. Blumenthal adds details to this narrative, especially his exposure of GOD-TV, a Jerusalem based cable TV network that blends “New World Order conspiracism with Greater Israel Zealotry.”

For all that, “Goliath” is a one-sided piece of journalism, arguing against the existence of a Jewish state. Blumenthal puts quotes around the word independence when referring to Israel’s founding in 1948 and when he talks about “a Jewish and democratic state.” Nor does he acknowledge Hezbollah shelling of Jewish settlements or terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians.

Words count, something that has been forgotten as coarse language is flung around without thought on Twitter, text messages, cable news talk shows and so-called journalistic websites desperate for clicks. Blumenthal describes Israelis, unless they agree with him, in brief, degrading ways more suited for social media than a serious book.

Cheap shots abound. Netanyahu is characterized as a “slick talking, basso-profound ideologue hoping to consolidate himself as King of Israel.” At Ben Gurion Airport, Blumenthal found a “neurotic mood of ethnic suspicion.” Hamas fighters go out on a “daring mission.” Israeli soldiers are either brutal or gutless. Told how soldiers were ordered into ground action after the kidnapping of Cpl. Gideon Shalit, Blumenthal wrote, “I imagined the terror the fresh-faced conscripts must have felt at being exposed at close quarters for the first time to a guerrilla force they were used to shelling from inside the comfort of an air-conditioned tank.”


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