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Reading ‘Goliath’: Inconvenient Truths

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Posted on Nov 5, 2013
AP/Tara Todras-Whitehill

Israeli soldiers and border police officers take up positions next to Israel’s separation barrier during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators, not seen, at the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem.

By Larry Gross

(Page 3)

One of Blumenthal’s most arresting accounts appears in the chapter titled “How to Kill Goyim and Influence People.” Several critics of the book have cited this title, along with chapter titles that evoke the Nazi era, as evidence of Blumenthal’s tendentious partiality. But that really fails to address the shocking facts recounted in the chapter, which focuses on the contents and response to a book published in 2009. The book, “Torat Hamelech”—The King’s Torah—written by two rabbis, was described by the newspaper Maariv as “a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.” It turns out that it is very often permissible and even advisable. The rabbis inform their readers—the book was designed as a guide for soldiers and army officers—that the commandment against murder refers only to the killing of Jews by other Jews, not to the killing of gentiles. The rabbis further explain that the rules of war, as defined by their reading of the Torah, “permit intentional hurting of babies and of innocent people, if this is necessary for the war against the evil people. … [T]he infants are not killed for their evil, but due to the fact that there is a general need of everyone to take revenge on the evil people, and the infants are the ones whose killing will satisfy this need.”

Blumenthal’s chapter on this series of events paints a disturbing picture of fundamentalist extremism that is not only countenanced by the ruling political parties, but seems semiofficially supported, if only by the lack of condemnation. Certainly, similarly hateful speech can be found in the oeuvre of American fundamentalist extremists, but it would be difficult to find prominent public officials defending, say, the Westboro Baptist Church’s God Hates Fags website or the Rev. Terry Jones’ love of threatening to burn a Quran. However, the response to “Torat Hamelech” was far from uniformly condemnatory. On the contrary, the book was endorsed by leading state-funded rabbis while Netanyahu maintained a careful silence.

Israel does not have First Amendment-style protection of speech and it does have laws against “incitement” that are selectively applied and enforced. In this instance, one that certainly seems to be an unambiguous case of racial incitement, the state proved unwilling or unable to enforce the law. Rabbi Lior, one of the state rabbis who gave the book an official endorsement, refused to appear for questioning and defied an arrest order on the grounds that the Torah superseded the law. With the support of Israel’s chief rabbis and 24 Knesset members, the defiant rabbis won, as the government backed down, saying that the book was written in a “general manner,” and thus couldn’t be charged with inciting racism.

So, what I am left with after reading all 400-plus pages of “Goliath,” besides a lot more heart-rending details that fill in the outlines of things I already knew? In part, I know that things are worse than I realized, even though I am also aware of many positive facts and stories that didn’t make it into “Goliath.” Nor need they have done so. Blumenthal was not pretending to write a “balanced” account and that doesn’t lessen the importance of the book.

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Israel is losing the battle for the sympathies of the younger generation, those for whom the Holocaust no longer trumps the realities of the oppression of the Palestinian population. Just as the war in Vietnam, not to mention later unjustifiable military adventures in Iraq and elsewhere, squandered America’s post-World War II moral authority, so Israel’s prolonged and increasingly horrific occupation and destruction of Palestinian territory have replaced the righteous image of the heroic sabra with that of the self-righteous religious settler claiming that God gave the Jews absolute dominion from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river, if not, as found in Genesis, from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Blumenthal concludes with a description of the growing disaffection of younger Israelis, many of whom have emigrated with large numbers, ironically, settling in Germany. For the younger generation in much of the world, and increasingly in the United States, the Palestinians are the victims and Israel is the colonial oppressor. This reality will become only more acute unless the current anti-democratic trends in Israeli political life are reversed, and unless the apparently inexorable destruction of Palestinian society in the West Bank is halted. For all the state sponsored Birthright tours for Jewish youth, the coming generations exposed to YouTube-carried images of raw racism will be a much harder sell for the purveyors of Hasbarah. This is the reason that “Goliath” is a threat to the Israeli status quo—not because it doesn’t have oversights and overstatements; of course it does—but because it tells too many inconvenient truths.


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