Not So Mad Max

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 5 2013 @ 1:30pm

As most outlets continue to ignore Goliath, Max Blumenthal’s scathing book on Greater Israel, Callie Maidhoff offers a critique from Max’s left:

[P]erhaps the largest problem with Goliath’s reception is that readers—and particularly liberal readers more accustomed to the “Shoot and Cry” body of literature — simply don’t recognize the Israel they know and love.

This is because coextensive with the hatred that Blumenthal so accurately depicts, is — for many people — an extremely warm, family-centered country, most of which is no longer willing to take to the streets for almost anything at all. This is the complicated, more difficult part of the story that doesn’t quite make it into Blumenthal’s telling: not that Israeli society is mostly friendly, reasonable, and not racist, but that this racism permeates Israeli law and society in ways that are often far more insidious than what goes into his book. And what Blumenthal calls ‘fascism’ is able to spread precisely because, for most Jews, Israel feels nothing like the nightmare that Blumenthal so dramatically describes.

Reading Goliath, for me, was a somewhat uncanny experience. Blumenthal’s tenure in Israel-Palestine lines up almost precisely with my own. The book picks up with Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza during which I arrived for my first serious research trip in the country, and when I started reading the book, I was surrounded by boxes and suitcases, as I packed up to return to the States from a 10-month stint doing dissertation research on a Jewish Israeli settlement just east of the Green Line in the West Bank. As I read Goliath, I found that the author had lived on the same small street and in a very similar apartment as I did in Jaffa, just one year after I had. I found friends, contacts and, acquaintances making cameos or giving Blumenthal interviews. I recognized events where I myself had been present.

In short, I recognized the Greater Israel of Blumenthal’s account. But the key difference in our experience of this place, was that for Blumenthal, as a journalist, he mostly seems to have spoken his mind. He pushed people on the politics and the racism of their speech, and they pushed back. Blumenthal experienced the exclusionary politics of Israel that are invisible to most American Jews who visit that place.

Meanwhile, John Hudson reports that Max’s recent Q&A with seasoned foreign policy types at the New America Foundation went off without a hitch:

Last week, [John] Podhoretz attempted to shame the New America Foundation out of hosting Wednesday’s book chat. “NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach,” he wrote. “By doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right.” …

If a think tank can’t have a book event, we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Peter Bergen, the event’s moderator, told The Cable. “It was a public event and if they wanted to challenge [the book], it was open to anybody who wanted to come.” Bergen characterized the controversy surrounding the book as one of style versus substance. “The critiques of your book seem to be not as much about the facts,” he said during the event, “it’s more about the tone in the book.” But that doesn’t mean the think tank wasn’t prepared for significant or even violent blowback. On Wednesday, NAF sent out an all-staff e-mail notifying employees “we are hosting an event which requires additional security.” Elevators up to the event required a key swipe.

Surprisingly, Blumenthal didn’t take any flack during the event’s Q&A segment, which attracted a sympathetic crowd of Middle East enthusiasts who commended Blumenthal on his dedication to the topic.