Ismail Khalidi interviews Max Blumenthal
July 15, 2014
The journalist on the rise of Israeli extremism.
Max Blumenthal’s 2009 book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, was positively reviewed and garnered plenty of media attention, landing on theNew York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists. Progressives and liberals embraced Blumenthal’s analysis of the extreme right in the US, and championed his prowess as a writer and investigative journalist. His latest book, on the other hand, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (Nation Books), which he describes as a “compendium of Israeli extremism,” has received far less mainstream coverage since its release in October 2013, and has opened Blumenthal up to a barrage of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Upon the release of Goliath, The Nation’s Eric Alterman wrote a scathing review, “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” which Blumenthal later responded to in the same publication.
Blumenthal is known, in part, for his viral (and later censored) YouTube video reports from West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in which he filmed groups of partying young Israelis (including many of American stock) around the time of President Obama’s first official trip to the region in 2009. In “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem on the Eve of Obama’s Cairo Address” and “Feeling the Hate in Tel Aviv,” Blumenthal and his Israeli-American colleagues captured flashes of casual intolerance and racism in Israeli society rarely seen in the West: young Israelis and American Jews directing racist taunts at President Obama and regurgitating ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab tropes with fervor. Goliath is in part an expansion on this theme, based on about a year’s worth of reporting in Israel/Palestine and five years of research.
While the book focuses on the rightward shift in Israel—from its settler population (well over half a million today) to its political class and its Russian newcomers—Blumenthal also gives us a glimpse into Israel’s marginalized anti-Zionist left and the lives of its liberal Tel Aviv elites, the latter making up the bulk of Israel’s Labor Party. Goliathdiffers from most mainstream reporting on the conflict in that it is not entirely Israel-centric. In Blumenthal’s Israel—unlike in most of the US media’s reporting or in Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land (Shavit was interviewed in Guernica in December)—Palestinians are not simply one-dimensional props in the background of Israel’s soul-searching about the past and decision-making about the future. Instead they are impossible to ignore.
I spoke with Blumenthal in a small sushi bar in the West Village during a break from his book tour. He was overflowing with analysis of the latest developments in Israel/Palestine (where he travels frequently). As in his writing, he does not shy from using words like “racist,” “fascist,” and “extremist” when describing certain Israeli policies and individuals. Blumenthal insists that he does not use them for shock value, but to accurately express what he has seen firsthand. “After a few months [in Israel],” he told me as we discussed the book, “you stop noticing every incarnation of radicalism and violence in Israeli society. It is so saturated into the reality that it practically fades into the scenery.”
—Ismail Khalidi for Guernica
Guernica: The last month has seen the killing of three teenage Israeli settlers near Hebron and a massive Israeli sweep into the West Bank in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, injured, and killed. Earlier this month a Palestinian teen was abducted and killed by Israelis in Jerusalem (who are said to have burned the boy alive). Now the Israeli military is engaged in an offensive against Gaza while Hamas fires rockets toward Israel. What do the last month’s events tell us about the state of the conflict?
Max Blumenthal: The entire crisis occurred against the backdrop of a peace process that Netanyahu was blamed for destroying and in the wake of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, which the US recognized and which Netanyahu was determined to destroy as well. The kidnapping of the three Israeli teens by what appears to be a rogue Hamas cell apparently seeking to generate some kind of prisoner exchange was too good of an opportunity for him to waste.
And so, as I’ve documented with on-the-record sources, Israeli investigators, Netanyahu and the honchos of the military-intelligence apparatus knew by the sound of gunshots on a recorded call by the teens to the police that the teens were killed right away. And they chose to lie, not only to the teens’ parents, whom they sought to deploy as props in their global PR campaign, but to the Israeli public. Through a military gag order, the Israeli media was not allowed to report on the investigation or the details of the recorded phone call. With the Israeli public and the world convinced that the teens were alive, Israeli troops ransacked the West Bank under the guise of a rescue mission, and embarked on a global propaganda campaign centering around the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys. The Israeli public was not emotionally prepared for the discovery of the teens’ bodies because they thought they would be returned home as Gilad Shalit was. So Netanyahu and his inner circle set the public up for a truly dangerous reaction.
In Goliath, I detailed the rise of anti-Arab mobs comprised of soccer thugs and of the burgeoning anti-miscegenation movement in Israel. Netanyahu’s manipulation of the kidnapping and his response to the discovery of the dead teens—he said, “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created”—validated these elements and emboldened them as they set out for revenge. Those young men who abducted the Palestinian teen Mohamed Abu Khdeir met at one of the revenge rallies in Jerusalem; they were fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem, which I wrote about in Goliath and whose racist history is absolutely legion. The killers forced Abu Khdeir to drink gasoline and burned him alive. In a place where an eliminationist strain of racism has been so thoroughly mainstreamed, it might actually be a misnomer to call them “extremists.”
Now we come to the bombardment of Gaza. Netanyahu had blamed “all of Hamas” for the three teens’ kidnapping, calling them and the teens’ killers “human animals.” So while he is forced to denounce vigilante violence after helping inspire it, he needs to allow a society seething with resentment and thirsting for vengeance with a release valve. That is the function that Gaza serves in the Israeli psyche. Under Hamas’s governance, it is at once the epicenter of evil and the collective punching bag. There is no evidence that anyone there had any role whatsoever in the kidnapping in the West Bank. But they must pay the price in their own blood.
Once again I find myself saying, “Unfortunately, I was right.” And I say that with a certain level of frustration because I sensed that there were many, particularly in liberal Jewish circles, who did not want to see the Israel that unfolded on the pages of my book and who studiously ignored the warnings I tried to relay to them. Now they are forced to reckon with the reality and don’t really seem to have the words to effectively explain it all away as they used to be able to.
Guernica: Talk about your approach to capturing and writing about experiences in which you essentially go undercover. How do you gain access without arousing suspicion?
Max Blumenthal: My privilege as a white Jewish American in Israel is a major factor in getting me so much access to the key institutions of the Jewish state. I traveled to Israel/Palestine last September and was mostly in Ramallah, the occupied pseudo-capital of the Palestinian Bantustan in the West Bank—the Palestinian “state” that never will be. A lot of Palestinian-Americans have hawiyas, the green Palestinian IDs that limit them to the West Bank. These folks generally have the same education level as I do. Some of them work for NGOs in Ramallah, including outfits that have been raided by Israeli forces, and they have given up fairly comfortable lives in the US to contribute to Palestinian society. But they cannot travel around the land like I can. Some of them have actually asked me to help sneak them into Jerusalem or into Jaffa, places they want to visit or to see, places that they have deep connections to—familial, cultural, professional—but which are off limits to them because they are Palestinians who hold Palestinian IDs. It’s really upsetting as an American to witness their predicament. Here in the US we’d be equals, or at least, we would technically enjoy the same legal rights. There they are inferior to me simply because I have J-positive blood and they don’t.
Winning the trust of these lawmakers was not very difficult as Max Blumenthal, the Jewish guy, even if I was posing adversarial questions.
Guernica: You were able to enter the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and spent time there interviewing people for the book.
Max Blumenthal: I spent a lot of time there and I interviewed over a dozen lawmakers who were behind the parade of anti-democratic laws that were passed between 2009 and 2013. One of these was the “NGO Law,” which attempts to limit foreign funding for NGOs, a law very similar to one authorized by Vladimir Putin in Russia. Another law passed during this time was the “Nakba Law,” which is very similar to the law Turkey has on the books to suppress acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide. This law limits the rights of Palestinians to publicly observe the Nakba [the word Palestinians use, which means “catastrophe,” to refer to the dispossession of three-quarters of a million Palestinians in 1948]. It basically slaps penalties on organizations and NGOs that participate in these events. The “Acceptance to Communities Law” allows communities of up to four hundred family units to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and religion, basically bringing Israel’s system of de facto segregation into de jure form. Winning the trust of these lawmakers was not very difficult as Max Blumenthal, the Jewish guy, even if I was posing adversarial questions. If I was a Palestinian reporter or even an African-American, they might have been more suspicious. Knesset members would frequently appeal to my Jewishness in an attempt to win me to their side.
Guernica: What about with more radical right-wing activists? How does that play out?
Max Blumenthal: I attended a party hosted by Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Israeli student group that kind of functions as the grassroots arm of Netanyahu and the Likud party. It aims to attack the NGOs and human rights groups and generally harass Palestinian-Israeli civil society. They stage counter-protests to the very small anti-war protests that happen on Israeli campuses, menace Palestinian students on those campuses, and blacklist “post-Zionist” academics. To get into the party, which was held at a bar in an affluent city called Herzliya, I just told the student activists at the door that I was an American-Jewish tourist and I had heard there was a party—I acted clueless. While I was there one of these Im Tirtzu apparatchiks sat down at the bar and began to hold forth. He reminded me of an American neocon, and even recommended to me the work of David Horowitz to explain why left wingers needed to be purged from the academy. And yet it was an otherwise mundane gathering, almost exclusively young guys wearing polo shirts and designer jeans listening to American music. You wouldn’t know they were extremists from the looks of them.
The night ended with a call for Ben Gurion University to fire twelve professors who Im Tirtzu deemed “post-Zionist” or insufficiently Zionist. So the Likud party, through its policies and its various wings and allies, is not only boycotting the Gaza Strip and Palestinian society in general, it is involved in organizing boycotts of Israel’s own national universities. This is completely consistent with the push to strip human rights NGOs of funding, punish Israeli citizens who boycott settlement products, gut Israeli high school textbooks of any reference to Palestinian dispossession, and generally realize Joseph McCarthy’s wildest fever dreams.
Guernica: In terms of the State of Israel, what are some trends not being reported in the mainstream media?
Max Blumenthal: The state is an ethnocracy, which means its institutions exist to provide privilege to one ethnic group over another and physically and legally exclude the “other.” This is the definition of extremism, or at least the basis for its promulgation and promotion.
I came into direct contact with the atmosphere of extremism immediately upon arrival. On the first night of an extended trip into ’48 Israel, I was staying in Jaffa, a once-vibrant Palestinian city, which is now a Palestinian ghetto of Tel Aviv that is being aggressively Judaized. Not too far from there is Bnei Brak, which is an ultra-Orthodox community. The people there were staging protests around the country at that point because the Supreme Court had passed a ruling forbidding an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school from segregating Mizrahi students and Ashkenazi students. While rampaging through the neighborhood, they set a huge fire in our dumpster. That was my first night in Jaffa! After a few months you stop noticing every incarnation of radicalism and violence. It is so saturated into your reality that it practically fades into the scenery.
Guernica: One does not typically get that impression reading mainstream US coverage.
Max Blumenthal: No. But it is right there if you choose to report it. Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner and the rest of the reporters at the New York Times Jerusalem bureau actually have to devote endless stores of energy to avoid reporting on all of the outrages unfolding all around them. Instead of reporting on the Prawer Plan to ethnically cleanse Bedouin citizens of Israel, for example, or the anti-African race riots in Tel Aviv—pivotal events in the history of the state of Israel—Rudoren covers a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors or takes to Facebook to complain about how she missed her spinning class but made up for it by scaling the steps of a building in Gaza destroyed by Israeli bombing. And when Kershner covers the national campaign to expel non-Jewish Africans, she focuses the story on the liberal Israelis and their anguished souls, rather than on the Africans who are being rounded up and placed in camps for the crime of not being Jewish. Just imagine if they went out and covered what was actually happening on the ground and clinically detailed the logic and planning behind it.
When I stayed in Jaffa, just five minutes south of Tel Aviv, I witnessed racist extremism all around me through the state-orchestrated process of Judaization. In Jaffa, this process takes the form of a very politicized kind of gentrification, with wealthy Tel Aviv tech entrepreneurs and wealthy American Jews being planted into the heart of this poor, deliberately neglected community—where, by the way, there are/were five hundred standing eviction orders, almost all for Palestinian residents. Judaization in Jaffa also has relied on the increasing presence of religious nationalists not so different from the fanatical settlers in the West Bank. My favorite fish restaurant, a Palestinian-owned place where I would sometimes hang out with friends and colleagues from Tel Aviv, was attacked and firebombed by right-wing extremists. A house down the street was attacked and just weeks before one of the oldest Muslim graveyards in Palestine was vandalized in a “price-tag” attack by settlers. This is inside the heart of “Israel proper.” Soon after that a group of settlers won an auction to build a religious nationalist yeshiva in the middle of Jaffa.
There are fewer Arabs in Tel Aviv, one of the largest cities in the Middle East, than there are in Chicago, the largest city in the American Midwest. How do you accomplish such a remarkable feat of social engineering without massive violence?
Guernica: How does the Israeli left regard the country’s rightward trend?
Max Blumenthal: It was not the right-wing Russians or the gun-toting settlers who carried out the Nakba. The Nakba is the legacy of Zionism’s putatively socialist wing. It was the grandfathers and mothers of the “enlightened public” of today’s Israel who literally drove tens of thousands of indigenous Palestinians into the sea in 1947-48 all along the Mediterranean coast, or who marched them at gunpoint to Ramallah. In the years leading up to the Nakba, during the 1920s and ’30s, Socialist Zionists implemented the project of Kibush Ha’avodah or the “Conquest of Labor,” establishing Jewish-only businesses and residential communities while organizing boycotts of Jewish businesses that hired Arabs. That meant attacking fellow Jews who didn’t uphold the same concept of separation and maintained business and community ties with Palestinian Arabs. So the legacy of the Zionist left of Tel Aviv is the Nakba, and the perpetuation of the Nakba is required to preserve Tel Aviv as one of the most homogenous cities on earth. There are fewer Arabs in Tel Aviv, one of the largest cities in the Middle East, than there are in Chicago, the largest city in the American Midwest. Just think about that for a second. How do you accomplish such a remarkable feat of social engineering without massive violence?
When the popular committee and some of the Arab civic activists in Jaffa asked for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to include some Arabic writing on the city log to acknowledge the Arab presence and tradition and history there, Ron Huldai, the mayor, rejected the idea out of hand. He argued that there were so few Arabs living in the municipality that he had no reason to officially acknowledge their presence. This instance perfectly symbolized the form and function of Tel Aviv, the city that stands as the economic and political bulwark of settler-colonial apartheid, but also as its liberal mask. Without the Iron Wall, there would be no Tel Aviv bubble.
Only Zionists get to proclaim their fear of a brown planet while simultaneously maintaining a patina of liberal respectability.
Guernica: The term “demographic threat” is bandied about and repeated here in the US, by journalists and liberal Zionists and politicians. Secretary of State John Kerry used this kind of language this past December, in fact, to refer to a “demographic time-bomb.” What does it mean, in effect?
Max Blumenthal: The term “demographic threat” is the language that justifies ethnic cleansing, transfer, ghettoization, siege, exclusion, refugee camps, and displacement and separation. As such, it is the term that distills the logic of Zionism’s approach to non-Jews.
This language has pretty dark connotations in the US, echoing Southern antebellum fears of slave revolts in areas where blacks outnumbered the white agrarian class. In today’s America, if figures as extreme as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck were to say outright that we must stop the Mexicans or Muslims or what have you from staying in the US because they’re having too many babies and we’ll lose the character of white Christian America by 2050, they’d face serious consequences. You can be a bigot in the US, but you can’t come out and openly declare your support for racial nationalism. Only Zionists get to proclaim their fear of a brown planet while simultaneously maintaining a patina of liberal respectability.
Guernica: How does what’s taking place in Israel compare to the rightward anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim trends in Europe?
Max Blumenthal: I think we need to draw a contextual distinction between what the neo-fascists of Europe would like to do and what the state of Israel has done, and is currently doing. While rightists in Europe advocate the exclusion of immigrants, especially Muslims, and seek to prevent all forms of immigration, to conduct mass deportations and make immigrants’ lives horrible in order to preserve the white, Christian character of their countries, they are still not advocating anything as extreme as mainstream Zionists are. None of these figures—at least none that I’m aware of—are hatching plans at the government level for mass population transfer, or actually ejecting hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their homes and driving them over the border by force. Over 26,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967, mainly for demographic reasons, and today many mainstream liberal Zionists advocate “land swaps.” This is code for stripping hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel living near the Green Line of their citizenship in order to preserve Israel’s ethnic purity. This actually puts liberal Zionists to the right of European neo-fascists.
Guernica: How does 1967 figure into the equation for liberal Zionists?
Max Blumenthal: The Zionist left talks about 1967 as the greatest disaster in the history of Israel, but they are not necessarily beating their chests over the suffering of Palestinians under the occupation. It certainly pains them to have to recognize that Israel has not proven to be a benevolent colonial overlord, that it has not lifted up the Palestinian standard of living as many left-wing Zionists believed they could when they captured the West Bank and Gaza. What really destroys the Zionist left about the legacy of 1967 is that it led to the rise of the religious nationalist right, which has gradually supplanted them as the captains of the Jewish state by vowing to complete the unfinished process that began in 1948. Another reason the Zionist left gets so upset about 1967 is that the whole project of Greater Israel threatens the ethnocracy they founded—that the possibility of annexing more Palestinian territory means the possible absorption of hundreds of thousands of demographic threats, of human contaminants to the ethnically pure Jewish state. And so they campaign endlessly for a two-state solution, or better yet, a one-and-a-half state solution, to correct the error they committed in 1967.
What I have tried to do in my journalism is to document the state of the Zionist left and Israel’s “enlightened public” in its current phase. And what I have found is a largely detached sector of society that has little ability to influence the facts on the ground and which has turned inward, into their Tel Aviv bubble. Thanks to the momentary success of Netanyahu’s strategy of “peace without peace” and the disappearance of Palestinians after the Second Intifada, the “enlightened public” is able to experience a sense of European-style normality. They don’t need to worry about the occupation when there is no resistance to it, when Ehud Barak’s vision of Zionism as “a villa in the jungle” has been seemingly realized.
This is why the last leader of the Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich, basically conceded there was no hope of ending the occupation and turned her party’s attention to lowering cottage cheese prices and making improvements in the national insurance system. She filled her party with the leaders of the 2011 tent protests, this incredibly peculiar national protest movement that consisted of thousands of young Israelis filling the streets to call for “social justice” while completely ignoring and refusing to acknowledge the occupation. The current state of the Labor Party reflects the normalization of settler-colonialism to the point that it seems invisible. This is why the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) movement upsets liberal Zionists so greatly: it threatens to remind the “good” Israel that it is an active participant in an anachronistic project of settler-colonialism and that it can’t experience real normalization until Palestinians are granted rights.
Guernica: You lived for a time in Jerusalem. Talk about the scene there.
Max Blumenthal: I dedicate about a third of the book to my experiences in central Jerusalem, where I lived on a top floor walkup with a bunch of leftist Hebrew University students who had draped a banner out the window that read “Free Gaza.” And below us was a pedestrian shopping mall frequented by settlers and American-Jewish fanatics. The flat was a kind of sanctuary from virtually everything that existed outside our front door and it served as a sort of smoke-filled situation room for local leftists. I was there at a really unique time, when the movement to protest the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah just fifteen minutes away from us was at its height and the Palestinian popular struggle in the West Bank was still gathering momentum. These were doomed movements, of course, but they at least offered us a way to stave off the sense of dread at creeping fascism.
To give you an idea of the environment, just up the street from the flat was a bookstore called Pomerantz with a big picture on the window of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who spied for Israel and is in jail for life, and who right wingers are determined to see released. I walked into that bookstore to look for a book [Torat Hamelech, published in 2009] that been described in the Israeli paper Maariv as a “guide to killing non-Jews.” It was written by two settler rabbis from a yeshiva in Yitzhar, near Nablus, whose salaries were tendered by the state of Israel. The purpose of the book was basically to provide religious sanction for genocide; it was like a guide for when it is permissible to slaughter gentiles framed within a really demented vision of Jewish law. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, it has sold more copies than Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism. So I went to Pomerantz to order the book because I wanted to get a comprehensive translation of it online, and I encountered the owner, a former firefighter from the US who had a religious awakening and moved to Israel. He says to me, “Look at that camera behind you. It goes straight to the Shabak.” It became clear that the store was under surveillance because it was a gathering place of religious nationalist settlers, the kind who carry out “price tag” attacks and sop up texts like Torat Hamelech.
A few days later there was a convention at the Jerusalem Ramada dedicated to defending the publication of this guide to killing non-Jews. I went with my roommate, a really remarkable guy named Yossi David, who was raised ultra-Orthodox and has turned into a full-fledged secular leftist. When we entered the hotel we found a veritable who’s who of state-funded rabbis, rabbis from yeshivas in major Israeli cities, gathered on a panel to defend this book before several hundred right-wing activists. When we entered, prayers were underway, and Yossi immediately joined them to avoid having us stand out—this goes back to your first question about how I was able to get so much access. So I reluctantly started davening with these settlers and I distinctly remember how gut-wrenching it was to chant the Kaddish with them, to say the mourner’s prayer alongside a bunch of people I consider to be racists. But here I was praying in the same hotel ballroom as Dov Lior, the rabbi who called for live human experimentation on Palestinian prisoners, and Baruch Marzel, the settler thug who runs anti-miscegenation vigilante squads, and Michael Ben-Ari, then a Knesset member who told me that Jordan was actually a part of Israel.
When the conference began in earnest, one major state rabbi after another rose up and defended this genocidal book, not necessarily on its merits, but because they feared that if it was censored, their own speech would be limited. And all of this is taking place in a Ramada banquet hall with chandeliers overhead and fake houseplants everywhere—a perfectly appropriate setting to illustrate the normalization of racist extremism in Israeli life.
Guernica: Is this kind of ideology widespread?
Max Blumenthal: Just consider a poll conducted by Ynet, the online version of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most influential paper, which showed that 46 percent of Israelis support “price tag” attacks on Palestinians, and that a vast majority of religious Israelis favor them. You can see how far the most extreme settlers have gotten in terms of influencing the national consciousness.
Guernica: And these settlers are funded by the state?
Max Blumenthal: The most extreme religious nationalist rabbis, yeshivas, and settlements—those I described earlier—are state-funded and also funded heavily by American NGOS with 501(c)(3) tax-deductible donations. While the US government sends the directors of Muslim-American charities to jail for life for sending charity to the Gaza Strip, the Central Fund of Israel, which is based right here in New York City on 6th Avenue at Marcus Brothers Textiles, sends millions to some of the most extreme settlers who are directly involved in terrorist attacks on defenseless Palestinians. The yeshiva at Yitzhar is a prime example. Though the State Department has actually classified settler attacks on Palestinians as terror attacks, the US Treasury Department does nothing to regulate the American nonprofits that fund the attackers.
While I regard the Nakba as an ongoing crime that needs to be prosecuted and reversed…Shavit defends its necessity and lectures Palestinians trapped in squalid refugee camps to just get over it.
Guernica: While your book has aroused a lot of controversy, commentators appear to have embraced Ari Shavit’s recent book, My Promised Land.
Max Blumenthal: It is depressing but not shocking to witness the liberal intelligentsia embrace Ari Shavit so enthusiastically. Shavit is someone who is as consistently wrong as Thomas Friedman on major issues, and at least as much a courtier of power. Shavit has done the bidding of Ehud Barak under the cover of legitimate journalism. I suppose it was fairly predictable that Friedman offered him a rave review, or that Leon Wieseltier and David Brooks threw themselves behind My Promised Land. I have to admit, though, that I was a little surprised that David Remnick, someone who has demonstrated sophistication on Israel-Palestine issues, hosted a lavish book party for Shavit and served as his interlocutor at his major event in New York City after running Shavit’s apologia for ethnic cleansing in the pages of The New Yorker. We need to recognize the significance of Shavit’s support from so many major liberal intellectuals and pundits in the light of his book and its arguments.
In his book, Shavit approaches 1948 as I do, but from an opposite perspective. He argues that as soon as the Zionist movement endeavored to establish a Jewish state in historic Palestine, the campaign of mass ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948 was inevitable. I agree with that. And I agree with him that 1948, not 1967, is the source of Palestinian grievances. But while I regard the Nakba as an ongoing crime that needs to be prosecuted and reversed, just as anyone should regard any act of ethnic cleansing, Shavit defends its necessity and lectures Palestinians trapped in squalid refugee camps to just get over it. In this very magazine, Shavit declared that the Palestinians need to “grow up” and claimed that they are “addicted to victimhood” as though Holocaust-obsessed Israelis are not. He goes on to assert that “the Jews are the ultimate victims of the twentieth century,” meaning that Jewish suffering legitimizes the suffering they visited on Palestinians—the ends justify the means—and that that suffering should insulate Israel from any political consequences simply because it asserts its identity as a state of the Jews.
This is obviously an intellectually untenable argument and as a case for national legitimacy it is absolutely laughable. But it is also pretty morally repugnant. So we need to reflect on what this says about Shavit’s liberal Zionist-American promoters; what does it say that they are throwing their intellectual weight behind a prominent defender of ethnic cleansing? And we need to ask how Shavit is able to define himself as a man of the left, as a voice of morality, without anything resembling a challenge from his interviewers.
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