Blumen-journalism, back atcha — and what it really means


First, this is a lovely video-response to Max Blumenthal’s "Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem," from Lahav Harkov, a Bar Ilan University student who blogs at The Jerusalem Post:

Years ago, studying linguistics, I learned that linguists had discovered that the best way to predict how speech patterns would evolve in a generation was to interview female students on university campuses. The reasons are self-evident: Universities attract elites, and mothers are (or at least were) the most important figures in a child’s most formative years.

The same, I think, holds true of political views — and note, too, that the students in this video are from Israel’s most conservative campus, Bar Ilan.

As Harkov notes,

Israeli opinion isn’t monolithic! Some like Obama! Some don’t! Some aren’t sure! This is because — surprise, surprise — Israelis are PEOPLE.

My own, earlier take on Blumenthal’s video drew some fire, first of all, from Blumenthal himself:

Ron Kampeas at the JTA has written that I need “to grow up and put [my talents] to good use.” (While Kampeas praised some of my other video reports exposing right-wing Christians, this latest video revealing the extremism of some Israeli and American Jews seemed to hit too close to home.)

In fact, I said I didn’t like the Christian stuff either; what I like is when Max faces off against conservatives who have some idea of what he’s up to. He usually wins, and he wins because he’s sending ideas into battle, not making fun of people who have no idea what he’s on about. This is what I meant about putting his talent to use.

Richard Silverstein calls me a "center-right pundit." As my mother would say, in one of the few Ladino phrases that perpetuated into our everyday English conversation (the others are unprintable): Cualo?

More substantively, he asks:

The challenge I have to the Kampeases and Goldbergs of the Jewish world is: What are you going to do about this? Are you doing to dismiss it as testosterone-infused teen-aged horseplay; or are you going to engage in combat with this infected stream of nationalist Zionist thought?

I have two answers to this. First, "Oh please," and second, "But you do have a point."

"Oh please," because these neanderthals have been plying Jerusalem’s triangle (Ben Yehuda, Jaffa, King George) since before it became a pedestrian mall, or midrehov. I remember them going back to 1978. I engaged with them in person since then and with their ideas in print since I started getting op-eds published in The Jerusalem Post in 1987.

And "Oh, please," too, because I have seen so much worse. I’ve seen real mobs put their thoughts to fists, sticks and stones and guns, in the settlements, in Jerusalem, in the refugee camps, in Belfast, in Kinshasa, in Mostar, in Kabul and on and on and on. How am I supposed to get exercised by the annual return of the buttheads to Ben-Yehuda?

The "but you do have a point" answer is, I should anyway. No one should get too jaded. And the gratifying thing about Max’s video is that however unrepresentative it is, it is for sure embarrassing these yutzes back home, and prompting some aggrieved long distance calls. ("Did I teach you to be an idiot? Or was that your mother? And what, exactly, are you smoking?")

Over at the Magnes Zionist, Jeremiah Haber worries that I don’t have the "moral decency" to be offended by what’s in the video; I hope I’ve made clear here, that yes, it is offensive.

Haber has a more substantive criticism in the comments section of my post, but before I get to that — whom do Blumenthal and his collaborator, Joseph Dana, believe they are portraying in this video? Haber and others have taken offense at those (like Harkov, above) who say the filmmakers are misrepresenting drunken American louts as Israelis. Dana and Blumenthal don’t make it clear what culture it is — Israeli or Jewish American or both — they believe to be in dire need of reassessment. Is this video supposed to be representative of American Jewish thought? Israeli thought? In their explications they veer from one to another, and Dana suggests at one point that these are dual Israeli-American citizens (how does he know this?) and then that it is representative of views in Jerusalem in general.  It is also true that one or two of the interviewees is clearly Israeli.

Another thing: The drunkenness. Blumenthal rsponds to critics who say he is exploiting the over-lubricated:

No amount of alcohol could make me express opinions that were not authentically mine. If anything, alcohol is a crude form of truth serum that lubricates the release of closely held opinions and encourages confessional talk.

Max, Max, Max. If this were true, how many of us would be bigamists? Oh, Max.

Others (see the comments section on my post) have noted the Jewish organizational treatment of Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rantings in 2006. From what I remember, though, the Jewish criticism of Gibson took his inebriation into account. And if any of these kids can tell the lens from the eyehole on a camera, much less produce a megablockbuster reviving genocide-inducing myths about blacks or Arabs, I’ll spot Mel a Foster’s. In other words, lehavdil.

Let me get to what I believe is Haber’s substantive criticism of my post, from his comments:

Now that Max’s “immature video” has been witnessed over 100,000 times in the last two days, maybe you can take a deep breath and think a bit.

Let’s assume that 90% of the viewers just stop at Max’s video. That leaves 10% who look into some of his other posts from Israel-Palestine, including his interviews with David Grossman, with members of Liberman’s party, with Israeli activists on the West Bank. That means that more people will get significant information about Israel because of the “immature video” in two days than read your blog in months.

He’s right! More people should read my blog!


No, he’s right — really right — not because of what Max is purporting to argue with his video (I’m still a little confused) but because of what the video itself represents.

Let me back up a little, okay, a lot, and offer a quickie universal theory, this one about Israel and the West Bank.

First: Palestinians in the occupied areas do not receive equal treatment. They don’t vote for a government that is able to defend them and represent their foreign interests. Or get just about anything done. It takes Arabs in the West Bank much longer to get to work, to till their fields, to get to the doctor, than their Jewish neighbors. And anyone who has traveled through the West Bank can attest to the weird Jetsons-Flintsones contrasts between settlements and Palestinian villages. Blame this on Palestinian intransigence, blame it on whomever and whatever you like, but pretending that West Bank Palestinians and the Israelis who live among them share equal status is delusional.

I’m not arguing for disengagement or against settlements here — once upon a time, some Gush Emunim leaders and Likud politicians like Dan Meridor thought creatively about integration. Those ideas oxydized into dust about 25 years ago, and all that appears to be left is disengagement; but that’s not my point. If anyone on the settler side wants to revive the circa-1970s ideals of living alongside the Palestinians as equals (anyone in addition to Rav Menachem Froman), it would be interesting to hear.

The solution may be Palestinian statehood, it may be the Netanyahu government’s vision of a Palestinian society enhanced and empowered by economic development. Not my call. It’s just that, in the age of Obama, stasis is not going to cut it. Which leads into…

Second: Once upon a time this separate and unequal status was acceptable, barely. The post-enlightenment age divides, I think, into three phases when it comes to how the West treated disenfranchised populations: The "benevolent dictator" phase, which ended in the late 1940s; at that time, some undemocratic arrangements, it was believed, were better than others. One product of this thinking is the Middle Eastern monarchy. (That worked!) Then, there was the Cold War phase, when the notion of democratic representation was so utterly twisted by the Soviet Union,  that the West looked the other way at what was perceived to be lesser evils: Apartheid South Africa, the Latin American juntas, etc.

Against that reality, Israel could — with some degree of success — portray the occupation as relatively benign. Look, the Palestinians have a free press (sometimes). They go to universities (sometimes). They elect their own mayors (once).

And now we are almost two decades in the third phase, post-Cold War, post-Apartheid. And the qualifications, the "relativelys" no longer work. In the West, now, you lose points for disenfranchising people, for keeping minorities separate and unequal. Look at Yugoslavia. Look at Zimbabwe. No one turns away anymore.

It’s true that Israel is dealing with a Palestinian polity that tolerates genocidal fantasies and murderous realities. But you can sustain that contrast only so long against the day-to-day grind of the segregated, inferior circumstances of the Palestinians.

So: Just as the TV crews made their way to the obscenely racist old Boer in covering the old South Africa, and abjured the thoughtful Wits professor; just as Radovan Karadzic’s insane musings about the non-Serbian psyche preoccupied some journalists more than the privations of ethnic Serbs in Krajina; the Max Blumenthals of the world are going to seek out the neanderthals, and this will become Israel’s image.

The obscene rantings of a few drunken frat boys, however unfair and unrepresentative, would not be getting this oxygen without the reality of unequal treatment. And the fact that Max is Jewish, I think, is also significant, just as it has been with Jon Stewart’s satirical treatment of Israel. The cognitive dissonance is not going to play with a younger generation of Jews that expects equality for all, that spends time and money calling for protections of minorities in Sudan and China.

This is a tide, and one that won’t be turned away by better Hasbara.

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