Max Blumenthal fancies himself a journalist. Or, at the very least, that’s how he’d like others to view him. But as I catch more and more glimpses of his new book, Goliath, I find myself wondering how anyone — even the most fanatical anti-Zionists, for whom this book has apparently been written — can take him seriously.
As noted in my previous post on the subject, I haven’t had a chance to read the book in full because, unlike seemingly all of Israel’s most radical detractors, I didn’t receive an advance copy. But thanks to Amazon.com and to Blumenthal’s own lavish self-promotion, I’ve had a chance to skim through a few sections of the book, and it’s quite a piece of work.
Setting aside the grammatical curiosities and the amateurish hyperbole, Blumenthal’s book is riddled with so many factual errors, unsubstantiated claims, and malicious innuendo that it’s hard to imagine anyone with even a passing familiarity with the subject matter reading it cover-to-cover without tossing it aside in disgust.
Eric Alterman has already commented on Blumenthal’s implicit comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, which run through the book. In my previous post, I presented an example in which Blumenthal printed a claim that was directly contradicted by the source he was purporting to cite — a text he later admitted he hadn’t read at all.
Below I will present five more examples — some seemingly minor, others decidedly less so, all culled randomly from whatever parts of the text were accessible to me — that illustrate just how profoundly flawed the book is.
Max’s Special Sticker
On page 40, during a discussion of security protocols at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, Blumenthal writes that,
Palestinians who pass through security procedures receive a special sticker on their passport reading, “Did you pack a bomb by mistake?”
Now, as a frequent traveler from and to Israel, I — a Jewish citizen of Israel — have encountered a variation of that question countless times. Israeli security personnel are known to ask whether a passenger’s luggage contains any packages passed along by others since, as they say, such packages could contain bombs (as they have in the past). I also have lots of stickers on my passport, stuck there by security staff following the standard questioning. And I’m aware of the fact that others may receive a more thorough examination than I do and that some are given different stickers for various reasons.
I have never, however, encountered an account of anyone — Palestinian, Israeli, or of any other background — having a “special sticker” asking whether they mistakenly packed a bomb in their luggage affixed to their passport.
Unsurprisingly, the source cited for the passage does not support Blumenthal’s claim.
On page 57, Blumenthal describes the artwork in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament:
Nearby, in the lobby of the Government Room, where the prime minister meets with cabinet ministers, Knesset designers installed a giant oil painting by Joseph Kuzkovsky called The Last Way—Baba Yar. The painting depicts a procession of meek, defenseless Jewish peasants being marched out of their village in the Russian Pale of Settlement to be massacred by Nazi SS soldiers—“like sheep to the slaughter,” in the words of Abba Kovner, a Jewish partisan fighter and Zionist activist who hatched an abortive postwar plan to poison the drinking water of six million Germans in revenge for the Holocaust.
By adorning the walls of Israel’s deliberative body with representations of the European Jewish genocide (while ignoring the rich and varied history of Jewish life in the Arab world), the building’s decorators and designers deliberately enveloped Israel’s center of decision making with the insecurity of diaspora Jewish life.
There’s plenty to critique about this passage alone.
Babi Yar was the site of one of the most ghastly and infamous massacres of the Holocaust — 33,771 Jews were murdered over the course of two days in September 1941. It’s possible that Blumenthal would have bothered to get the name of the site right had he paid more attention to the accounts of Holocaust survivors like Elie Wiesel, whom he has attacked as an “amoral huckster.” It’s also possible that, had he known a bit more history, he’d have realized that the Pale of Settlement was abolished upon the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, twenty-four years before the massacre at Babi Yar.
Not one to miss an opportunity to smear a Zionist, Blumenthal takes care to note that “Zionist activist” Abba Kovner hoped to kill six million Germans in retribution for the Holocaust, a detail that, though horrifying, has nothing to do with the rest of the passage and seems calculated to further develop his running comparison between Zionists and Nazis.
Most intriguing, perhaps, is Blumenthal’s parenthetical statement hailing the “rich and varied history of Jewish life in the Arab world,” presented as a counterpoint to “the European Jewish genocide” and “the insecurity of diaspora Jewish life.” It is common in some circles to pretend that life for Jews in Arab countries was a veritable paradise until Zionism came along. Unfortunately, that’s a myth, as journalist Ben-Dror Yemini painfully details (here’s the original article, in Hebrew). For more than a millennium, Jews were subjected to massacres, pogroms, expulsions, forced conversions, harassment, and daily humiliation throughout the Arab world. Pretending otherwise is an insult to the experiences of Mizrahi Jews and is meant — like so much in Blumenthal’s book — to smear Zionism and Zionists.
It’s the Demography, Stupid!
On page 57, Blumenthal makes the following claim regarding the comparatively small size of Tel Aviv’s Arab population:
[Tel Aviv mayor Ron] Huldai was determined to keep it that way, not only in a demographic sense by, for instance, supporting the construction of the separation wall that obstructed Palestinian workers from reaching Tel Aviv from the West Bank […]
I’ve heard many arguments in favor of what Blumenthal calls the “separation wall” and I’ve heard many against. Never have I heard anyone claim that it was meant purely to maintain Tel Aviv’s demographic balance by preventing Palestinian workers from reaching the city.
According to Mideast scholar David Makovsky, it was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was the “intellectual father” of what Israelis generally call the security fence. In early 1995, following a wave of deadly suicide bombings, Rabin established the Shahal Commission to consider how best to construct a security barrier between Israelis and Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Barak raised the idea once again during peace negotiations in 2000. Public demand for a physical obstacle to prevent terrorists from striking Israeli targets grew dramatically after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September of that year. After hundreds of Israeli civilians were murdered in terrorist attacks, the Israeli government decided in the middle of 2002 to construct a barrier — 95% of which is a fence and only 5% a concrete wall, according to its architect — to prevent terrorists from reaching Israel’s cities. As the construction proceeded, suicide bombings dropped sharply, as did the number of Israeli civilian casualties — including in Tel Aviv, which had been a major target of suicide bombings and which had suffered scores of casualties.
Of course, all of this is absent from Blumenthal’s telling of events, which ignores Israel’s security considerations entirely and portrays Huldai’s support for the fence as motivated by nothing more than “demographic” concerns.
Perhaps most shocking is Blumenthal’s account of the first day of Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Page 4:
For a few hundred Gazan police cadets, December 27, 2008, held the promise of a short relief from the suffocating climate of the siege. That morning in Gaza City, the cadets assembled to celebrate their graduation from Hamas’s new police academies. They stood as a symbol of the order that finally presided over Gaza after years of gangland-style corruption and repression by the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA).
Just as the band struck up a martial tune, an Israel F-16 roared across the sky, launching a laser-guided missile into the center of the ceremonial procession.
Sixty more F-16s were now in the air, on their way to target police stations and civilian installations across the Gaza Strip. Within a matter of minutes, Israeli forces killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children while they were leaving school.
Again, there’s a lot to critique here, including Blumenthal’s rosy depiction of Hamas rule in Gaza, which regularly draws widespread condemnation for its fundamentalist tyranny and its horrific abuses of human rights. It’s also noteworthy that, by virtually all accounts, the overwhelming majority of those killed that first day were members of either the Hamas security forces or the group’s military wing — a fact that does not appear anywhere in Blumenthal’s telling of events.
But I’d like to focus on nine words:
including scores of children while they were leaving school.
"Scores" indicates multiples of twenty, so according to Blumenthal, at least forty Palestinian children — minors, presumably, under the age of 18 — were killed while leaving school on the first day of the operation. A horrific thought.
Unfortunately for him, the numbers disagree.
According to B’Tselem (which Blumenthal cites elsewhere in the book, but, curiously, not here), sixteen (16) minors were killed on December 27 or died as a result of injuries sustained that day. Of the sixteen, thirteen were near Hamas facilities targeted by the Israel Air Force (IAF). Five of the sixteen were said to be on their way home from school — of them, four were also near Hamas facilities targeted by the IAF. Only one, 16-year-old Sha’ban ‘Adel Hamed Hneif, was said to be near his educational institution, an UNRWA professional training center, when he was wounded (he died in an Israeli hospital on December 31).
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), twelve (12) minors were killed on December 27.
(It is worthy of note that neither B’Tselem nor PCHR is known for minimizing Palestinian casualty counts or tilting them in Israel’s favor.)
The higher number of casualties cited by B’Tselem is still less than half the number of children Blumenthal claims were killed that day, and the number killed “while they were leaving school” is, at most, an eighth of the number he cites.
Every child’s death — whether Palestinian or Israeli, intentional or not — is an unspeakable tragedy. That so many children were killed due to Hamas’s horrific practice of locating its facilities in the midst of civilian neighborhoods is criminal. And exploiting the deaths of children while playing with their numbers is despicable.
Did Blumenthal fabricate his numbers? Did he receive them from a source more reliable than both B’Tselem and PCHR? If he did, his readers wouldn’t know — no sources are cited for this passage.
It’s All Hebrew to Me
But most telling of all may be Blumenthal’s admission, on page 64, of a startling handicap:
But for a number of reasons, I needed help. First, I did not speak conversational Hebrew — I knew only enough to travel around the country, give commands, and order food.
It explains so much. Blumenthal presents himself as an authority on contemporary Israel, but as he was working on this book, he couldn’t even speak the language in which the majority of the country’s citizens conduct their lives. Perhaps that’s why he relies on so many English-language secondary sources and why one of the very few Hebrew sources he cites is accompanied by a note: “Translated for the author by…” And perhaps it’s why he gets so much so very wrong.
All this might, of course, have been slightly less egregious if he hadn’t mocked others for their language skills:
. Hussein, I’m sure you are the better judge of Arab media, but is it true you can’t read Arabic?
But that’s just like our Max, isn’t it?
A Closing Compliment
Awash with errors and drenched in bias, Max Blumenthal’s writing would not pass muster in a high school history class. For someone who passes himself off as a journalist, having his name attached to a book as shameful as this one should be a career ender. But Blumenthal hasn’t let shame stop him before, so I expect we’ll see more of him yet.
For all its flaws, though, I’ll grant Goliath this: it makes excellent use of the Oxford comma.