Last week I ventured to the Quaker Meeting House in downtown Brooklyn to see Max Blumenthal speak. I learned a lot from his book REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH and GOLIATH made an enormous impression on me.
Like GOLIATH, his talk was long, powerful, persuasive, a little disjointed, and both galvanizing and depressing. My two favorite lines weren’t in the book. First, when someone asked him what it would take for there to be peace in Israel, he said, “I’m tired of hearing that the Palestinians need a Mandela. There are thousands of Palestinian Mandelas–in prisons, in Nablus, under the ground. What’s needed is an Israeli de Klerk. Mandela said that he would only negotiate with the South African government if it was to talk about bringing the system of apartheid to an end. No Israeli has put anything remotely equivalent on the table.” The other really memorable thing he said was this: “Misusing the Holocaust for propaganda purposes is the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial.”
Blumenthal talked about his own process of “de-Zionization,” which he said was easier for him than it’s been for many others because of his age (he’s still in his thirties).
I’m in my mid-fifties. I wasn’t raised in a religious or a particularly Zionist household, but for most of my life I’ve felt guilty and disloyal because of my discomfort with my own Jewishness and the idea of a Jewish state. I can’t say that GOLIATH burst my bubble, because I had already come around to the BDS stance, but it did clarify my thinking and in a weird way reassured me that Zionism’s problems are Zionism’s problems, not a reflection of my own self-loathing and bad faith.
Peter Beinart worries a lot about the choices that young Jews will make when they have to choose between Zionism and the left. I don’t worry about it myself, because I am committed to the left and I don’t feel any personal stake in the Jewish state (I am as opposed to state religion as every American should be).
I do wonder what will happen to Jewish identity when Israel openly sheds its democratic trappings. In a way, it’s already happening. The only people who believe I have anything in common with the Haredim or Sheldon Adelson are anti-Semites and I suppose the Haredim and the Sheldon Adelsons of the world themselves. A couple of posts back, an Israeli commented about the “stink” emanating from my website, so I guess I can already see the writing on the wall. I think it was Bernard Malamud who said that whenever you forget that you’re Jewish, a goy comes along and reminds you. Of course I run into plenty of anti-Semites doing what I do, but now I’ve got to watch out for Zionists too.
Blumenthal’s detractors hold David Duke’s high opinion of GOLIATH against Blumenthal. Maybe they should hold it against themselves–or against Israel. I’ve heard Jared Taylor praise the Hasids for their success in creating ethnically exclusive enclaves in upstate NY. He imagines white Protestants creating similar refuges for themselves as the US continues to brown and he holds up Israel as a model for the kind of ethno-State that he wishes we’d had over here. You need a much higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance than I have not to squirm.