Multifarious bloggers, all various shades of Left, have attacked or defended it, with Max giving as good as he got. I can’t claim to have read even a large portion of these postings; I thought the arguments got old very quickly, even for someone immersed in the subject. For those interested, Ralph Seliger, the esteemed editor of this blogspace, has collected some of these discussions here. Andrew Sullivan, who likes the book despite not having read it, has collected some of the pro-Blumenthal comments here.
The discerning reader will have realized by now that I didn’t like the book, though it does express a sort of truth. The book is not full of lies; I couldn’t really find many misstatements, even the sort of minor errors that those not all that familiar with Israel invariably make. And I am someone who has criticized Israel for many of the same things Max does.
What is missing is any sort of open-minded inquiry, any compassion for Israelis, any sense of another narrative. Max is sure that Israel gets far more good mainstream press than it ever deserved, and that Israel has been coddled far too much. It is time for tough love, minus the love.
Israel, in Max’s eyes, has forfeited any right to understanding. While the book doesn’t delineate a blueprint for “solving” the situation, I overheard a conversation at Max’s book party in which he envisioned most Israeli Jews leaving the country when Palestinians finally retake what is theirs. Not that he thinks that this is imminent, though he does seem to think it’s inevitable, and just.
Though Max doesn’t (thankfully!) overdo the Nazi/Israeli comparison, he does seem to treat Zionism and Israel as a near-ultimate evil, what most of us think of Nazi Germany. Yet I wouldn’t like this book even if it were about the Nazis. I read about unpleasant things to try to understand them, but this book doesn’t provide insight or understanding. It provides anger and evidence; two things that are already in abundant supply in this conflict.
Max seems to think that holding the reader’s face to Israel’s injustices will somehow provide greater awareness to clueless Americans of what our tax dollars are subsidizing. I sincerely doubt that. I think the only people who appreciate the book will be those who are already convinced of Israel’s evil — and perhaps some of those who don’t themselves accept the “Israel=evil” thesis, but are desperate to make liberal American Jews understand that they should stop enabling Israel’s consistently disastrous policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Perhaps that explains the blurb on the book’s back cover by Akiva Eldar, a liberal Israeli journalist for whom I have enormous respect. But this sort of journalism doesn’t persuade; it repels the reader more from its own certainties than it does from Israel.
I am happy to put away this book and finish this discussion. I still don’t completely understand my reaction to it. Far rightists will sneer at my cavils since they would consider my own criticisms of Israel next door to Max’s. Far leftists will mock my unwillingness to accept what they consider the necessary implications of my own criticism. And from where they stand, perhaps they’re right.
Actually, I have finally thought of what is perhaps the only sane way to read this book. It should be bundled together with a volume that would seem its complete opposite: namely, Saul Singer and Dan Senor’s saccharine paean to Israel’s entrepreneurial genius, Start-Up Nation. Just as for Max Blumenthal, even when Israel does something right, it’s evil; for Saul Singer and Dan Senor, should Israel ever do something wrong, it’s still right there on the side of the angels. Perhaps these two books, differently devoid of a recognition of human and national complexity, really belong together.