Max Blumenthal on fear and loathing in Israel

Israel is turning into a dystopian society where ethnicity, not citizenship, determines your rank and value, where dissenters are spied on, and a fascistic right wing is gaining power, according to bestselling author and journalist Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal discussed his new, controversial book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” at the Culver-Palms United Methodist Church in Culver City last Monday night. The event was hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Before covering Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Blumenthal gained prominence for his reporting on American politics. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

Blumenthal’s video clips — in which he interviews Republican politicians and right wing groups and corners them with hard-hitting questions — became a hit on YouTube. His 2009 book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party” became a national bestseller.

Before a well-attended hall, Blumenthal sat down with University of California, Los Angeles professor Gabi Piterberg, a veteran of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, to discuss his book and the Israeli society’s radical turn to the extreme right since the 2009 elections.

Blumenthal traveled to and lived in both Israel and the occupied West Bank for four years, meeting Israelis and Palestinians, which resulted in his new book.

During the talk, Blumenthal discussed how the traditional right wing, represented by Benjamin Netanyahu, is slowly being replaced by even more extreme politicians and parties who promote a colonial agenda regarding the occupied West Bank, Gaza and their Palestinian inhabitants, while advocating ethnocentric policies inside Israel itself.

Both Blumenthal and Piterberg discussed how the lessons of the Holocaust have been “twisted around by Israeli politicians.”

According to them, instead of taking the horrific event as a lesson for the need of fighting discrimination and oppression, the Israeli system uses it to keep its population under a siege mentality.

Blumenthal described how the very nature of Israel’s stated goal to be a specifically “Jewish state” has resulted in policies designed to keep a specific, ethnic hegemony in place.

He described recent policies aimed at African refugees, including laws allowing Africans arrested while crossing into Israel to be detained for up to three years without trial.

When discussing the topic of the militant group Hamas ruling the blockaded Gaza Strip, Blumenthal compared the policy of blockading Gaza to the continuing U.S. blockade of Cuba, calling it a useless policy that has only helped keep the current regime in power.

Blumenthal stressed that the best form of resistance is nonviolence, and explained his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which promotes boycotting measures against Israel, similar to those applied to apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

“‘The sword enters the world when justice is delayed and justice is denied;’ we said that in the haggadah prayer this year for Passover,” Blumenthal said, warning that Palestinian terrorism is a direct result of despair and occupation.

Afterward, Blumenthal sat down for a private discussion of his book and its themes.

“The average college student is probably not the average college student if they’re approaching my book because the average college student is not interested or captivated by this issue,” he said. “But the ones I meet at my talks are some of the most intellectually curious people I meet.”

For those still questioning, Blumenthal recommended that students spend time in the Middle East, inside the West Bank, and inside the Israeli society, and draw their own conclusions.

“Once you see the separation wall, just seeing it is unlike anything, unless you’ve had experience at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Blumenthal said. “But once you learn that the separation wall isn’t even a border, and that it’s put there to limit Palestinian presence inside Israel, you start asking a lot of other questions.”

The separation barrier Blumenthal described is a massive separation wall Israel has constructed to divide its population from the Palestinian West Bank, which it still occupies with security forces.

“The United States is encouraging it, funding it with American taxpayer money and the full-throated support of our first African-American president Barack Obama,” he said. “That’s a lesson we can draw — that we can’t count on our leaders and our elites to bring change to Israel-Palestine.”

On the issue of Iran, Blumenthal could not say for certain if Netanyahu would actually bomb the Islamic Republic, as many have feared for years.

“Netanyahu is slightly more rational than that, but those who come after Netanyahu might not be,” he said.

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