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An Eye-Opening Report from an Israel Most Americans Never See

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2014

By Max Blumenthal,  
Nation Books,496 Pages,$27.99  
Most Americans have a view of Israel as a Western-style democratic society with freedom of speech, a free press, freedom of religion and a vibrant parliamentary democracy.  
For Jewish Israelis there is a large element of truth in this perception, except when it comes to religion, where the state-supported Orthodox rabbinate holds a monopoly of power. Non-Orthodox rabbis, for example, cannot perform weddings, funerals or conversions in Israel. In fact, there is less freedom for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel than anyplace in the Western world.  
In the case of Palestinians, however, a far different picture emerges. Those who are residents of Israel, and constitute 20 per cent of the population, are, in many ways, second-class citizens. Those who live in the occupied West Bank have few rights, live behind recently constructed barriers, even have to drive on separate roads.  
Increasingly Authoritarian  
In this book, author Max Blumenthal shows us an Israel which has turned into an increasingly authoritarian society. Beginning with the national elections carried out during Israel’s war in Gaza in 2008-2009, which brought into power the country’s most right-wing government to date, Blumenthal tells the story of Israel in the wake of the collapse of the Oslo peace process.  
Max Blumenthal is an award winning journalist and best-selling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Nation. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, was a New York Times and a Los Angeles Times best-seller. As an American Jew he is saddened by some of things taking place in Israel in the name of “Judaism” and “the Jewish people.”  
He lived in Israel for some time and immersed himself inside the world of hard-line political leaders and movements. He interviewed men and women of all points of view, both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, right-wing extremists and Jewish dissidents.  
“Goliath” Not “David”  
The title, “Goliath,” reflects Blumenthal’s view that Israelis are not the resourceful and humane “David,” but that Israel is, instead, a militaristic state with growing racism, whose recent electoral majorities have set it on a path away from Western-style democracy.  
It is Blumenthal’s assessment that the widespread view that Israel began as a virtuous and democratic society but was driven off course after the post-1967 occupation of territory won in the Six-Day War and the growth of an authoritarian political culture brought by Russian immigrants, is not historically accurate. For him, the 1967 victory was less a turning point and more a new chance to implement the “ethnic cleansing” ideology present at the state’s creation — when the Jewish population in what was to be proclaimed a “Jewish” state was, in fact, a minority.  
He points out that, “Those who invented modern Zionism had little knowledge of, and no regard for, the actual people living in Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire. And if they had any regard for them, it was expressed in typically colonial terms. Zionism’s intellectual author, Theodor Herzl, a Viennese playwright and journalist, described the country ‘as a portion or rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism … All the means we need, we ourselves must create them, like Robinson Crusoe on his island,’ the literary-minded Herzl told an interviewer in 1898.”  
Enterprise of Conquest  
The Labor Zionist movement’s chief ideologue, Berl Katznelson, declared in 1929: “The Zionist enterprise is an enterprise of conquest.” Zeev Jabotinsky, the Revisionist Zionist leader, declared that, “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.” More recently, former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak described the goal of Zionism as maintaining “a villa in the jungle.”  
As Israel was being established in 1948, Blumenthal explains, an important goal of the Zionist leadership was to remove as many of the native Palestinian population as possible. In July, 1948, he writes, “The Israeli Haganah militia’s armor columns rumbled into the twin cities of Lydda and Ramle, leaving in their wake a trail of captured and destroyed Palestinian villages near the coast, and bearing down on hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled to the cities of Palestine’s interior. Many refugees had sought shelter in Lydda and Ramle. Through Operation Dani, Gen. Yigal Allon of the Haganah’s elite Palmach strike force and Gen. Yitzhak Rabin sought to dislodge them while placing the strategically located city in Israeli hands. Once Rabin and Allon initiated their assault on the city, they beseeched the Haganah’s commander-in-chief and prime minister David Ben-Gurion for instructions. The commanders were particularly concerned with the tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs huddled in the cities. ‘What should we do with them?’ Rabin asked. With a wave of his hand, Ben-Gurion gestured to expel the besieged population. ‘Drive them out!’ he exclaimed, according to an account by Rabin.”  
“Lydda Death March”  
This was done, and nearly 55,000 indigenous inhabitants were forced to march eastward to Ramallah in which hundreds died of exhaustion — the so-called “Lydda Death March.” Blumenthal reports that, “More than 170 Palestinian Arabs instructed to take shelter in the Dahmash mosque near Ramle were slaughtered by forces under Rabin and Allon’s direct command, then left to rot in the July heat. About 20 to 50 more Palestinian men sent into the mosque to extract the corpses and bury them were shot dead on the graves they had just dug … By the end of Operation Dani, Israeli forces had captured more than 30 Palestinian communities, including the cities of Lydda and Ramle. Most of the captured villages were bulldozed to the ground or destroyed with high explosives, expanding the territorial base for the Jewish state which was soon to be founded.”  
The city of Nazareth has survived as a center of Palestinian Christian cultural and political life, thanks in large part, Blumenthal writes, “to a Canadian named Benjamin Dunkelman. A veteran of the D-Day landing at Normandy, Dunkelman volunteered to assist the Israeli army during the fighting in 1948. Dunkelman’s 7th Brigade easily captured Nazareth, whose local inhabitants put up only the lightest resistance. He quickly signed a pact with the city’s local leadership, who agreed to surrender and cooperate with the Jewish authorities on the condition that they would not be expelled. Soon afterward, Dunkelman received an order from the Israeli General Chaim Laskov to forcibly evacuate the city’s Arabs. He angrily refused, remarking that he was ‘shocked and horrified’ that he would be commanded to renege on the agreement he had just signed.”  
According to Blumenthal, “Laskov went back to his superiors, demanding that they override Dunkelman, Ben-Gurion … had just ordered the ethnic cleansing of Ramle and Lydda with the wave of his hand, thus avoiding leaving a written record of the high-level decision. When asked to provide a formally recorded order to evacuate Nazareth, he was forced to refuse. Thus, the city’s population was saved from the terrible fate that more than 700,000 other Palestinian Arabs suffered. After the war, Dunkelman promptly returned to his hometown of Toronto where he spent the rest of his life.”  
Living in Jaffa  
When Blumenthal arrived in Israel in July 2010 for an extended reporting trip, he stayed in Jaffa. He explored the history of the city and found that the Palestine Citrus Board, overseen by the British colonial authorities, mandated a mutually beneficent arrangement in which Arabs worked for Jewish orchard owners and vice versa. But, Blumenthal explains, “… the cooperative spirit rankled the emerging Labor Zionist establishment, which preached a strict doctrine Avodah Ivrit, or Hebrew labor, and KibushHa’avodah, or strict enforcement of Jewish-only labor. As the vanguard of the Zionist movement, the Labor movement hewed closely to socialist ideology and a statist doctrine as the best means of establishing the infrastructure for a Jewish state in Palestine. Unlike other socialists around the world, the Labor Zionists fused ethnic exclusiveness with their vision of worker solidarity. Like the state they sought to found, their socialism was for Jews only.”  
Jaffa, once a prospering Arab city, came to an end. On May 13, 1948, two days before Israel declared its independence, Zionist militias attacked Jaffa in full force, with up to 5,000 troops invading the city in waves, raining artillery shells down on the civilian population. Blumenthal writes: “By the end of the siege, many of the over 50,000 Arab Jaffans forced from their homes had been driven literally into the sea — forced to flee by boat to Gaza and Lebanon with whatever they could carry, and never to return.”  
Once Israel conquered Jaffa, Blumenthal notes, “its new government ordered the bulldozing of 25 per cent of the city’s Arab section. Under the auspices of the new Absentee Property Law, the state placed all remaining Arab property in the hands of the Custodian of Absentee Property, which promptly redistributed it into Jewish hands under a law passed in 1953 called the Land Acquisition Law … Between 1948 and 1963, 95 per cent of new Jewish communities were established on ‘absentee’ Palestinian land. As former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s adviser on Arab Affairs said, ‘If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country and we did.’”  
Widespread Racism  
In contemporary Israel, Blumenthal found that racism is widespread and is openly expressed. Ahhmad Tibi, a Palestinian who served in the Knesset for more than a decade, explained why Palestinians mourned the country’s foundation. “We are victims of Zionism and have a different story of events about 1948 … In Israel, you have three systems of laws. One is democracy for 80 per cent of the population. It is democracy for Jews. I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy. The second is racial discrimination for 20 per cent of the population, the Israeli Arabs. The third is apartheid for the population of the West Bank and Gaza. This includes two sets of government, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers. Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid but we are being pushed there … Right now, I would say Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. It is democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward the Arabs.”  
Blumenthal attended a soccer game at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, home of the popular Beitar team. He observed fans letting out “the routine ‘Death To Arabs’ chant after Beitar scored goals and unfurled giant banners displaying the symbol of Kach, the banned terrorist group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated the creation of a Arabrein theocracy in the West Bank.” According to Amir Ben-Porat, a Ben Gurion University professor of behavioral sciences and leading expert on racism in Israeli society, “In the late 1990s and onwards ‘Death to the Arabs’ became a common chant in almost every football stadium in Israel.” Ben-Porat noted that because of the prominent role football occupied in Israeli popular culture, ‘This chant is heard far beyond the stadium.’”  
After Beitar won the Israeli Cup in 2009, several of its players including the young star, Amit Ben Shushan, joined in the racist chants. When, during celebrating their cup victory a year earlier, then-minister of Sports and Culture Raleb Majadele, an Israeli Arab, attempted to congratulate the Beitar players, one by one, they conspicuously refused to shake his hand.  
Yeshatahu Leibowitz  
One towering Israeli critic of its occupation of the West Bank and of the growth of religious extremism discussed by Blumenthal in some depth is Yeshatahu Leibowitz, a distinguished professor who headed Hebrew University’s Biological Chemistry Department. With eight doctorates, he taught everything from philosophy to quantum mechanics. The liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said of Leibowitz, “He is the conscience of Israel.”  
Leibowitz’s views on the Jewish religion and Israeli society, Blumenthal declares, “instilled fear in the reactionary court rabbis he routinely targeted. He reviled their fetishization of ancient Jewish sites … He argued vehemently for the separation of church and state, warning that failing to do so would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult. ‘Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,’ Leibowitz famously declared.”  
After 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Leibowitz witnessed the euphoric celebrations with disdain. Blumenthal writes that, “He shuddered at the sudden veneration of military commanders as demigods, warning without hesitation that the occupation would warp Jewish society beyond recognition and ultimately bring about the self-destruction of the state … Toward the end of his life, Leibowitz said that the country had become ‘Rhodesia under Jewish authority.’ ‘The state willfully deprives two million people of their political and civil rights,’ he declared in a public lecture. ‘South Africa was not a democracy either. But the people were governed by a great statesman … DeKlerk. In stages, but quite rapidly, he is indeed giving the population, including the blacks, all the civil and, it would seem, political rights. This is happening throughout the world in all the enlightened countries. But Israel is the only dictatorship that exists today in the enlightened world.’”  
Growth of Religious Extremism  
One example of the growth of religious extremism in Israel is the publication in 2009 of ‘Torat Ha’melech’ (or the King’s Torah) which was described by the Israeli newspaper Maariv as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.”  
According to the authors, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” Shapira and Elitzur write that, “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments (of Noah) … there is nothing wrong with the murder.” Citing Jewish law, or what Blumenthal calls “at least a very selective interpretation of it,” the rabbis declare: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation may be harmed deliberately and not only during combat with adults.”  
“Torat Ha’Melech” was written, Blumenthal points out, “as a guide for soldiers and army officers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement … Shapira and Elitzur urged a policy of ruthlessness toward non-Jews, insisting that the commandment against murder ‘refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not to a Jew who kills a gentile, even if the gentile is one of the righteous among the nations.’..The rabbis went on to pronounce all civilians of the enemy ‘rodef,’ or villains who chase Jews and are therefore fair game for slaughtering … They also justified the killing of Jewish dissidents. ‘A rodef is any person who weakens our kingdom by speech and so forth,’ they wrote.”  
A Meeting of Fundamentalist Rabbis  
On Aug. 28, 2010, Max Blumenthal attended a meeting of fundamentalist rabbis at Jerusalem’s Ramada Renaissance Hotel. He reports: “I stood in the audience with about 250 settlers and hardline rightists, watching in astonishment as one state-sanctioned rabbi after another went to the podium to speak in defense of ‘Torat Ha’Melech.’ … The genocidal philosophy … emerged from the fevered atmosphere of a settlement called Yitzhar located in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian city of Nablus. There Shapira helps lead the settlement’s  
Od Yosef Chai yeshiva … he took a radical turn after joining the Chabad sect under the tutelage of Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsburgh … who defended seven of his students who murdered an innocent Palestinian girl by asserting the superiority of Jewish blood. In 1994, when the Jewish fanatic Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Ginsburgh lionized Goldstein in a lengthy article entitled ‘Baruch, Hagever,’ or ‘Baruch, the Great Man.’”  
Od Yosef Chai has received funds from both the Israel Ministry of Social Affairs and the Israeli Ministry of Education as well as a tax-exempt, American non-profit group called the Central Fund of Israel. Blumenthal shows that these extremist rabbis are part of Israel’s religious establishment and have significant influence: “Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron … has secured considerable influence inside the military. In 2008, when the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who was allowed to regale the officers with his views on modern warfare, which includes vehement support for the collective punishment of Palestinians. Ronski, for his part, has overseen the distribution of extremist tracts to soldiers … including ‘Baruch Hagover,’ and a pamphlet stating, ‘When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.’”  
Influence of Russian Immigrants  
In the 1980s, with the rise of Perestroika, one million Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel. It was the largest single influx of immigrants to Israel in the country’s history and enlarged the Jewish majority by 20 per cent. Blumenthal writes that, “… more than 300,000 of the new immigrants were not kosher according to rabbinical halakhic law, which mandated that a child have a matrilineal Jewish heritage in order to be considered an authentic Jew … A 2009 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 77 per cent of immigrants from the Soviet Union supported forcibly transferring the Palestinian population out of Israeli controlled territory … According to the poll, a narrow majority of Jewish Israelis supported transfer. An Israeli poll taken in 2004 found authoritarian attitudes to be widespread among Jewish youth, with only 17 per cent listing democracy as a ‘subject of national preference.’”  
With no tradition of democracy, the Russian immigrants have embraced far-right wing parties and leaders, such as Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party. But Blumenthal argues that even traditionally moderate Israeli parties such as Kadima and its leader Tsipi Livni share a demographic obsession to maintain a Jewish majority by any means possible. He reports that, “In a 2008 meeting with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Livni emphasized Israel’s rejection of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their confiscated land and property inside Israel on the grounds that the refugees threatened Israel’s Jewish character. Rice, an African-American raised in the Jim Crow American South by a pro-civil rights Baptist preacher, shuddered at the implications of Livni’s statement. ‘I must admit that though I understood the argument intellectually,’ Rice reflected, ‘it struck me as a harsh defense of ethnic purity of the Israeli state when Tzipi said it. It was one of those conversations that shocked my sensibilities as an American. After all, the very concept of ‘American’ rejects ethnic or religious definitions of citizenship. Moreover, there were Arab citizens of Israel. Where did they fit in?”  
Blumenthal laments that even so-called “moderates” in Israel tend to embrace an ethnocentric philosophy. Asa Kasher, an influential professor of philosophy at Tel Avjv University, who authored a code of ethics for the Israeli army, states that, “I want a decisive Jewish majority which enjoys national, political and social freedom … by being the ruler in all unorganized aspects of the social life of the state. Everything is conditioned on being a decisive majority, not just a majority.” Yossi Beilin, a veteran politician from the left-wing Meretz Party and a stalwart of Israel’s peace camp, echoed Kasher when he said, “If this country is not the Jewish state, and had no Jewish majority, it doesn’t interest me.”  
A Precarious Future  
There is much turmoil in contemporary Israel as the state plans to remove Bedouin from their traditional lands, continues to build settlements in the occupied territories and faces growing racism as it confronts black African asylum seekers. Blumenthal has done a documentary showing protests by far-right politicians who call the asylum-seekers a “cancer” and refer to Israel as “the white man’s country.” He notes that, “There are now 60,000 non-Jewish Africans inside the state of Israel. Most of them are eligible for asylum … Many of them had heard that there was a Jewish state across the Sinai peninsula that claimed to embrace and enact the lessons of the Holocaust. One … was that you don’t turn refugees away from the border when they might be slaughtered when they return home.”  
At the present time, Israel has what Kadima leader Tzipi Livni described as “the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.” Sixty eight of the 84 Knesset members serving in the coalition are members of extreme right-wing parties. Oren Yiftachel, a human rights activist and professor of public policy at Ben Gurion University, wrote that the “main trend” of the election results was “the return of openly declared Jewish colonialist goals and the intensification of apartheid-like measures as popular political agendas.”  
Daniel Bar-Tal, a respected political psychologist from Tel Aviv University conducted a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes after the war in Gaza. He found that Israeli Jews’ ‘consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.” In an interview with Blumenthal, Bar-Tal said: “There was almost unanimous support for the war (on Gaza) and very few members of this society … expressed any type of misgivings about the way this was handled when so many were killed. There is no doubt these attitudes were the product of indoctrination. The narrative of the war was all constructed and well prepared, and information was heavily controlled.”  
Bar-Tal’s study reinforced the findings of a 2006 poll by the Center for the Struggle Against Racism, an Israeli NGO, which revealed that 68 per cent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab. Nearly half of those polled would not even allow an Arab into their homes, while 63 per cent agreed with the statement, “Arabs are a security and demographic threat to the state.” Meanwhile, 40 per cent expressed support for encouraging Palestinian citizens of Israel to leave. Blumenthal reports that Ovadiah Yosef, the Shas party spiritual leader and Israeli chief rabbi “peppered his weekly radio sermons with genocidal rants.” In a typical sermon, he declared, “It is forbidden to be merciful to Arabs. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”  
Israeli Expatriates  
Blumenthal ends this important book with a chapter on Israeli expatriates — as many as one million Israelis — a full 13 per cent of the population — who live outside Israel. He writes: “The exodus of Israelis is the greatest and most immediate demographic threat the Jewish state faces … In the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, I met Rafi Magnes, the grandson of Rabbi Judah Magnes, and his wife Liz. They had left Israel for good, purchased a house in the chic, formerly industrial neighborhood and painted a giant mural on the wall that faced the street reading ‘NY Loves Obama.’ ‘I call ourselves luxury refugees,’ Liz Magnes told me. ‘We could have stayed, of course, but the fascism had gotten to be too overpowering. Thank God we left.’”  
This is a disturbing book, for it portrays an Israeli reality far different from the one most Americans, and American Jews in particular, imagine. In Israel, one thoughtful commentator, Akiva Eldar of Ha’Aretz, declares that, “Those who fear for the image of this land would be well advised to respond to the challenge.” Max Blumenthal has come under harsh attack for his efforts. But those who tell unwelcome truths often do. Later, we hail them for having had the courage to proceed. •  

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