On Wednesday, I walked around central Jerusalem with my friend, Joseph Dana, an Israel peace activist who has lived in the country for three years. We interviewed young people on camera about the speech President Barack Obama planned to deliver to the Muslim world the following day in Cairo. Though our questions were not provocative at all – we simply asked, “What do you think of Obama’s speech” – the responses our interview subjects offered comprised some of the most shocking comments I have ever recorded on camera. They were racist, hateful, and incredibly ignorant, and were mostly couched within a Zionist context – “this is our land, Obama!” The following day, we edited an hour of interviews into a 3:30 minute video package and released it on Mondoweiss and on the Huffington Post.
Within a few hours, I received an email from a Huffington Post administrator informing me he had scrubbed my video from the site. “I don’t see that it has any real news value,” the administrator told me. “For me it only proves that one can find drunk people willing to say just about anything. Especially drunk, moronic people.” For the first time, the premier clearinghouse for online news and opinions had suppressed one of my posts.
Other bloggers and commenters criticized the video on similar grounds. Their complaints generally went like this: In order to advance an agenda, Max Blumenthal exploited the wild remarks of a bunch of drunk Jewish frat-boys innocently showing off in front of their friends. The footage contained in his video in no way reflects what the Israeli public thinks. If Max went to a bar in any college town in the United States he would find the same level of ignorance and racism. Ron Kampeas at the JTA has written that I need “to grow up and put [my talents] to good use.” (While Kampeas praised some of my other video reports exposing right-wing Christians, this latest video revealing the extremism of some Israeli and American Jews seemed to hit too close to home.)
The criticism of my video raised an interesting journalistic issue: Is reporting any less credible when interview subjects are drinking alcohol? Of course not. Journalists interview people at bars all the time, especially in broadcast packages. Beer does not, to my knowledge, contain a special drug that immediately infects drinkers with white supremacist sentiments, violent rhetoric, and anti-democratic tendencies. I get drunk as much as any social drinker and I have never called for “white power” or declared, “fuck the niggers!” as one of my interviewees did. No amount of alcohol could make me express opinions that were not authentically mine. If anything, alcohol is a crude form of truth serum that lubricates the release of closely held opinions and encourages confessional talk.
The notion that the racist diatribes in my video emerged spontaneously from a beery void is a delusion, but for some, it is a necessary one. It allows them to erect a psychological barrier against acknowledging the painful consequences of prolonged Zionist indoctrination. And it enables them to dismiss the disturbing spectacle of young Jews behaving like fascist soccer hooligans in the heart of the capitol of Israel and the spiritual home of the Jewish people.
The people in my video were not white trash, nor were they the “extreme right-wing fringe” as some bloggers have called them. They were the college-educated sons and daughters of middle and upper class American Jews from cosmopolitan metropolises and genteel suburbs. Some had come to Israel on vacation, some had made aliyah, and some told me they were planning to move to Israel in the near future. Many were dual citizens of America and Israel. They may have behaved in a moronic way, but they will not grow up to toil in the custodial arts. Many of these kids will move into white-collar jobs and use their influence to advance Israeli initiatives. Programs like Birthright Israel — a few of those in my video were on Birthright tours — exist for the exclusive purpose of indoctrinating American Jews into unyielding, unthinking supporters of Israel. Thus the kids in my video represent at least one aspect of the Zionist project’s future base of political sustenance.
I do not and have never claimed that the characters that appeared in my video were representative of general public opinion in Israel. They reflect only a slice of reality, which is reality nonetheless. On the other hand, a new Yedioth Aronoth poll finds a vast majority of the Israeli public holds a negative opinion of Obama and believes he is biased toward the Palestinians. A top minister in Israel’s government has compared Obama to Pharaoh, claiming his call for a settlement freeze is like casting Jewish children into the river. A group of rightists have launched a campaign against “the anti-Semitic Obama,” apparently convinced they can make inroads with the general public.
Behind the Israeli view of Obama lies a climate of extremism that exploded into the open when the country attacked Gaza. Today, extremist sentiment hovers well above the surface. A groundbreaking study of Israeli attitudes published in the wake of the Gaza war by the Tel Aviv University political psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal, who I recently interviewed, found that “Israeli Jews’ consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal commented to me that the army is the primary vehicle for stoking the nationalism of young Israelis. “Some countries are states without armies,” he said. “But Israel today is an army without a state. There is no civilian institution capable of restraining the army’s influence.”
In an interview with me two days ago, the famed Israeli author David Grossman echoed Bar-Tal’s findings, remarking, “The country is trapped in one legitimate narrative: that of the government, which is of paranoia, and every event serves this narrative. Those events that don’t are simply overlooked.”
I have been in Israel for over a month; almost every day I hear expressions of paranoia about Arabs, historical delusions, and the constant refrain that “the world is against us.” I hear this even from some close friends — young, cosmopolitan Israelis living the good life in the so-called “bubble city” of Tel Aviv. Last week, a friend I play basketball with in a working class suburb of Tel Aviv (he is a high-tech worker from a fifth generation Israeli family) calmly informed me while we sat in the shade by the court: “I’m a Zionist, so of course I prefer the bloodshed on the other side.” While sitting at a bar with an elegant and otherwise charming young woman, she described to me while sipping a mixed drink how she arbitrarily shot at Arabs while serving in the army because “they want to come and steal my house.” On a leafy Tel Aviv street, a friend of a friend who splits time between spinning at local hip-hop clubs and patrolling the streets of Gaza City told me if Israel has to kill 800 Palestinians to save one Israeli Jew, then so be it. “If we wanted to, we could completely wipe Gaza out,” he said. “But we don’t because the IDF is pure.”
Since Gaza, vocal opponents of the Occupation have found themselves increasingly marginalized and are hounded by the authorities (see the New Profile raid, Ezra Nawi, Sami Jubreir, and on and on). Meanwhile, Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteynu party’s unapologetically racist campaign has taken the form of a stream of bills working through the Knesset that would criminalize observance of the Palestinian Nakbah, ban public discussion of a bi-national state, and allow towns to ban people from entering their limits who do not subscribe to Zionist ideals. The bills keep coming like a flood; already, the Nakbah ban has passed a committee vote.
A straight line can be drawn from the rhetoric depicted in my video to the rise of Lieberman, a proto-fascist who draws a startling degree of political strength from Israel’s youth by channeling their innermost fears and resentments. In fact, the author of the Nakbah ban is a 28-year-old named Alex Miller – the youngest ever member of the Knesset and the chairman of Beiteynu’s youth wing. In an interview, Miller told me he introduced the bill simply because, “the Israeli public believes in loyalty.” He added, “Since the founding of our party we have grown in strength. We have never changed our platform and we are seeing increasing support from the public.”
Despite the Huffington Post’s rejection of my video report, it has exploded across the blogosphere. Even the rapper 50 Cent posted it prominently on his official website. It two days it has garnered 100,000 views. I hope those who have watched it, especially those predisposed to dismiss it as anti-Israel propaganda or shock video with “no news value,” will at least ask how vitriolic levels of racism are able to flow through the streets of Jerusalem like sewage, why the grandsons of Holocaust survivors feel compelled to offer the Shoah as justification to behave like fascist street thugs, and how the sons and daughters of successful Jewish American families casually merged Zionist cant with crude white supremacism. The willful avoidance of these painful questions by self-proclaimed supporters of Israel is setting the stage for the complete delegitimization of the country they claim to love. As Obama said, “any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it.”