There is no more “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt at a framework agreement failed. Liberal Zionist groups like J Street have nothing left to challenge Israel over building settlements except for the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, according to journalist Max Blumenthal.
Blumenthal, who is the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, is the guest on “Unauthorized Disclosure” this week. Rania Khalek and I talk to him about the American left—how it collectively has responded to BDS as well as his work on Israel. We discuss how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is justifying the force-feeding of Palestinian hunger strikers by pointing to the US military’s force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees. We also talk about some of his other work around an immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
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While there has been a lot of focus on the backlash to his book, Blumenthal notes that he has “gotten a lot of support for the book” in the months since it was published. “That’s something that’s been overlooked.”
“One of the most favorable reviews of the book was by Akiva Elder, who covered politics for Haaretz, one of the four main newspapers in Israel, for thirty-five years and said this book describes the reality that I’ve been living in for my whole life, which I forgot existed around me because I’d become so immune and inured to it,” he explains. “If you look at Haaretz’s reporting and some of their columns, [it's] almost like a mimeograph or very condensed dissemination of the key themes in my book of Israel veering toward fascism under the control of an authoritarian government that’s dictated by the imperatives of a lawless occupation.”
Blumenthal notes the many screeds that were written by The Nation’s Eric Alterman to attack him but says they largely failed because the left rose to the occasion and pushed back. “They’re sick of seeing these kinds of books and critiques be suppressed.” In the end, it amounted to “a lot of free publicity.”
Blumenthal supports the overall progressive mission of The Nation and notes he still has a good professional relationship with the publication but criticized the magazine for failing to take a position on BDS as a tactic.
“They told me they were going to debate BDS and kind of take a position on it and I haven’t seen that magazine take a position,” Blumenthal says. “And they continue hosting debates between people, who support it because they support equality for Palestinians, versus opponents of Palestinian equality, who are Zionists like Bernard Avishai who lives in an Arab home in Jerusalem whose residents were ethnically cleansed.”
“I just don’t understand how a progressive magazine, which takes really strong positions on other issues and doesn’t say, let’s have a debate between someone who believes climate change is real and someone who believes climate change is a hoax,” he adds. “They would never do that but they continue to do this on BDS and won’t take a position and I think that’s one of the failures of the left.”
Rep. Alan Grayson introduced a bill prohibiting federal funding to higher institutions of learning that participate in a boycott of Israel.
On Grayson’s attack on free speech, Blumenthal states, “My understanding of Grayson is that he’s taking the initiative personally on things like this and boasted that he is one of the Jewish members of Congress, who supported Israel during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, because he is personally passionate about Israel and Zionism and he just believes in Israel as a progressive and will not listen to critiques from the outside.”
Blumenthal continues, “What he’s done is something I think every liberal no matter what they think about BDS should reject and condemn which is to sanction an academic institution for expressing the democratic will of its members.”
“It is the pinnacle of neo-McCarthyism what Grayson is doing and we’re still not hearing much. I think that the word needs to get out that he’s done this. That’s he’s issued this bill to sanction the American Studies Association for supporting boycott of Israeli academic institution but we still haven’t heard much from his liberal supporters.”
Photo by Yossi Gurvitz under Creative Commons license