For those who have not already escaped the white-washed American and Israeli narrative on the country, the book will shatter idealized notions of the Zionist state.
Blumenthal’s Goliath is an exploration of an increasingly extremist, racist, and militaristic Israel. Mirroring the rise of right wing politics in America, but on a much larger scale, the growing Israeli Jewish Right, as Blumenthal argues, has stifled the voices of minority groups and dissenting Israelis.
The author of a New York Times best seller, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party and a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera, and other publications, Blumenthal researched and travelled throughout Israel for four years while working on Goliath.
His immersion in Israeli society is clearly evident through succinct chapters filled with quotes and anecdotes about his experiences within the increasingly radicalized and extremist Israeli state.
When Blumenthal first began his research in 2009, Israel had just elected the most right wing government in its history.
As the country plodded through a transitional period, which began with the breakdown of negotiations at Camp David in 2000, Blumenthal was there to document the descent into an increasingly nationalistic and, in his words, fascist state.
He artfully exposes the impact of this transition on people living in Israel – Jews, Palestinians, and immigrants –and compares its significance to the events of 1948, when the indigenous Palestinian population was expelled and driven out of historic Palestine by proto-Israeli forces.
Through his skillfully woven narrative, Blumenthal illuminates a state where right wing leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have sacrificed democracy and the civil rights of Palestinians and other minorities in the name of self-preservation, national security, and the quest for a Jewish majority.
In particular, Blumenthal’s book illustrates one of the major problems in Israel today, namely a persisting state of emergency. Since the country’s inception, the Israeli government has not lifted the emergency law. Through the perpetual extension of emergency status, the state has been able to justify the regulation of just about anything in the name of national security.
In chapters such as “A Lesson in Israeli Democracy” and “These Things that Were Done to Us,” Blumenthal presents examples of individual and group persecution conducted by the state in the name of preserving Israeli security.
In presenting these vignettes, the author helps readers understand what these events say about the alarming degree of authoritarianism in Israel today.
In describing the experience of one human rights activist, Ameer Makhoul, Blumenthal writes:
Makhoul’s arrest exposed the state’s spying as an aggressive, hell-bent operation that had recorded thousands of his phone calls – as many as thirteen thousand – over the last decade… In days after Makoul’s arrest, while Abdu [his wife] and her allies sought for his where-abouts, the Shin Bet held him incommunicado, apparently torturing him during long interrogations designed to coerce him into confessing his “crime.”
Blumenthal tells the story of many others like Makhoul – peaceful protesters who have led the resistance against Israel’s objectionable policies and been brutally punished. While these stories alone are moving, the heart-breaking implication is that there are many more who have lived the same experiences.
As for the all-to-familiar use of the Holocaust as justification for Israel’s existence, Blumenthal turns this common trope on its head by pointing out the similarities between Nazi Germany and Netanyahu’s Israel.
Chapter titles such as “The Night of Broken Glass,” “Banning Books,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “The Concentration Camp,” are direct references to the Holocaust. These chapters describe societal and governmental racism against both Palestinians and African refugees.
In an interview about Goliath with Democracy Now, Blumenthal spoke about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and steady creep of settlements, in a way that emphasizes the racially-motivated actions of the Israeli state:
There are 80,000 Bedouins living in the Negev desert who are Israeli citizens, who serve in the Israeli army. They live in unrecognized communities. Because they’re not Jewish, they can’t hook up to the electricity grid, they can’t get public services, they can’t have health clinics. And now, under a new plan called the Prawer Plan, which was just approved in the Israeli Knesset, 40,000 of them will be removed from their homes, ethnically cleansed, and forced into communities where they’ll be “concentrated.”
As Blumenthal’s book clearly shows, those who immigrated to Israel to escape the memory of Nazi persecution bred a generation that is applying the same techniques used by the Nazis on populations under its control.
Blumenthal argues that the Holocaust has been exploited to advance Israel’s nationalistic goals. Palestinians and Arabs as a whole have been vilified, creating a society of Jewish Israelis who believe that reducing or eliminating the state’s militaristic character would be tantamount to inviting the Arabs to exterminate them.
Though the comparison to Nazi Germany is ironic, it is a bitter irony that forces the reader to wonder: “How could a people escaping such a horrific past bear to inflict the same pain on others?”
While many books on Israel have focused solely on the issue of Palestinian persecution, Blumenthal’s book delves into other forms of discrimination within Israel that have long been ignored.
Through his first hand experiences in Tel Aviv Blumenthal gives readers a sense of the hatred and violence unleashed against African refugees who have sought asylum in Israel.
In “The Night of Broken Glass,” Blumenthal paints a chilling scene reminiscent of both the Black Peril trials in colonial Kenya, in which Kenyan men were wrongfully accused of raping white women, and Nazi propaganda, accusing Jews of plotting to take over the world:
Another speaker declared that the greatest threat to Israel was African refugees, claiming they had been shepherded into Israel by Arab states in a devious plot to upend the Jewish demographic majority… “A Sudanese man will rape you and then you’ll cry,” said a bald man wearing aviator sunglasses who appeared to be in his late thirties… A chant erupted from the crowd: “Nigger, nigger, you’re a son of a bitch!”
Blumenthal’s book describes a once liberal Tel Aviv that has degenerated into a hateful city whose inhabitants have spearheaded campaigns for the construction of the world’s largest prison, the prohibition of non-Jewish immigration into the country, and the construction of a wall on Israel’s African border. In one chilling account, he describes how Tel Aviv residents came together to smash the windows of non-Jewish homes and businesses in the city.
As Israel continues to transforms into a virulent, fascist state, Blumenthal’s book ends with a glimmer of hope. He reports that one- thirteenth of all Israelis currently live outside of the country. Many of these individuals are affluent, educated, secular, and liberal.
These expatriates told Blumenthal they are relieved to be out of the country and immersed in more multicultural and tolerant societies where they feel free to forge friendships with people of all backgrounds.Hopefully these citizens will return home to Israel and help affect change in ways that will bring about a much-needed social and cultural revolution inside the country.
For more on Goliath, watch this in-depth interview on the book with Max Blumenthal: