The New York Times has managed to avoid mentioning Max Blumenthal during the entire of month of December. In normal circumstances, this would be hard to explain: four years ago, with his first book, Blumenthal garnered a place on the paper’s best seller list, and this fall he came out with another blockbuster that has people talking and debating, vociferously.
In 2009 Blumenthal skewered the radical right in Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. This time, in Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, he has exposed the racism, paranoia and the slide toward fascism in Israel.
As Blumenthal noted in an interview on Counterspin, he used the same techniques in reporting on Israel as he did in Republican Gomorrah, immersing himself in the culture for more than four years. The result this time is a wide-ranging look at Israeli society from the time of the state’s inception to the present.
Goliath provides close looks at Israel’s plan to ethnically cleanse the Negev Desert of its indigenous Bedouin, its racist rejection of African refugees, the brutal policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, its suppression of dissent and the rants of politicians and ordinary people against Palestinians and non-Jews. It also includes encounters with courageous Israeli Jews who oppose what the state is doing
The book has evoked outrage and praise, sparking debates in print and in public forums. Eric Alterman has attacked it three times in The Nation (see here for one example); Chris Hedges praised it on Truthdig; Natasha Lennard at Salon.com gave it a warm reception; Larry Gross, director of the USC Annenberg School of Communications, commended it; Alan Dershowitz attacked Blumenthal’s father (a former Clinton aide) for defending his son’s book; Liel Leibovitz dismissed it as fiction; and Sohrab Ahmari, assistant book editor at the Wall Street Journal, tweeted that he has thrown two review copies of the book into his trash can.
Blumenthal also has shared the stage with academics such as Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania and Gabriel Piterberg of UCLA to discuss the book.
All this means that Blumenthal and Goliath are eminently newsworthy. Under normal circumstance the Times would review the book, run a piece about the controversy, and perhaps express dismay, asking what happened to such a promising writer who wrote a bestseller four years ago. But the Times has a special treatment for books like Goliath and their authors, and that is silence.
The silence is all the more striking in contrast with the thunderous ovation the paper has given to a very different book also published this fall, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit. The book was featured and praised no fewer than four times: on the front page of the Sunday Book Review, in a separate review within the daily paper and in columns by Thomas Friedman and David Brooks.
The Shavit book admits that Israel was founded on ethnic cleansing and massacres, such as the one at Lod (Lydda), but it holds that all that was necessary to bring the new state into being. It opposes the occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s anti-democratic trend but presents Israel as a refuge and under existential threat from hostile Arabs. (See Jerome Slater’s careful critique of the book’s misrepresentations concerning Israeli history with Arab states.)
This fits into a technique often described by Alan Dershowitz in his defense of Israel, the “80 percent” strategy. Allow for 20 percent criticism of the state but be sure to emphasize 80 percent to the good. Shavit may be more honest in his critique of Israel, he may go beyond 20 percent in his condemnations, but the effect is to appear as 100 percent objective, whether you are giving the full truth or not.
The Times is comfortable with this approach, which allows Israel to retain its aura of legitimacy while opening the door to a limited amount of criticism. Goliath, however, exposes a much more disturbing truth about the state, and it must be shunned. It seems that the Times hopes to generate so much noise about the Shavit book that readers won’t hear the uproar surrounding Goliath.