July 15, 2009

Blumenthal Feels the Hate

Max Blumenthal, son of former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, made quite a splash on the Internet recently when he posted a video portraying drunken Americans in Israel hurling racist epithets against President Barack Obama. One of his subjects even shouted “white power!” Blumenthal titled his video “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,” as if inebriated ugly Americans abroad reflect in any way on the opinions of people who live in Jerusalem. You can’t watch the video because YouTube removed it due to a “terms of service violation.”

Blumenthal is back with a sequel, however. This one is called Feeling the Hate in Tel Aviv. The Huffington Post pulled the plug, but it’s still available on YouTube at the time of this writing.

This time around, he features Israelis, not foreigners, who might even live in Tel Aviv. But just like in the first installment of his juvenile series, he goes out of his way to showcase Israelis with offensive opinions. While attending the White Night music festival, for instance, he managed to find two individuals who don’t like Iranians. “I hate them,” said one. “I hate them all,” said another. If he asked anyone else what they thought of Iranians, their response did not make the cut.

It might have been interesting if Blumenthal had aired the opinions of a large number Israelis about their feelings for Iranians when Israel and Iran are in a state of cold war — especially now that millions have risked beatings and worse while taking to the Iranian streets and screaming “death to the dictator.” (It would also be worthwhile for a reporter to canvass Iranian public opinion among those attending anti-regime rallies and ask what they think about the people of Israel.) The “Green Revolution” broke out in Iran after Blumenthal shot his footage. But he apparently doesn’t care whether he makes Israelis look like anti-Iranian bigots at a time when most of the world has just learned that Iranians detest the deranged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as much as everyone else.

After editing out or ignoring the opinions of thousands of reasonable Israelis at the White Night festival, he proceeded toward Tel Aviv University, where he edited out or ignored the opinions of reasonable people on campus.

“Do you think they [Israeli Arabs] are traitors?” he asked a student. “Yeah,” said the student. Another said he wants to see Israelis of Arab descent at the university deported to Gaza. “If you want to keep democracy,” said yet another, “you can’t let people protest against the country.” And so on.

There’s nothing wrong with quoting extremists. And there’s nothing wrong with focusing exclusively on extremists if they’re the subject. I’ve done it. Lots of journalists do it. Responsible journalists, though, make it clear to their audience that extremists are, well, extremists.

Here’s the problem with Blumenthal’s series: I’ve met exactly one person in Israel who talked like the people he featured in his videos. And I’ve been there twice when tempers were flaring, when Israel was under mortar, rocket, and missile attack. It’s certainly possible that I’ve met more than one person like Blumenthal’s crowd without knowing it. Perhaps a few of my interview subjects had the good sense to keep their bigoted thoughts to themselves. I don’t wander around Israel, or any other country, trying to bait people like Borat. In any case, since Blumenthal can’t be bothered to acknowledge that he went quote shopping, those of us familiar with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv ought to point out to everyone else that his videos don’t remotely represent average people who live there.

Author, historian, and Jerusalem resident Yaacov Lozowick didn’t take kindly to the first episode Blumenthal shot in his home town. “Say you’re interviewing the locals at Time Square about some matter,” he wrote, “so as to figure out what Americans think. Inevitably, you’ll come across a lot of tourists, it being Time Square, but what are the chances you’ll find not a single card-carrying American? And if that happens, and you then post your video to Youtube to castigate America, what does that tell us about you?”

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 15, 2009 11:09 AM

I look forward to good ol' Max's upcoming videos: "Feeling the Love in Gaza" and "Feeling the Love in Riyadh."

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 1:53 PM

Some characters in Jerusalem video are plain disgusting, but there is something seriously wrong with these two, Blumenthal and Rosenfeld.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 3:58 PM

Message to Mr. Blumenthal: Hey, Max! When the bigots and hate peddlers in Israel start organizing and chanting "Death to (fill-in-the-blank)", let me know, okay? I'll concede your point then.

Posted by: ElMondo Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 7:11 PM

Thank you Michael. I thought the same thing. I spent a week with a group of seriously HARD core right wing israelis, and yeah, I heard some grumbling that embarrassed me -- for example, since Israeli Arabs live better than any other Arabs in the whole ME, they have no business complaining about their (admittedly!) second class status. But I never heard anything close to the dreck Blumenthal rooted around for coming from Israelis -- it came from some Americans who were along, though.

I wonder too, if he'd asked Tel Avivans what they think about extreme Haredi Jews, if he might not have gotten even worse comments -- that was something I have heard on 3 trips to Israel, from non-Orthodox Jerusalemites and TA and northern residents. Or ask the Haredis about Tel Avivans!

He goes on to blame his findings entirely on IDF-- 'an army without a state.' (An awfully revealing choice of words, don't you think?) Even assuming a significant segment of Israelis do feel as he says -- could it have anything at all to do with 60 years of nonstop hostility and physical and verbal abuse from the entire neighborhood?

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 10:09 PM


Like you, I've heard far more embarrassingly bigoted comments about Arabs and, especially, Palestinians from Americans than from Israelis. I wonder what Blumenthal would have to say about that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 10:18 PM

I've often wondered about the de facto second-class status of Israeli Arabs. Does anyone in Israel argue for mandatory conscription of Arabs as a solution, since their lack of military service is the only legitimate excuse that can be made? I'm sure it's a fringe issue, if it exists at all, but I have to wonder if Jewish extremists would be just as opposed.

Posted by: johnchen Author Profile Page at July 15, 2009 11:57 PM

Like you, I've heard far more embarrassingly bigoted comments about Arabs and, especially, Palestinians from Americans than from Israelis.

I've never even talked to an Israeli in person, but I have to admit I've heard Americans say some pretty awful things said about Arabs. And I've gotten so many weird looks from friends and family when I mention Arab blogs that I don't even mention them anymore. Maybe Blumenthal lives in such rarefied atmosphere he doesn't hear what Americans talk about, except when he's giggling over the dumb things people say while being interviewed on the street by Jay Leno.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at July 16, 2009 12:09 AM

johnchen - When Lieberman suggested a loyalty pledge and conscription as a way to re-integrate Israeli Arabs, he was called a racist, so be careful!

Druze and Circassian Arabs are already conscripted, and many Bedouin also serve; Arabs have reached very high ranks. There are some limitations to the highly sensitive roles for them -- so far, no fighter pilots, and the first female Israeli Arab CSAR medic was just approved -- by accident, but her record was so exemplary the unit insisted on keeping her.

Palestinian Arabs can volunteer, or choose National Service, but few do, and they are actively discouraged by their own Israeli-Arab leaders.

The issues for IDF are asking them to go into combat against relatives (quite literally) as well as the dilemma of knowing where loyalty lies for people who generally call themselves Palestinians, want to keep Israeli citizenship, but do not believe in a Jewish state.

Frankly, I was with Lieberman on this piece. He also applied it to the ultra-Orthodox Jews, which was even more popular with many Israelis, since some of the same kinds of issues arise.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at July 16, 2009 7:47 AM

AZZenny, thanks for the info. It just seems like there can still be plenty of ways to try working around such issues, though, especially since resolving the problems of Israeli Arabs would go a long way towards solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in general.

Posted by: johnchen Author Profile Page at July 16, 2009 11:51 PM

The original Youtube banned Hate in Jerusalem can be found here at wejew.com.

The new one, in case it gets banned, can also be found at wejew.com, Hate in Tel Aviv at this link.

As expected, the language is rather nasty. Not for young children.

Posted by: AkivaM Author Profile Page at July 17, 2009 3:06 AM

The concept of Arab Israelis fighting FOR Israel against their co-religionists (cousins or whatever) is interesting.
The argument never sees the light of day when arabs fight against Arabs (Muslim against Muslim) in what is often literally fratricide.
To put it more broadly, there were many instances of Jews fighting Jews (Franco-Prussian war and World war I come immediately to mind.
I think education has a lot to do with it; not just in the school but in the home.
But in Israel as in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza it is the leadership which calls the tune and the people be damned.

Posted by: JB Author Profile Page at July 17, 2009 8:50 AM

The videos are extremely revolting but don't surprise me that much.

This is just anecdotal but I have some experiences to share as well. I have been traveling to Israel 2-3 times per year for work reasons (I wouldn't make that sort of haul from the west coast for any other reason). Anyway, after some time, I have developed some rapport with the people I work with there and we frequently go out for dinner or drinks after work. I usually turn conversation to politics and foreign relations. Here is what I have observed...

1) Almost no one in Israel likes Obama. (fair enough, almost no one in Alabama likes Obama but for different reasons)

2) The Israelis are extremely nationalistic (my country right or wrong) and jingoistic.

3) Israelis are extremely paranoid. Perhaps because they feel their survival depends on it. However, this leads to pre-emptive military action as well as pretty poor work relations with some US couterparts.

4) Most of the people I have talked with have zero sympathy for any Palestinian. Direct result of item 2 above.

5) If you disagree with them, they try to shout you down and get very combative which makes for a hostile work environment. Perhaps that is just cultural but conversational discourse in Israel is by my standards somewhat barbaric. Therefore, I don't express contrary opinions on political issues.

Overall, I can't say that as a US citizen, that I would want to support their perspective or their nation. I haven't had much interaction with any Palestinians or Lebanese in Israel. The only interaction I have with any Lebanese is in the US at work.

Of course, this is anecdotal but it is my experience.

Posted by: Graham Author Profile Page at July 18, 2009 12:16 PM

"almost no one in Alabama likes Obama"

Obama got 39% of the vote there, and 26% of its population is black. That's hardly "almost no one."

"If you disagree with them, they try to shout you down and get very combative which makes for a hostile work environment."

It's hard to make a judgment here without knowing what your own position was in these debates, and your tendency to make broad generalizations based on the words and actions of a few individuals doesn't really instill confidence that what you were trying to argue with them was reasonable.

Posted by: johnchen Author Profile Page at July 18, 2009 7:29 PM

1) It would seem more and more people beginning not to like Obama period. For various reasons, of cause.

2), 3), 4) - I'd say Israelis have plenty of reasons to be as they are. BTW, what you see as paranoia may actually be a legitimate concern.

4) - Israelis got complacent once or twice. Ever heard of Yom Kipur war or Second Lebanon war?

5) - That may be. However, I think it is just a form of social behavior rather than prelude to violence. Try taking it a bit further to be certain.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at July 18, 2009 7:51 PM

Graham above says of Israelis: "If you disagree with them, they try to shout you down and get very combative." That's a perfect description of my "anti-Zionist" cousin, or so he describes himself, a retired newspaper editor in his 70s, who is as die-hard leftist as they come. Back in 2001, I broached the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and when I started to say something in Israel's defense (quietly, not stridently), he started in with "you're wrong, you're wrong" and just kept repeating that like a mantra over and over. There was no way for me to get a word in edgewise. I hear that's what it's like all over college campuses these days.

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at July 18, 2009 9:04 PM

John Chen,

You're trying really hard to connect dots that aren't there to be connected. You seem to not understand the meaning of the word anecdotal.

If you're ever in Israel just try to argue in favor of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Even if that's not your personal position, try playing devil's advocate. I dare you. See what happens.

Most of my experiences were with folks in Kiryat-Gat which is damn close (maybe 10-15 miles?) to Gaza so I can understand a bit of paranoia. However, excessive paranoia will eventually lead to bad decisions.

Like I said, this was anecdotal and the people there are mostly limited to a certain profession and socio-economic status. Perhaps I shouldn't say Israelis above, instead, "the Israelis I talked to". However, if they are at all indicative then I don't see the video from Max Blumenthal as all that surprising. For all I know, some of the people in the video could be the children of people I worked with. The people I talked to were better spoken, weren't drunk, didn't use foul language and didn't appear to be overtly racist but many of the same sentiments were present.

Posted by: Graham Author Profile Page at July 19, 2009 11:15 AM

I'm involved with a project at a hospital in Israel that does life-saving heart surgery on children aged 0 - 18 years of age, from Third World countries, for free. So far, they have done heart surgeries on more than 2100 kids, about half of whom are Palestinian and the rest from places like Russia, Moldova, Rumania, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Ecuador. They have recently been taking kids from Iraq. In addition, the doctors also go to some of these places to train the professionals there. The love, compassion, and dedication of this Israeli team may surprise you, Graham. Based on the Israelis I know, it doesn't surprise me at all.

Posted by: Harold Author Profile Page at July 19, 2009 11:27 AM

Graham, I understand they were anecdotal observations, but you were unquestionably making broad generalizations based on them.

If you're ever in Israel just try to argue in favor of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Fair enough, I have never been to Israel, and the Israelis I know are mostly doves and probably not representative of the whole either. But I don't see any reason not to trust polls, which always show a sizable plurality, if not a clear majority, in favor of the two-state solution. And yes, that is my personal position as well.

Posted by: johnchen Author Profile Page at July 19, 2009 11:33 AM

Sorry, "plurality" was not the right word. I meant a sizable number in general.

Posted by: johnchen Author Profile Page at July 19, 2009 11:35 AM
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