Meanwhile, liberal-ish writer Eric Alterman is continuing his attacks on Blumenthal, most recently by complaining about an article published in Salon, written by Natasha Lennard:
I have always respected Salon’s standards, both ethical and journalistic, in the past and hence I must admit to surprise that these appear to have been so casually discarded in the interview with Max Blumenthal published under the (ridiculous) headline, “Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak out.” I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked any further into this controversy than was necessitated by my initially agreeing—at the behest of my editors at The Nation—to devote my regular column to Blumenthal’s book which was published by Nation Books and was to be excerpted in the magazine. Following the column, I explained myself in a blog post, added a few details for which I had no room, and would have been happy to end the matter there. Since then, I have been forced to address falsehood after falsehood put forth by Blumenthal and his defenders and now, because this is Salon and not some other publication known for its dishonesty and/or anti-Zionist fanaticism, I am forced to do so once again. So let’s get it over with….
As I wrote, two or three “last time I’ll write about this” agos from Alterman – we’ll see.
Here is Max Blumenthal, addressing the foundation, and then taking questions for about half an hour:
The initial attack on Max Blumenthal’s new book, released October 1st, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (currently No. 2 on Amazon’s history of Israel best seller list), was led by Eric Alterman, writing for the November 4th edition of The Nation. Alterman condemned the book, using the now widely reported terms for it as “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” and “Hamas Book-of-the-Month” selection. Within days of Alterman posting his first critical essay at The Nation, he posted another. Then, in response to detailed critiques of Alterman’s analyses of the book by Blumenthal and others, Alterman jumped in a third time.
Alterman initially refused to appear in any forum with Blumenthal, to discuss or debate the book’s content and subject matter, but has now indicated he might show up “for $10,000 plus expenses, paid in advance.”
Goliath has received a number of positive reviews. Perhaps the most comprehensive was that by Chris Hedges, posted at Truthdig:
There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality [the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism].
This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s ’Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel’ one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.
Even as Alterman led the attacks, he was quickly outdone in the dismissive, yet somewhat shallow tone he introduced. Wall Street Journal Assistant Book Editor, Sohrab Ahmari, announced on Twitter:
What may have turned out to be the most disturbing element introduced by Alterman, was his bringing Max Blumenthal’s father, Sidney Blumenthal, into the argument. What seemed to some as an innocuous comment in Alterman’s first article, has turned into a sordid campaign by even more sordid people, to attack both the elder Blumenthal, and Hillary and Bill Clinton, and their foundation. The hits have devolved from Buzzfeed.com to Breitbart.com to white supremacist Robert Stacy McCain’s blog, as the threats have escalated.
In a follow-up blog post after the initial review, Alterman wrote that he had become the target of emails sent around by Blumenthal to friends and associates as a result of his review of the book.
‘I attribute to these friendly relations the fact that until now, Sid Blumenthal had not seen fit to make me the object of any of the unflattering e-mails he so often sends around to journalists and others — myself included — about individuals of whom he disapproves,’ Alterman wrote. ‘Privately, I worried that by telling the truth about his son’s book, I would soon hear of nasty e-mails about me sent by Sid to our mutual friends and professional acquaintances. Call it “bizarre,” if you will, but sadly, that’s just what happened.’
BuzzFeed obtained one of the Blumenthal emails from a source; it features a copied-and-pasted article from the anti-Zionist blog Mondoweiss, sent with the subject line ‘Fact-checking Eric Alterman on Goliath.‘ The article in question, by writer Phan Nguyen, calls on The Nation to retract Alterman’s review, describes Alterman as an “unreliable narrator,” and states that he has “undermined his self-proclaimed status as a conscientious critic of the Israeli occupation.”
Gray pursued the links between Sidney Blumenthal and the Clintons:
Several phone calls and emails to the Clinton Foundation seeking clarification on Blumenthal’s role in the organization went unanswered. A BuzzFeed reporter who went to the Clinton Foundation’s offices in New York on Tuesday seeking the organization’s most recent IRS 990 form was turned away.
“We don’t know what you’re referring to,” said Clinton Foundation spokesperson Nick Merill when asked about the emails and whether Hillary Clinton is aware of Blumenthal’s defense of Goliath. He copied Clinton spokespeople Philippe Reines and Matt McKenna on his response to BuzzFeed, as well as Sidney Blumenthal.
The pressure on Billary and the foundation was stepped up on November 8th, with that estimable source, Breitbart.com, giving space, in an article by Joel B. Pollack, to Alan Dershowitz:
On Friday, Dershowitz told Breitbart News that Sid Blumenthal’s vociferous advocacy for his son’s book could damage Hillary Clinton’s widely anticipated run for her party’s nomination for president in 2016.
Some supporters of Israeli politics have lobbied harsh, questionably accurate criticism at Goliath.
Released in September, 2009, it became a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. During the author’s book tour for Republican Gomorrah, Blumenthal was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, on CNN’s Morning Joe, and numerous other prime author venues. Reviews of the book, almost universally favorable, were printed in such mainstream outlets as Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, truth-out and others. Considering how difficult it is to get our mainstream media to look deeply into inconvenient aspects of fundamentalist Christianity, and how that plays out in GOP ideology, Republican Gomorrah was surprisingly well covered by them. Firedoglake hosted Max for a book salon session.
That coverage of his second book is far less universal is no surprise to those of us who have observed the rollout of books critical of aspects of Israeli society, or which look closely at the unhealthy role Zionists play in internal American politics. For instance, in 2007, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, was widely reviled in articles and reviews. However, in the six years since publication, the book’s impact has been seen as seminal, in forcing more and better informed open discussion of that lobby’s influence. Five years after publication, author Walt wrote:
[D]iscussions of the lobby and its impact have moved from the fringes of U.S. discourse to the mainstream. Today, one can read or watch people from Jon Stewart to Andrew Sullivan to Glenn Greenwald to David Remnick to Nicholas Kristof acknowledging the lobby’s role in shaping U.S. Middle East policy. Editorials in mainstream papers like the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times call for the U.S. government to adopt a tougher approach toward the Israeli government. More and more news stories on U.S. Middle East policy refer to the ‘Israel lobby’ as a serious political force, and not always in flattering terms. Even hard-line neoconservatives like David Frum now acknowledge the power of groups in the lobby, as in Frum’s recent complaint that Sarah Palin failed to appreciate the political benefits she could gain by choosing to visit Israel under the auspices of the Republican Jewish Coalition, instead of going on her own. Of course, our book and article are surely not the only reason for this shift in discourse, but we probably played a role.
A fairly modest claim.
Blumenthal has not been invited back on to Fresh Air or Morning Joe. Or on to any mainstream venues normally available to authors of his high caliber upon launch of a new book. Nor will he be, even if the book becomes a best seller, which is fairly likely.
The push-back against Max Blumenthal for Goliath is reminiscent to the reception of The Israel Lobby. One might say, though, that the militant Zionist hits against the new book are informed somewhat by what Zionist commentators have learned from Walt and Mearsheimer’s book.
The most savage attack on Blumenthal’s book was published in the November edition of The Nation, which is also publisher of Goliath. Progressive-ish writer and commentator, Eric Alterman, in an article called “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” castigated it with one-liners like “this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club.” Alterman’s article was immediately criticized for its inaccuracies and invective, perhaps most thoroughly by journalist Phan Nguyen, in an article initially published at Mondoweiss. I wrote about Alterman’s hit job and Nguyen’s comprehensive responses here, back on October 19th.
Alterman won’t let things go. Though he has failed to respond to Nguyen’s throughly researched critique, he has responded to the author’s rebuttal to the initial Alterman articles panning the book and its creator, concluding:
Literally nothing this fellow writes can be taken at face value. He shames all of us with his presence in our magazine.
One of the fascinating details of the lengthening Alterman-Blumenthal exchange at The Nation is that all of Blumenthal’s articles have allowed reader comments, but none of Alterman’s provide that feature.
Alterman also noted:
Blumenthal’s letter is no less dishonest and disingenuous than his dreadful book (a book, I hasten to add that has received virtually no attention in the print media, save in my column). I will answer each and every one of his charges in the order he makes them and then I hope and pray I will finally be done with this mishegas forever.
I really doubt that, Eric.
Between now and Saturday’s book salon with Max Blumenthal, there may be other reviews of the book, or negative articles such as those accumulating by or because of Alterman. I’ll update this post if that occurs.
1). Eric Alterman is claiming that Max Blumenthal’s Dad, Sydney Blumenthal, is attacking Alterman in emails. Yet Alterman, when asked to disclose the content of the alleged attacks, has refused to cooperate with the reporter to whom he is complaining:
Sidney Blumenthal, a close adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, has reportedlyundertaken an email campaign to defend a controversial book written by his son that compares Israel to Nazi Germany.
The book, written by Max Blumenthal, accuses Israel of being a fascist country and has chapter titles explicitly comparing the Jewish State to Nazi Germany, such as “The Concentration Camp” and “The Night of Broken Glass.”
According to the Nation columnist Eric Alterman, who harshly reviewed the book, long-time Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal has sent “nasty emails” to “our mutual friends and professional acquaintances” attacking him for “telling the truth about his son’s book.”
Alterman’s refusal to disclose specifics:
Alterman declined to give additional details on the contents of the alleged emails, telling the Free Beacon that “private emails deserve to stay private.” He said he only mentioned them in his column because “it was necessary to answer one of Max Blumenthal’s myriad charges.”
There’s an unpleasant little debate sloshing around the Web lately that tells you all you need to know — and perhaps more than you want to hear — about the current state of relations between Israel and the left.
The debate revolves around an unpleasant book published October 1 by Nation Books, titled “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” The author is Max Blumenthal, gonzo journalist, video provocateur and son of onetime Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal. The book is the product, the author says, of four years’ work, including more than a year living in Israel and the Palestinian territories to study the facts on the ground.
As his title makes clear, he didn’t think much of the place. He’s written a collection of 73 short vignettes, weaving together reportage, history and interviews to show the suffering and unbroken spirit of the Palestinians and the callous cruelty of the Israelis. Lest anyone miss the point, many of his chapters have titles like “The Concentration Camp,” “The Night of Broken Glass,” “This Belongs to the White Man” and “How to Kill Goyim and Influence People.”
The hottest debate, though, isn’t over the book itself. It’s about a magazine column devoted to the book. It appeared October 16 in the left-wing weekly The Nation, whose publishing arm put the book out. It’s by Eric Alterman, the magazine’s sharp-tongued media columnist. Its title: “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook.”
A prolific author, academic and liberal pundit, Alterman is regarded as a chronic Israel-basher by the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd, while devoted Israel-bashers call him a “member of the Israel lobby.” He stipulates that Israel’s “brutal occupation” inflicts “daily humiliations” on the Palestinians, but says Blumenthal “proves a profoundly unreliable narrator.” The book, he writes, shows “selectivity” toward truth. Its chapter titles are “juvenile,” its accounts “often deliberately deceptive.”
Mini pundit, Eric Alterman, has a long history of simply smearing journalist colleagues, when he can’t come up with a persuasive argument against their views. Here’s Alexander Cockburn, over a decade ago, recounting one of his experiences with Alterman:
On the last Nation cruise I was on a panel about nuclear proliferation. (Yes, even afloat off Baja California, the liberal conscience is always on guard duty.) Trying to juice up the panel a bit, I remarked that there was one bit of proliferation that seemed to me indisputably okay, which was when the Soviet Union acquired the know-how to make A and H bombs, thus ending the US monopoly on Armageddon, and in my view making the world a safer place. (My position, very shocking to Jonathan Schell, is that every country should have at least one thermonuclear device, if necessary donated by the World Bank along with the “national” flag.)
Nation and MSNBC mini-pundit Eric Alterman was chairing the session. He immediately shed any pretense of neutrality. Was Cockburn, he snarled at the audience, seeing something commendable in the transfer of atomic secrets to the most evil man the world had ever known?
Which shows just how dumb Alterman is, since at least 2/3rds of the audience of Nation seniors, the only subscribers who can afford to pony up for these cruises, were either in the Communist Party or in close sympathy with it. A chill silence greeted Alterman’s ill-mannered interruption and then one old boy piped up angrily and said that it was the Red Army which saved the day for the Allies at Stalingrad. Then Jonathan Schell remarked that my position was identical to that of Sakharov.
Alterman ended up looking silly, and so I wasn’t too surprised when one of the Nation guests sitting next to me at dinner reported Alterman was going around saying I was an anti-Semite.
I have no idea how Alterman got from the subject of Soviet possession of nuclear weapons to anti-Semitism, but Alterman seems to gather comfort from hurling that term at people whose views don’t mix well with his own.
Nader confused me by buying 1,200 copies of What Liberal Media? and distributing them to every student and faculty member of the Medill School of Journalism. He sent me a mimeographed note saying something like “What do you think of that, Eric?” I think the same thing I thought of the Iraq war, the destruction of the environment, legalized torture, domestic spying, the attack on the Constitution, on choice, on sex education, on science, etc. … “Thanks, Ralph.”
His blasts against Nader are often viewed as unreasonable. Commentator John Walsh:
Since the documentary lets all sides speak their piece, two of Nader’s principal detractors, Todd Gitlin and Eric Alterman, are given considerable time to dispense their venom. In fact, after a half hour of interviewing, the director had to beg Alterman to talk some more, getting another five minutes out of him. This has not prevented Alterman from claiming that he was not given adequate time to spew his opinions. Both Alterman and Gitlin come across as very bitter men, capable of nothing more than ad hominem attacks on Nader. It is quite a disgusting sight, enough to forever disabuse one of any trust in these fellows.
Hamas is clearly at war with Israel. Hamas feels empowered to strike Israeli civilians inside Israel proper and not just on the war zone of West Bank. Sheik Salah Shehada could have protected his family by keeping away from them. He didn’t and owing to his clear legitimacy as a military target, they are dead too.
So tough luck, fella.
War is hell.
Journalist Phan Nguyen, commenting on Alterman’s most recent attack on author Max Blumenthal, notes:
In other words, Alterman justified the bombing with the following three points:
1. Since Hamas targeted Israeli civilians, the Israeli military had the right to kill Palestinian civilians.
2. It was Shehada’s fault for living with his family that resulted in his family being killed by Israel.
3. “War is hell.”
Alterman’s recent smear against Blumenthal is published in the November 4th edition of The Nation, where Alterman has been a writer for decades. The Nation is also the publisher of Max Blumenthal’s second book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which was released on October 1st.
Alterman is the first well-known commentator to damn Blumenthal’s book. In reviews by Publishers Weekly, M.J. Rosenberg, Al Monitor, and Huffington Post, the book has been either praised or given context that observes the quality of the many, many portraits contained in the volume’s 73 chapters.
Criticism of Alterman’s rant has been effusive from the anti-Zionist left, and from some who are more neutral on the issues dividing Alterman and Blumenthal.
The most direct replies to Alterman’s Nation essays on this have come from Alterman’s Brooklyn College colleague, political scientist Corey Robin:
Even if you haven’t read Blumenthal’s book, it’s not hard to see that Alterman is writing out of an animus he can’t get a hold of. His prose gives him away.
Alterman writes, for example, “And its [Goliath’s] larding of virtually every sentence with pointless adjectives designed to demonstrate the author’s distaste for his subject is as amateurish as it is ineffective.” A writer more in control would have seen that it’s not possible for an adjective to be both “pointless” and “designed to demonstrate the author’s distaste for his subject.” Also, that it’s not wise to lambast the use of adjectives with a sentence deploying three of them—and then to follow that up with a sentence using two more.
As it happens, however, I have written about Max’s book on my blog, and Alterman’s portrait bears little resemblance to the book I read.
Where Alterman finds only “juvenile faux-cleverness,” a “case against the Jewish state” that is “carelessly constructed,” reporting that is “technically accurate [!], but often deliberately deceptive,” arguments that are “simplistic and one-sided,” and “a profoundly unreliable narrator” who “nastily and condescendingly mocks” other reporters—more cowbell, baby!—I found a trove of patient and persuasive on-the-ground reporting (Blumenthal spent a year in Israel and Palestine and several additional months in the region), almost all of which Alterman ignores. Had he allotted less space to those adjectives and more to an engagement with the book, Alterman might have come up with a credible critique.
I’m not finished with the 473-page book. It is a compelling read, and I would have finished by now, had I more time away from work duties. The book it reminds me the most of that I have read is Robert Fisk’s magisterial 2005 book, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. Both Fisk and Blumenthal present an extremely rich, almost cluttered set of episodes, in interlinked sets of chapters, as one subject after another is relentlessly, sometimes almost pitilessly pursued. And like Fisk, Blumenthal’s remembrances and interviews are potent illustrations of the topics they seek to illuminate. Perhaps Blumenthal’s is the better in terms of describing contradictions people expose as they open up to his questions.
The blog that has covered the Alterman fracas most thoroughly is Mondoweiss. So far, they have published these articles on it:
What Eric Alterman most unreasonably failed to do in his review was tackle the basic premise of Blumenthal’s book: That Israel was founded on a deeply racist colonial expansionist agenda; that ethnic cleansing is inseparable from Zionism; that this has always caused a cognitive dissonance among liberal and progressive Jews in Israel (let alone here or in Great Britain); and that with Israel’s inexorable ideological march to the fringes of the far right, the place is losing whatever soul it might once have possessed. Alterman blinded himself from taking a responsible step by not addressing these inconvenient facts. Even without Alterman’s invective, that in itself is quite a smear.
You can join Max Blumenthal here at the Firedoglake Book Salon, on Saturday November 2nd. I’ll be hosting. Maybe Eric Alterman can join us, to provide the depth to his review the review itself so fully lacked.
Here is the video the New York Times recently commissioned from Blumenthal (with David Sheen), which it then refused to run:
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