Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Max Blumenthal, Israel, Vodka Journalism

Max Blumenthal is at it again. On the eve of President Obama's speech, Blumenthal wanted to take the Jewish pulse, to ascertain the "man on the street" reaction to Barack Obama's speech. Did he go to a bookstore or an espresso bar? No, Max Blumenthal went to a bar and shot a video. Predictably, when he mentioned Obama, F bombs and N bombs went off all over the place. In a city that has seen terrorist attacks and desecration of Jewish holy sites, it is to be expected that there would be some raw emotion. With a city full of people to choose from, Obama went to a place where alcohol flowed freely. It is very telling that in a city full of citizens who had done military service that he did not conduct his interview with Israeli army veterans but instead focused on Jews who were American and not likely Israeli citizens.

I run into Israeli army veterans on a daily basis. Serving in Tzahal is a universal obligation. The words of someone who has seen combat have a certain gravity that is lacking in Blumenthal's video. Additionally, many Israelis in civilian life have nuanced regional and ethnic perspectives. Danger is felt more keenly near Israel's border with Lebanon or Gaza than it is in places like Tel Aviv and Haifa. Jews from Arab countries have a perspective that European Jews lack. Israel is a tiny country with amazing ethnic and political diversity. It is rare to see news coverage that reflects.

Max Blumenthal is an advocacy journalist. Before he leaves his office, he has a message and an agenda. He chooses images and soundbites carefully to reinforce the message he has chosen. At his best, he has taken up the cause of female factory workers in Ciudad Juarez, near the Texas border who have been murdered in large numbers over the years. More selective and less illustrious is his treatment of American Christians. Blumenthal can walk into a panorama of diversity and pick the fragments of expression that validate his world view. He is really a preacher with a camera.

The Jerusalem Post illustrated their article on the Max Blumenthal video with footage of Israeli University students who wanted to think well of President Obama but had nagging doubts that they expressed well. It provides a counter balance to the negative image created by a video shot in a bar well into the night. In a country of seven million people, you can create whatever impression you want with good editing.

A friend of mine who served in the Israeli army spoke flawless English. On more than one occasion he was approached by journalists while in Lebanon. He smiled and feigned complete ignorance of the common language he shared with the news reporters. He was wise enough not to even start an interview in which he would be goaded and prodded into a damaging soundbite. He was interested in defending his country and not losing his life in the process. He was an Ashkenazi whose Iraqi Jewish in laws were refugees from Baghdad. He had the kind of perspectives that Blumenthal and those of his ilk would be hard pressed to shape into something ideologically useful.

America has a history of interview journalism. Studs Terkel created a mosaic of America in a book full of interviews with people in a multitude of professions. Tom Brokaw wrote "The Greatest Generation" with a similar format in which he interviewed American soldiers, enemy combatants and assorted civilians who lived during World War Two. Both books undoubtedly were transformative experiences for their authours as well as their readers. Israel deserves such a treatment from a principled journalist. Israelis themselves would welcome it. In Israel as in America it is possible to settle into a like minded circle of friends after leaving the military melting pot. Unfortunately such books about Israel have yet to be written. It is up to the discerning reader to put together a nuanced portrait of Israeli life and opinion.

Max Blumenthal does not seem to be the man to compile and write such a book. He is a propagandist and not a journalist. Fortunately we live in an age that we can feed the right questions into a search engine and challenge the limitations of our own opinions. I hope that anyone seriously interested in Israeli issues takes such a search engine tour.I hope that Max Blumenthal will do so as well, but I am not holding my breath. Sphere: Related Content

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