There is likely no rule in internet debate as well known as Godwin’s Law. The semi-satirical law coined in 1990 by author/attorney Mike Godwin states (essentially) that the invoking of Hitler or the Nazis by any participant in a debate causes the participant doing so to lose the debate. Godwin’s Law is not without its detractors: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and liberal firebrand Glenn Greenwald have each argued for its repeal, noting rightly that since WWII analogies are so universally known they can be extremely useful. But because the acts of the Nazis are universally condemned, and universally considered atrocities of the absolute worst kind, it becomes important that any use of a Nazi analogy had better be apt.
The power of Goliath: Life And Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal, comes in the slow realization that his provocatively chosen chapter headings (The Night of Broken Glass, The Concentration Camp) utilize Nazi analogies that are useful and apt. Blumenthal’s book is a thoroughly reported look at the way in which modern Israel has devolved into a fascistic, racist apartheid state. Blumenthal spends years in Israel and Palestine, speaks to men on the street and men in the halls of power, and comes away with a portrait of a country in an identity crisis of its own making.
As Blumenthal explains it, the State of Israel was founded to be both democratic and Jewish. Yet as it annexed more land, and as its native and immigrant populations grew, it became clear that these two tenets were in tension. If Jewish Israelis failed to maintain a demographic majority in the country, then the Jewish identity of the country could be dissolved in a popular vote. This idea that indigenous (or immigrant) populations constitute a demographic threat, and thus an existential threat, to the country results in these populations being subjected to both public and private forces aimed at pushing them out of Israel’s borders.
Goliath then argues that as the official, legislative, and policy efforts to disenfranchise Israel’s Arab population came into maturity, living amongst state-sanctioned discrimination led Israel’s Jewish population to cease to see Arab-Israelis as anything other than threats. Government acts of otherizing gave way to a universal acceptance as the Arab as the other. A reality that plays itself out in sobering public opinion polls that show majorities of Jewish Israelis unwilling to share apartment buildings with Arabs, for example.
Working hand in hand with these discriminatory policies, is a PR campaign built to show Israel and its allies that it is engaged at all times in an existential struggle. Far from being an occupation, or apartheid, the actions of Israel are necessary to prevent a “second holocaust” and to prevent the Arabs who would destroy Israel from gaining the power to do so. Goliath stands out because it cuts through so much of this hasbara spin and shows a Western audience what public life in the region looks like.
Though Blumenthal has been cast as an anti-semite, or a self-hating Jew by some for having the audacity to criticize the Jewish state, I think that the cold, hard facts of this book stand on their own. This is a familiar story of a people whipped into a nationalistic fervor, and told their entire lives that the problems of their country are the result of another group. Though it is a great, tragic irony that the perpetrators of this fascism are a people who were once victims of a starkly similar chain of events, that simply does not make the reality of this situation any less true.
Goliath is a dark, depressing, troubling, and lengthy look at the increasingly dire reality of Israel/Palestine. It’s a region and a conflict that I knew very little more than the headlines about. I recommend the book, but I acknowledge that it may be controversial for some, triggering for others, and certainly a difficult read for many. But Goliath needs to be difficult, because the truth the book shares is a difficult one as well. And tragically, Godwin’s Law does not apply.