Thursday, June 29, 2017

Life in a Hostile Fishbowl

Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom.
Book Review by Michael Isenberg.

Tuvia Tenenbom is a genius at getting people to talk to him.

In 2014, he took his ingenuity to Israel, where he engaged Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans, Members of the Knesset (MKs), Jewish fundamentalist con men, humorless lefty journalists, lascivious monks, Tel Aviv prostitutes, and feral cats in conversation. Usually posing as a German reporter, but sometimes an Arab, and now and then a rabbi, Tuvia entices his victims to reveal their inmost thoughts, often with hilarious results, which he collected in his book, Catch the Jew.

The picture on the cover suggests that the title character—the Jew that everyone is trying to catch—is Tuvia himself. An Arab, a Brit, and what appears to be a biker chase him down Keystone Cop-like, no doubt outraged at the ease with which he conned them.

Alas, it is not Tuvia who is their quarry. And it isn’t very funny.

It seems that Israel is infested with representatives of Non-governmental Organizations or NGOs. Mostly funded by Europeans, especially Germans, they give generously to the Palestinians. A visitor to Hebron, for example, will find beautiful, spacious Palestinian homes—each with a plaque crediting the donor—and wretched, cramped Jewish slums.

But home building is just a peripheral undertaking for the NGO folk. Like Myrna Minkoff, crisscrossing the Civil Rights-era South in A Confederacy of Dunces, they are on a fact-finding mission: to “document” Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. If the Israelis aren’t obliging enough to provide mistreatment, these Social Justice Warriors egg on the Palestinians to provoke some. Also like the hapless Miss Minkoff, they have a tendency to embrace rats, thanks to a myopic belief that the rats are in fact squirrels. They thereby pick up a menagerie of media enablers and self-hating Israelis eager to help them “catch the Jew.”

Some of these crusaders confess—at odds with their organizations’ official policies—that their ultimate objective is the destruction of the Jewish State. Tuvia attributes this desire to plain, old anti-Semitism. “Where else could one practice his or her darkest wish for Judenfrei territories and still be considered liberal?”

The anti-Semitism of NGOs is the main takeaway from the book. But since this blog is about Islam, I want to focus on Tuvia’s experiences with Palestinians. (Yes, I know, not all Palestinians are Muslim. Many are Christians, and Tuvia engaged them too. The short version is they share their Muslim brothers’ attitudes toward Israel).

Tuvia loves the Palestinians. He loves their music. He loves their beautiful hijabs. He loves their cuisine, chock full of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. And he loves them as people, even when he’s certain they have blood on their hands, as is the case with General Jibril Rajoub, the onetime Palestinian spymaster. Tuvia really likes Jibral.

I believe that Tuvia is sincere when he says that he looks at Palestinians as human beings and not as the poster children for a cause. IMHO that’s why they open up to him. They tell him about their lives and their hopes. And they tell him about Israel. In their view, everything bad in the world is Israel’s fault, regardless of logic. Anything bad about Israel they believe without question, no matter how absurd. And sadly, there is no shortage of absurdity:

  • There’s the taxi driver who claims that two hundred Jewish settlers are in the midst of storming the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Tuvia searches news outlets for this story. One would think it would be of major international import. It takes two attempts, but he finally discovers it on the Arabic version of al-Jazeera, accompanied by a photo of five—far short of two hundred—“seemingly non-Muslim men” standing peacefully in front of the mosque.
  • There’s al-Quds University, where a class of two Palestinian students learn—from European teachers—how oppressed they are. The receptionist claims that Jews have taken “many” Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. When pressed, he admits “many” is in fact thirty—over a period of sixty years!
  • There’s the activist who believes the brown hills of the West Bank used to be green, but then the Jews stole all the water.

  • There’s the Arab contractor who plants a tree at the home he’s building for his Jewish client. It seems like a touching gesture of friendship from an Arab to a Jew, until he explains that he intends to occupy the house himself as soon as the Jews are driven into the sea.
  • There’s the Bedouin activist who warns of “creeping apartheid,” even though he lives in mostly Jewish Beer Sheva. He complains that “Bedouins stand no chance of succeeding,” even though he holds a professorship at Ben Gurion University.
  • There’s the man Tuvia met at Gibril Rajoub’s house who thinks everything would be better if only Rommel had overrun Palestine in 1942. “We would have had all the land since no Jew would have survived.” Another man, a protester on his way to a media-staged anti-Israel demonstration, expresses similar approval for Nazism. Amid the party-like atmosphere of the protest bus, he says, “Hitler should have taught us what to do with the Jews, how to be thorough.” Paradoxically, despite this oft-heard admiration for Nazis, the notion that the Israelis are the new Nazis is also common.
  • There’s the lady who claims to have pictures on her phone of Israeli soldiers throwing bombs into the bedrooms of Arab children. She was going to show them to Tuvia, but just then her phone broke.

    Tuvia’s stories constitute an important source document for anyone who wants to get a feel for life in the hostile fishbowl that is Israel (In fact, I bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day).

    Ultimately, though, Tuvia’s stories are just that. Stories. They give us understanding, but not precision. Entertainment, but not science. Subject to exaggeration, selective editing, and spin. They show us that some Palestinians hate Israel beyond the point of rationality, but don’t show us how widespread that attitude is. I did some research into that, which I share in a follow-on post.

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092 and depicts the battle for the Muslim soul between those who embrace science and tolerance, and those who would rather throw in their lot with mysticism and persecution.

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