Israel should withdraw from the West Bank (and possibly East Jerusalem, depending on one’s perspective) because continuing its occupation of these Palestinian-populated lands would undermine the country’s “Jewish and democratic” character.
This is a common refrain among liberal Israelis (and Americans). Yet aside from the unsettling fact that it treats the occupation as a hindrance to the full expression of Israel’s self-defined character, as opposed to a threat to the welfare and even lives of the Palestinians, the formulation rests on faulty logic. For if Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians erodes Jewish demographic superiority, thereby necessitating the undemocratic practice of depriving the Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and (theoretical) equality with Jews, wouldn’t Israel have ceased to be democratic in 1967? After all, that is when Israel seized control of the territories in question and plunged their Palestinian inhabitants into existential limbo, preventing them from establishing an independent state even as it withheld Israeli citizenship from them. (The residents of East Jerusalem, exceptionally, were offered citizenship, though most declined it.) Why, over four decades later, is Israel considered merely in danger of eventually losing its democratic character? How many more decades before the world recognizes that Israel has already subverted its democracy for the sake of maintaining its Jewishness?
In the (unlikely) event Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as it did from the Gaza Strip, perhaps Israelis could better endure the anguish this causes by reminding themselves that they got away with ruling another people for so long without the international community ever calling into question their country’s democratic credentials. In fact, as far as Gaza is concerned, this has already come to pass, though technically Israel remains an occupying power there, as it controls most of the territory’s borders and decides to whom and what to grant passage, a fate likely to befall the West Bank and East Jerusalem should Israel withdraw from them.
Blumenthal-GoliathErudite, hard-hitting, and with the potential to influence American public opinion on Israel, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal, avoids mainstream liberals’ hand-wringing about the extent to which the occupation may at some point in the future adversely affect Israel’s much-vaunted democracy. Instead, Blumenthal, the investigative American journalist who authored the bestselling Republican Gomorrah, focuses on how the ongoing occupation has, since its inception, destroyed Palestinian lives – and already whittled away much of Israel’s brittle democracy. Goliath, the title of which implies that Israel resembles the giant Philistine warrior felled by the Jewish David in the Bible, also demolishes positive Western stereotypes about Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens (so-called Israeli Arabs), a subject that rarely receives media coverage in the West. Today, Israeli Palestinians face rising popular and violent anti-Arab agitation on the part of large segments of the Jewish majority, accompanied by Knesset legislation curbing their rights, ominous phenomena the author thoroughly examines. Blumenthal also shows how national chauvinism and racism on the part of many Israeli Jews extends to African asylum seekers, who have endured physical attacks in south Tel Aviv and detention and deportation by the authorities.
The author spent lengthy stretches of time in Israel between mid-2009 and early 2013. Though a journalist, he has a historian’s command of his material, including the seminal Nakba (Arabic for “Catastrophe”) of 1948, when, during the war over Israel’s creation, Zionist militias drove out or caused to flee over 750,000 Palestinians, destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages, and permanently seized homes and lands from their “absentee” owners. He has also clearly studied the effects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza following the short and blindingly successful “Six-Day War” Israel initiated in 1967. All this helps him put events he describes or reports on within their proper historical context.
Goliath’s mix of journalism and history is periodically augmented by its author’s anecdotes. Several of these relate directly to his work. For example, he recounts his role – alongside other journalists – in debunking the Israeli army’s risible attempts to portray its killing of 9 Gaza solidarity activists from Turkey on the Mavi Marmara ship (part of the “Gaza flotilla”) as self-defense against “a ‘hate boat’ bringing ‘Global Jihad’ to Israel’s shores.”  And he details the circumstances surrounding the now-famous video he and Israeli-American journalist Joseph Dana made of American Jews in Israel spewing venom against President Barack Obama. Other anecdotes are of a more personal nature. Blumenthal is Jewish, and often points out where and how, beginning with “ethnic profiling experts at Ben Gurion International Airport,” [xv] this makes life in Israel easier for him than a Palestinian, even one who is a citizen of the country. All he has to do is avoid openly sympathizing with the Palestinians, or, worse yet, acting in solidarity with them; to do so would invite social ostracism and possibly surveillance, harassment, and (since he is a foreigner) even deportation by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service. Instead of taking that route himself, Blumenthal writes about people who have. His profiles of Israeli Jews who risk their friendships, jobs, social status, and sometimes even lives to confront the Israeli army in the West Bank, demonstrate against its policies within Israel, and call for international boycotts are both necessary and heartening.
One of the best features of Goliath, setting it apart from so many books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comes in the form of something it doesn’t do: take a position on whether the long-term solution to the conflict is one state or two. That would have necessitated enumerating the perceived merits of whichever option the author prefers, and, if other books on the subject are any indication, playing down or even ignoring its dangers. Blumenthal eschews such an approach, keeping the focus entirely on Palestinian suffering – both within and without the Green Line – at the hands of Israel. By steering clear of the one state/two states debate, he denies his potential critics the chance to ignore discrimination against the Palestinians in favor of ridiculing his proposed solution as naïve.
The specifics of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank would outrage (almost) anyone. They include subjecting Palestinians to military rule, arbitrarily seizing their land for the construction or enlargement of Jewish settlements, and dividing water rights in such a manner that a settler receives several times the amount of water a Palestinian receives. As have other journalists, Blumenthal shows how Israel has used its recent construction of the separation barrier not only to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel, but to confiscate land (the barrier was not erected on the Green Line but within the West Bank), and to incorporate Jewish settlement blocs into Israel while dividing Palestinian towns and villages from one another. This continues an Israeli plan to permanently split the West Bank, which comprises the territorial bulk of an envisaged Palestinian state, into three areas:
In the long term [explains Blumenthal], the Israeli administrators of the West Bank aimed to coerce much of the Palestinian population out of Area C, the vast area [60 percent of the West Bank] placed by the Oslo Accords under full Israeli control. They would be relocated to Area A, the population clusters overseen by the Palestinian Authority, thereby establishing an encircled, disjointed quasi-state that left the majority of the West Bank’s land for the use of Jewish settlers. Through home demolitions, the denial of building and work permits, and general repression in Area C, Israel implemented a strategy Palestinians called “the silent transfer. 
Within the Green Line, Israel admittedly is a democracy – though a flawed one. Israel has no constitution (a series of “Basic Laws” functions in its stead) and has never declared its borders. Religion plays an official and legal role unseen in Western democracies to which Israel likes to compare itself, beginning with the fact that eligibility for the “Law of Return,” which entitles any Jew in the world to Israeli citizenship, is determined by Orthodox rabbinical courts, which hold that a Jew is either someone born to a Jewish mother or a person who has undergone a formal conversion at the hands of an Orthodox rabbi. Orthodox rabbinical courts also enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to marriage and divorce of Jewish citizens (there is no civil marriage, even for non-believers, though such unions are recognized if performed abroad), and parallel jurisdiction with secular courts in matters such as child custody and support, alimony, and inheritance and division of property. Israel has granted the religious courts of Sunni Muslims, various Christian denominations, and the Druze, who together make up the country’s Arab minority, even greater sway; their exclusive purview extends beyond marriage and divorce to include many of the aforementioned issues for which, in the case of Jews, rabbinical and secular courts enjoy parallel jurisdiction.
Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens, a community consisting of those Palestinians who managed to remain in their country despite the Nakba, and who, together with their descendants, now make up 20.5 percent of Israel’s population (with Jews at 75.4 percent), constitutes the strongest rebuke to its democracy. At one point, Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) representing the Israeli Palestinian party United Arab List – Taal, repeats to Blumenthal a quip he often makes about Israel’s character: “democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward the Arabs.”  Although Israeli Palestinians’ hardships have been well documented, beginning with Sabri Jiryis’s The Arabs in Israel (first published in Hebrew in 1966, the year Israel lifted 18 years of military rule for its Palestinians citizen, and later translated into other languages), Western media have paid scant attention to the issue. Blumenthal’s chief contribution to the public discourse on Israel is arguably his meticulous and examination of recent anti-Arab social and legal discrimination that complements a history of such practices.
Even with a declining Palestinian birthrate, a consistently high one among ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union following its dissolution, Israel continues to obsess about its Palestinian population’s demographics. This obsession is everywhere manifest. For example, it lies behind the Israeli authorities’ stripping of Palestinian East Jerusalemites of their Jerusalem identification cards (most do not have Israeli citizenship) if they move elsewhere even temporarily (say, to study abroad) or take up residence in a Palestinian Authority-run area of the West Bank where they do not need the difficult-to-obtain building permits. Once their Jerusalem identifications cards are revoked, they can no longer live in their city.
Through spotlighting the travails of one such East Jerusalemite, a woman married to a man from the West Bank, Blumenthal deftly captures this agonizing saga. And in between pulling back the veneer of happy coexistence that masks Jewish-Palestinian relations in Haifa, and probing the fate of Palestinian residents of Jaffa’s Ajami quarter, which is being subjected to gentrification aimed at pushing them out and bringing Jews in, he consistently reveals the extent of Israel’s demographic mania. For even Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from the denial of building and renovation permits, as well as the demolition of buildings for which the difficult-to-obtain permits were never issued.
The “Judaization of the Galilee” campaign, launched because this northern region of Israel was nearly half Palestinian, offers a larger view of Israel’s demographic obsession. Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) was constructed specifically as a Jewish town meant to inhibit the growth of Nazareth, an Arab city. (In an unforeseen complication, some residents of overcrowded Nazareth have moved to Nazareth Illit, causing resentment among many Jewish residents, and, as Blumenthal shows, prompting the mayor to prohibit Christian Palestinians from publicly displaying Christmas trees.) Sakhnin, though a good deal smaller than Nazareth, has arguably fared worse. “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Sakhnin was flanked on all sides by military installations and Jews-only mitzpim,”  writes Blumenthal, referring to Jewish “watchtower” settlements built around Arab towns. Relying in part on the work of Jonathan Cook, a British journalist who lives in Israel, he continues: “The town’s double-digit unemployment rate reflected decades of aggressive dispossession. Sakhnin controlled only the land inside its town limits – 10,000 acres for 25,000 people – while the 15,000 Jewish residents of [adjacent] Misgav had the rights to 180,000 acres. Much of the land Misgav had gained was confiscated by the state from the farmers of Sakhnin, who had become mired in poverty.” 
In the south of the country, the situation is not much different. Israel continues to try to herd the dispersed (and formerly nomadic) Bedouins of southern Israel’s Negev Desert into small and confined settlements, so as to populate the vast region with Jews through projects such as “Blueprint Negev.” But many Bedouins, such as those of Al Araqib, insist on remaining. The Israeli authorities’ response? Leveling the village in its entirety. The locals rebuild it, only for the authorities to destroy it again. Blumenthal was there the first time this happened. “On July 27, 2010, bulldozers leveled every structure in Al Araqib, marking the first of at least forty-five times at the time of this writing that the State of Israel would attempt to wipe the village off the map.” 
Seizing land, withholding building permits, destroying homes built without such permits, and corralling people into small and underdeveloped areas have characterized Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian minority since the country’s inception. Such practices continue unabated, and in some cases are accelerating. Perhaps that should not come as a surprise, given the climate in Israel. Blumenthal does a good job of showing how national chauvinism, and sometimes outright racism, pervades Israeli culture today. Popular campaigns spearheaded by rabbis and their wives warn Jewish women against marrying Arab men. Separately, two rabbis publish a book called The King’s Torah about the circumstances in which it is permissible to kill non-Jews (including children). When they are summoned for questioning by the Shin Bet, they refuse to show up. Meanwhile, state-funded rabbis across the country speak up on their behalf, showing the security services and the politicians just what they’re up against. The case against the book’s authors is dropped, and Prime Minister Netanyahu avoids condemning them. Instead, the Shin Bet hounds and imprisons anti-establishment Israeli Palestinians (and increasingly, Jews too) for their political activism, often using emergency laws still in force from the time of the British Mandate. And all the while, political parties and movements such as Yisrael Beiteinu, Im Tirtzu, Kach, Strong Israel, and various settler groups hold marches in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section of Jaffa, and the African-inhabited neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, demonstrating against Arabs and Africans, and sometimes attacking them.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the recent legislation that codifies a lot of the discrimination already taking place on a popular level. The bills were often formulated and tabled by Yisrael Beiteinu, the extreme nationalist party headed by former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Admittedly, some of those passed by the Knesset into law were later blocked. The 2011 law to punish Israelis who aid the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting their country was frozen by Netanyahu (who had supported it) following international pressure. And Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the Knesset’s decision in 2009 to ban two Israeli Palestinian political parties, Balad and United Arab List – Taal (both of which enjoyed Knesset representation) from the next parliamentary elections. At one point, Blumenthal expresses concern that because a settler, Noam Sohlberg, ascended to the Supreme Court some time later, its positions would harden. Such alarm is justified, though it should be noted that, since Goliath went to press, the Supreme Court has overturned a 2012 amendment to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law; the original law targeted those Palestinians who were expelled or fled but returned to their homes in the wake of the Nakba, while the amendment homed in on African asylum seekers, allowing Israel to imprison them for years without charge.
There is no question, however, that several anti-Palestinian bills have become law and will make life even more difficult for a beleaguered minority. In the author’s opinion, “one of the most nakedly discriminatory laws the state ha[s] ever placed on the books”  is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which dates back to 2003, and bars West Bank Palestinians who marry Israeli Palestinians from attaining citizenship or even temporary residency. This has already affected countless marriages that straddle the Green Line. For measures directed against Israeli Palestinians specifically, consider the Nakba Law (2011), which bans Palestinian citizens of Israel and their Jewish allies from commemorating the event (thereby complementing the former education minister’s seizure of schoolbooks that briefly mention the mass expulsion of Palestinians.) And take a moment to ponder the outrageous Acceptance to Communities Law (also 2011), which allows Jewish towns to bar Palestinian citizens from residing there.
All this leads Blumenthal to claim, with some exaggeration, that a system of ethnic segregation already in place in the Occupied Territories, where one group enjoys rights the other is denied, has now taken hold in Israel proper. While the term “apartheid” has become commonplace to describe the two-track system of law Israel enforces for Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, it is rarely used for Israel within the Green Line, where legal distinctions between Israeli Jews and Palestinians have operated alongside laws proclaiming the equality of all, and enforced demographic separation between the two groups can be seen alongside coexistence. (There have long been exceptions; in 1987, Uri Davis, an anti-Zionist Israeli, authored Israel: An Apartheid State, a book that he has since updated.) Blumenthal believes it is time to apply the term to Israel proper:
Indeed, while Israel had always discriminated against its Palestinian minority as a matter of national policy, the ascent of Lieberman and a rightist-dominated Likud faction signaled a collective vote in favor of stripping away whatever remained of the country’s democratic patina, from its human rights NGO’s to the social sciences departments of its universities to its Supreme Court, all in order to consolidate a system of open apartheid. 
Blumenthal deserves kudos for demonstrating the extent of centrist Kadima’s and even left-of-center Labor’s complicity in the Knesset’s passing of the discriminatory laws alluded to above. Two of the three sponsors of the Acceptance to Communities Bill were Kadima members. Kadima parliamentarians voted for the bill to ban Balad and the United Arab List – Taal from the next elections, as well as the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, both of which, as we have seen, were later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Of the leader of Kadima during much of this period, Tzipi Livni (a two-stater who wants Israeli Palestinians to move to a future Palestinian state, thereby increasing Israel’s Jewish majority), the author writes, “Livni’s myriad challenges left her paralyzed in the face of the right’s onslaught in the Knesset, prompting her to look the other way as one anti-democratic proposal after another came up for floor debates.”  Indeed, Blumenthal points out numerous instances in which most Kadima lawmakers, rather than risk incurring popular wrath by opposing discriminatory bills, abstained from voting for them, often simply by not showing up. Examples include legislation co-sponsored by Kadima lawmakers, such as the Acceptance to Communities bill and the BDS bill, as well as others, such as the Nakba bill.
And Labor? As Blumenthal explains, the party sees little political capital or cachet in opposing the nationalist chauvinism and racism gripping so many Israelis. In 2009, when Ehud Barak was leader of the party, he convinced it to join a Likud-led national coalition government that included Yisrael Beiteinu, despite his earlier vow to never take such a step. In the Knesset that same year, Labor voted in favor of the aforementioned bill to outlaw two Israeli Palestinian parties from an upcoming round of elections. In 2011, by which time Barak had gone on to lead Atzmaut, a supposedly centrist offshoot of Labor, his party’s Knesset members conspicuously refrained from opposing the BDS bill; they didn’t vote one way or the other. When it comes to political rhetoric, Labor avoids the issue of a Palestinian state (which it officially endorses), rarely referring to it and instead striving to remind people of its past and current contributions to the colonization of the West Bank. Consider the statements of Shelly Yachimovich, the current leader of the party:
Yachimovich boasted in an interview, ‘It was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the [occupied] territories,’ and supported officially accrediting the university in the settlement of Ariel. When a reporter referred in passing to the perception that Labor represented the left of the Israeli political spectrum, Yachimovich snapped back, ‘Calling Labor “left-wing” is a historic injustice!’ 
Blumenthal overreaches, however, in treating this phenomenon as though it signifies the final and permanent transformation of Labor. At one point he goes so far as to write of how, “in … a protracted series of self-destructive moves”  beginning with the approval by a Labor-dominated government of an additional settlement in the Etzion settlement bloc of the West Bank (in 1977, during Yitzhak Rabin’s first term as prime minister), “the Labor elite unwittingly authorized the death of their party.” [69-70] Blumenthal believes that this death has now come about.
True, Labor is attuned to the Israeli Jewish populace’s rightward shift, and opportunistic enough to pander to it. But that doesn’t mean that the party will not change course at the first sign of public dissatisfaction among a large section of the Jewish electorate. The Israeli public may well perceive the rightwing parties as having failed to ameliorate the country’s economic woes, while secular Jews will likely react negatively to any indication that the government is deferring to the religious sector’s cultural and gender-segregationist inclinations. (Although the current Israeli coalition government excludes religious parties, this may paradoxically make it more amenable to appeasing ultra-Orthodox Jews on certain social issues, to avoid being seen as anti-religious.)
Resentment could also conceivably arise over the current (or any future rightwing) government’s deliberate stoking of tensions with Israeli Palestinians. This would not happen due to a sudden outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel’s put-upon Arab citizens. After all, many if not most Israeli Jews dislike their non-Jewish compatriots – with the new generation evincing more, rather than less, hostility. Blumenthal cites a 2012 poll of Israeli Jewish youngsters taken by Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs, indicating that “[w]hile almost half of secular high schooler seniors declared their refusal to live next door to an Arab, nearly 90 percent of their religious counterparts endorsed the segregationist view.”  Nevertheless, attitudes that lead many Jews to want to exclude Arabs from their buildings and even communities do not necessarily translate into support for assaults on Arab persons and properties – several of which Blumenthal describes – carried out by mobs of extremist youths in East Jerusalem, Jaffa, and elsewhere.
In “The Exodus Party,” the final chapter of Goliath, Blumenthal tackles the emigration of Jews from Israel. He acknowledges that most emigrants are motivated by socioeconomic woes, but chooses to focus on the leftist dissidents among them, who leave for political reasons. “[N]early everywhere I go in the Western world, I encounter young Israelis who made the exodus long ago,”  writes the author, in the midst of mentioning several dissident Israelis who have moved abroad. At a party he attends in Brooklyn, New York City, he re-connects with several Israeli leftists and conscientious objectors whom he had met previously. “The sound of Hebrew chatter was pouring from the room, and there was also English in a smattering of foreign accents,”  he observes. “Everyone here seemed to feel at home.”  This is clearly a dig at the argument, central to Zionism, that only in a Jewish state can a Jew be both safe and wholly Jewish.
What remains unclear is whether the phenomenon Blumenthal describes bodes well for the Palestinian cause. The proliferation in Western capitals of Israeli critics of their country’s practices and even its founding ideology could change the minds of people heretofore unaffected by Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims saying the same things. But the situation may turn out differently. For if these Israelis (together with like-minded others), fail to prevail upon Western governments to take serious diplomatic and economic action against Israel, they will have to resign themselves to the fact that, other than creating a minor dent in Western public opinion, their coming to the US and Europe produced no tangible effect. They may attain a certain peace of mind, given that they no longer live in a country violating the rights of another people, but this would come at the cost of political relevance.
To this cautionary note must be added a warning against obituaries for the Labor party and the Israeli left, which, as we have seen, Blumenthal is prematurely inclined to write. If Labor and the left do rally and attempt to regain their standing, their success or failure will depend in large part on the radical activists Blumenthal increasingly encounters as emigrants from Israel. Their stated reasons for leaving, namely that Israel is becoming “fascist,” [e.g. 407] could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Blumenthal does not fully explore this irony.
Just as many Israelis have supported their country’s brutal measures – from expulsion to restrictions on residency and building homes – to reduce the overall number of Palestinians both within and without the Green Line, and herd those who remain into overcrowded and easily manageable pre-delineated zones, many Palestinians can be expected to rejoice that large numbers of Israelis are leaving the country for good. But what of the realization that such Israelis are precisely the ones most amenable to the creation of a Palestinian state, and establishing equality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel? Granted, the majority of Israeli emigrants are not leftists, let alone anti-Zionists. But their Zionism tends to be more moderate, and they aren’t militaristic or religious fundamentalist.
Blumenthal notes this in passing – “Israel’s expatriate population was disproportionately affluent, educated, secular, and liberal” –  but goes on to state: “The exodus of Israelis is the greatest and most immediate demographic threat the Jewish state faces.”  This is a dubious assertion, given the high birth rate among ultra-Orthodox Jews as well as the steady annual trickle of Jewish immigrants to Israel. Moreover, it obscures the fact that the departure of many secular and liberal Israelis (including leftists and anti-Zionists) will likely manifest itself not in Jewish demographic decline vis-à-vis the Arab population, but in an erosion of liberal political networks’ influence and organizational capacity.
Because those Israeli Jews turning their backs on Israel are the most likely to support a compromise with the Palestinians that secures for the latter certain or all of their long usurped rights, we are left with the counterintuitive realization that the ongoing exodus by such people will actually harm the Palestinian cause, even if it weakens Jewish demographic superiority. The rightwing, militaristic, and religious fundamentalist Israelis, who already constitute a majority and aren’t going anywhere, will gain even more power and influence. The Jewish settlements in the West Bank will not only remain in place but grow in size and population, the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories will continue to languish under military rule, and Israeli Palestinians will suffer further discrimination. And even as Israel stymies the birth of an independent and sovereign Palestine, it will refuse to transform itself into a bi-national state for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, thereby keeping the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories in existential limbo: prevented from having a state of their own, yet simultaneously barred from attaining Israeli citizenship. The future looks very bleak indeed.