Monday, May 01, 2017

Tuvia Tenenbom: "The Lies They Tell" review

Tuvia Tenenbom is a writer who manages to entertain at the same time as exposing evil and prejudice (mostly antisemitism). His previous book "Catch the Jew" was a devastating indictment of the antisemitism driving Europe's funding of anti-Zionist organisations in Israel. This latest book is an equally devastating exposure of ignorance and antisemitism in America. Tuvia is especially adept at exposing the hypocrisy of the left. However, contrary to what many people assume, Tuvia is certainly not 'a man of the right' or a conservative in any sense of the word. This is something I return to at the end of my review, along with some criticisms (that I think have been missed despite there having been some very good in-depth reviews of the book already, such as this one by Phyllis Chesler).

Before stating my reservations I want to make it clear that I think this is a brilliant and must-read book for anybody concerned not just with antisemitism but also with the increasingly damaging effects of 'political correctness' which, in America, has eroded free speech and created a highly authoritarian society - a process massively accelerated by 8 years of Obama. A recurrent theme of the book is the lack of critical thought and predictable consistency of leftists: the two things they are invariably obsessed with are climate change and 'Palestine'. Indeed Tuvia notes that there is a perfect correlation between opinions on climate change and opinions on Israel. Those who believe in man-made climate change are anti-Israel while those who don't are generally pro-Israel. Tuvia highlights the obsessive and irrational anger that leftists have for Israel which seems to be based on complete ignorance, such as:
  • The Quakers in Pennsylvania who love Obama but only worry that he is 'too friendly to Israel' and 'not supportive enough of the Palestinians'. They care deeply about the plight of the Palestinians but not local blacks whose neighbourhoods are more dangerous than Gaza. 
  • Bryan from Texas whose main interest is in foreign affairs and who proves this interest by saying how Israel must 'stop settlement building in Gaza'. 
  • Jason - the first person he meets in Fargo Dakota - who introduces himself as 'pro-choice, pro gay marriage, pro-environment and pro-Palestine.'
Indeed, everywhere he goes leftists who know nothing about anything feel certain they know how racist and despicable is the state of  Israel. And it seems the biggest antisemites he finds are left-wing Jews, for example:
  • Jonathan the "Jewish Voices for Peace" demonstrator who, outside the Christians United for Israel conference, called Tuvia a "dirty fucking Jew". 
  • Jewish temples whose activism is dedicated to helping other people (blacks, Muslims) but not fellow Jews. In one large Temple a black Jewish convert tells the congregation how racist American Jews are and how racist Israel is. They applaud her. They also are trained in how to not be so racist. 
  • The wealthy Jewish couple from California he meets at a ranch who tell him they fund pro-Palestinian films and then clarify it to say "anti-Israel films". 
  • Alvin the very wealthy liberal Jew in Boco Raton who, when asked what makes him feel Jewish, tells Tuvia that he cares about being Jewish by being angry with how Israelis treat Palestinians.
  • The sickening anti-Israel New Israel Fund hatefest conference in New York where a Palestinian woman is rapturously applauded by the large audience after telling lies that "Israeli soldiers kill kids in broad daylight". They also applaud Haaretz 'journalist' Amira Hass when she says anybody emigrating to Israel is committing a criminal act because Israel is a criminal state. At the same conference a Black Lives Matters woman speaks while Roger Waters sits in the front row and is feted by Haaretz journalists. (He also notes Samantha Power, Obama's UN spokesman, is there - an accomplice to the crime in Tuvia's view).
The fact that most Jews Tuvia finds are these kinds of leftists leads him to conclude that there will be an inevitable demise of the Jews in America: "People who dedicate their resources to help others and to fight themselves are destined to succeed on both fronts".

And, of course Tuvia provides many examples where antisemitism and ignorance is not restricted to leftists, such as:
  • The Somali taxi driver Qatar in Seattle who (when Tuvia tells him he is German) tells how much he loves Hitler because he killed Jews, and how Jews own every American corporation (he says Bill Gatesis a Jew)
  • When looking for KKK members or skinhead white supremacists in Vidor Texas the only racists Tuvia finds are two Israel-hating antisemitic monks. 
  • His revealing interview with Chase Untermeyer who, despite being the former US ambassador to Qatar, knew nothing about Arab hatred of Jews.
Now onto my reservations. The most obvious of these - which I'm surprised nobody has pointed out - is that while the book is consistently entertaining and riveting, it is not totally original. Specifically, the way Tuvia achieves his results of exposing prejudice (especially antisemitism) was already perfected by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen: a Jew pretending to be anything but a Jew (in most cases), most notably in the movie Borat (the one where he goes to America). Moreover, like Sacha Baron Cohen, Tuvia is a cultural snob who is just as bigoted in his own way (against people who do not share his cultural 'values' on food and theatre) as many of the people he exposes and ridicules.

Tuvia also shares some of the left's intolerance for 'conservatives'.  For example, even though he understands the importance of national identity, Tuvia clearly does not like people being too patriotic - indeed he is scornful of those Americans who want to show their patriotism and ridicules those who support any kind of American intervention in the Middle East (such as Chris in Alaska). In fact, he is often as scornful of those on 'the right' as those 'on the left'. For example, he exhibits total contempt for what he refers to as 'right wing' Israelis (namely young Israelis selling Dead Sea products in Hawaii) simply on the basis that 'they believe that Israel should fight as hard as possible against the Palestinians'. He says that these Israelis 'strike me as a bunch of Ali Baba's thieves'. And, inevitably, Tuvia seems to have a pathological hatred of Donald Trump.

My final concern is that, for all his genuine bravery in putting himself into extremely dangerous situations in order to get to the 'real story', Tuvia's bravery when it comes to using his humour to directly challenge and ridicule people seems to be highly selective. For example, I could not understand why he would so aggressively goad a rich conservative like Chris in Alaska (who had even bought him a meal)  but he would never challenge a Hitler-loving antisemite like Qatar the Somali cab driver.

Despite these reservations I believe Tuvia Tenenbom is the most important and incisive Jewish political writer of our times on the subject of antisemitism and Israel. Nobody is equal to him in his ability to cut through the hypocrisy and ignorance that underlies most anti-Israel activities. The fact that mainstream Jewish organisations have shunned him for being 'too controversial'  is a disgrace, while those (like Limmud) who have shunned him for being 'too right wing' are simply ignorant.

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