A brilliant satirist unmasks the Palestinian human-rights industry.
Fred Siegel and Sol Stern review Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom for City Journal.
Catch The Jew!, by Tuvia Tenenbom (Gefen Publishing House, 484 pp., $24.95)
If you want to understand why there is no peace in the Holy Land despite the best efforts of the Obama administration and the billion-dollar European “peace and human rights” industry, you owe it to yourself to read Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom. This myth-shattering book became an instant bestseller in Israel last year, yet, Germany aside, it has largely been ignored in American and European media outlets and by the reigning Middle East punditocracy. Ostensibly, Tenenbom’s book is disdained because the author lacks the academic or journalistic credentials to be taken seriously as a commentator on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Though he speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, Tenenbom possesses no professional expertise on the modern Middle East, nor has he had any previous journalistic experience covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.
So much for academic and journalistic credentials, then. In this volume full of personal observations, revealing interviews, and Swiftian satire, Tenenbom offers deeper insights into the fundamental realities of the Middle East conflict and the pathologies of the Palestinian national movement than decades of reporting by media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Israel’s Haaretz. No fair-minded person can come away from this book without wondering why such citadels of contemporary liberal journalism have neglected to inform their readers of the scam being conducted in the region by self-styled human-rights activists and their taxpayer-funded European NGOs—not to mention that this massive international intervention actually makes it even more difficult to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict.
So what’s the secret of Tenenbom’s journalism? For starters, he disarms the anti-Israel activists and Palestinian officials he engages with by dissembling about his own identity and by playing the simpleton. The author was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Israel. As an adult, he broke with organized religion and moved to America, where he became a successful playwright and founder of the Jewish Theater of New York. In his travels around Israel and the Palestinian territories, however, Tenenbom presents himself as Tobi, a German gentile and unaffiliated journalist—an innocent abroad sincerely trying to understand why the Jews have chosen to oppress the poor Palestinians. Because many of Tenenbom’s Palestinian and pro-Palestinian interlocutors assume that this well-meaning German must be on their side—a reasonable assumption, since much of the financial support for the pro-Palestinian NGOs comes from the German government or political parties—the ruse works brilliantly. The activists are willing to open up to the apparently naïve German and express their true beliefs about Israel and Zionism—hateful views they might be more circumspect about sharing with, say, a New York Times reporter.
In his tour d’horizon of the Palestinian territories, Tenenbom uncovers the fact that there are almost 300 pro-Palestinian foreign NGOs working (that is, agitating) in the West Bank and another hundred in Gaza, most financed by German taxpayers. Moreover, aid to the Palestinians by the European Union and the United Nations is the highest, per capita, in the world. Which might explain why, as Tenenbom keeps noticing all over the West Bank, so many Palestinian officials and activists are driving Mercedes.
One may wonder why these beautiful European souls see their mission now as saving the Palestinians, while none dare venture to Qatar to protest the slave-labor conditions imposed on foreign workers building the 2020 World Cup facilities. That unprecedented human rights scandal perpetrated by an Arab apartheid regime has so far led to the deaths of more than 1,000 indentured contract workers. Were human rights activists truly looking for a great victory for their cause, they could easily mount a campaign to convince the major European soccer powers (Germany, England, France, and Spain) to threaten a boycott of the 2022 World Cup. That action would almost certainly convince the Qatar royal family to close down the slave labor camps. But then again, as Tenenbom caustically observes, “where else [but in Palestine] could one practice his or her darkest wish for Judenfrei territories and still be considered liberal?”
For the German-funded NGOs in particular, exposing the Jewish state’s perfidy—“catching the Jew,” in Tenenbom’s words—becomes a psychologically convenient way to repudiate the Nazi past. Anti-Zionism thus becomes a path to liberation from the burdens of Germany’s past, indeed from all of Western colonial history.
Regarding that colonial history, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was well aware of the political value of his spiritual and political mentor, the holy man Mohandas Gandhi. Nehru once famously remarked: “You can’t imagine what it costs to keep Gandhi in poverty.” Like Israel, India was founded shortly after World War II over the violent objections of its Muslim population. Despite Ghandian rhetoric about non-violence, India’s bloody separation from its predominately Muslim regions came about through a vindictive and massive transfer of populations—Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus to India. Today in the West, little is spoken of this nasty affair; not so with comparable developments in Israel. Thanks in part to the double moral bookkeeping practiced by the human-rights industry—captained by the Swiss Red Cross and German NGOs—a contrived narrative of unprecedented Israeli cruelty toward the people now known as Palestinians has taken hold in Europe and on the American left.
Relying on his unconventional journalistic techniques, Tenenbom elicits a string of unguarded comments from the activists who work so diligently to keep the narrative of Palestinian suffering in the news. He opens a unique window allowing us to see how the victims’ game works in Palestine. For example, the popular Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub—with the help of willing European collaborators—succeeds in staging a series of morality plays that perpetuate the big lie about his people’s historical innocence and unique suffering. Rajoub lets Tobi the German in on one such full-scale operatic production in the West Bank village of Bi’lin. With compliant Western reporters told where and when to gather, Palestinian youths comes on stage and, on cue, begin stoning Israeli soldiers. The soldiers ignore the “youths,” but the stones get larger and they eventually respond. The self-righteous Western reporters now have their “story” of Israeli violence for the day. Moreover, the event is filmed for a documentary by an Israeli leftist financed by (what else?) a German NGO. Tenenbom knows something about theater, and his satirical account of this staged episode is as priceless as it is depressing.
Tenenbom’s method produces pure satiric gold, as when the wife of an American rabbi who heads a one-man organization called “Rabbis for Human Rights” (financed by a European NGO) can’t contain herself and admits to Tenenbom: “You can’t change him. Being a human rights activist in our time is to be a persona, not a philosophy; it’s a fad, it’s a fashion. A human rights activist does not look for facts or logic; it’s about a certain dress code, ‘cool’ clothing, about language, diction, expressions and certain manners. No facts will persuade him.”
Another highlight of the book is Tenenbom’s visit—arranged by a European NGO—to an inverted Potemkin village of Bedouin encampments in the Negev. In the original historical version of the Potemkin tall tale, the Russian Czar created a few model villages with false facades to convince Western visitors that all was well within the empire. In the twenty-first century version of the tale perfected by anti-Israel NGOs, the technique is to make Palestinian and Bedouin villages look as awful as possible on the outside even when they are relatively well off on the inside. After all, it can never be admitted that the Palestinian people, despite their suffering at the hands of the Jews, constitute the most prosperous Arab community (with the exception of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies) in the Middle East.
The visit to the Bedouin villages in the Negev is arranged by Adalah, a left-wing Israeli NGO financed by Europeans. Its director, Thabet Abu Rass, explains to Tenenbom that he is “representing the rights of the Palestinian people.” He then points to a map on his wall that says (in Arabic) “Map of Palestine before Nakbah [the Catastrophe] in 1948.” Dr. Rass soon makes it clear that the Nakbah is the source of the suffering, not just by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also for the Bedouin who have always lived in Israel and enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizenship. Even as Adalah fights for the rights of the Bedouin in Israeli courts, its leader insists that the Bedouin are not really Israelis, but rather oppressed Palestinians who suffered the 1948 Nakbah.
During his visit to the Bedouin villages, Tenenbom runs into two more representatives of foreign NGOs—Michelle from France and Alessandra from Italy. Michelle, who is Jewish, has been hard at work pressing the Nakbah claim for all Palestinians, including Israel’s Arabs. She tells Tenenbom/Tobi that her NGO works with the Israeli leftist organization Zokhrot (meaning “remembrance”), which is dedicated to perpetuating the Nakbah myth and to compensating the dispossessed Palestinians by allowing millions of them to return to their ancestral homes in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, thereby ending the Jewish state. Even in Tel Aviv, founded by Jews in 1909, Zokhrot (with Michelle’s help) is agitating to rename some streets according to their “original Palestinian names.”
Beyond its brilliant satire, Tenenbom’s book is ultimately outrageous and depressing. Outrageous, because thanks to the NGOs, so many otherwise rational, liberal people in Europe and the United States now believe some version of the Palestinian Nakbah narrative. Depressing, because as long as that destructive historical myth is believed in the West, it’s hard to imagine Palestinian leaders ever conceding that their disagreement with Israel is about the consequences of the 1967 war, which are entirely negotiable, rather than the consequences of the 1948 war, which are non-negotiable.
Fred Siegel is a City Journal contributing editor and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.
In Catch the Jew! Tuvia Tenenbom uses humor and charm to explore life in Israel and Palestine. In the course of his research he uncovers an international agenda to find fault with Jews and Israel. These people have one goal; to Catch the Jew doing something wrong! To buy "Catch the Jew!" on Amzon.com click here.