Tuvia Tenenbom’s reportage on corruption and the political theater of the absurd in Israel receives Mickey Z’s first-ever Golden Banana award for this year’s Best Book.
The level of anti-semitism in the world is a reliable proxy for the overall psychic health of the planet. Think 1492, 1938, and now, I believe, 2015. Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom is the one book you need to read to see how the general lunacy ties together with the specific phenomenon of blaming Jews—all in the tiny state of Israel.
If you want proof of just how good this book is, you don’t have to look further than this headline in Tablet magazine: “Tuvia Tenenbom Is A Weak, Insecure, Blustery Jew.” You have to be unhinged, and at least a tad anti-semitic, to write a headline like that. Yet, the author, David Mikics, acknowledges that Catch the Jew! covers important stories that the media usually ignore:
“The monumentally corrupt finances of the PA and of Hamas, which have made its leaders multimillionaires, go mostly unreported.
“Reporters almost never visit the beautiful, wealthy streets of Ramallah, for stories of Palestinian prosperity would interfere with the reigning message.
“The near-disappearance of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank, a cataclysmic change, is for Americans and Europeans a nonevent.
“Palestinians receive more foreign aid per capita than any other people on earth. Israeli Palestinians benefit from affirmative action, but this fact doesn’t fit the story.
“… Israelis already cannot travel in much of the West Bank, much less live in it (another fact you won’t discover by reading the mainstream press).”
As Mikics himself sums it up: “Tenenbom covers all of these usually invisible matters, and he does us a service by doing so.” Why then, the crazed ad hominem headline—in a Jewish magazine of all places? Is it clickbait? Or possibly something more interesting?
Let’s take a closer look at the author and his MO in creating Catch the Jew! to see if we can find the answer.
Rules of engagement
Tuvia Tenenbom is the son of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews. In his early 20s, he struck out on his own, emigrating from Israel to the U.S. to pursue studies in mathematics, computer science, and literature. In 1994 he founded the Jewish Theater of New York. He is fluent in English, German, Hebrew, and Arabic, and he also works as a journalist for U.S. and German publications.
Catch the Jew! was conceived as a sequel to Tenenbom’s German bestseller, I Sleep in Hitler’s Room. That book documented the conversations about Jews that resulted from a six-month walking randomly through Germany. The new target was Israel.
Tenenbom describes his rules of engagement for his project as follows:
“With the exception of finding a home that would serve as my base, I haven’t planned anything. Let the winds carry me to wherever they blow. I will do my best to let the facts and realities reveal themselves to me and to be objective about what I find. If I like what I see or not, I will report what I see, not what I like.”
Also, since he intended to visit the West Bank and talk with Palestinians, he took certain safety precautions. Specifically, he generally identified himself as a German reporter named “Tobi.” However, the people he interviews, “will always know that I’m an author and journalist and that what they say might one day appear in space and freeze in time.”
A morning ramble on the Temple Mount
True to his promise, Tenenbom’s tour of Israel begins with an unplanned trip to the Temple Mount. He doesn’t bother to explain the complex security arrangements that only allow Jews or Christians to enter the area through specific access points and restricted times. Jews can only enter as tourists and are forbidden to pray. Muslims can do as they please.
So there’s a certain Felliniesque quality to his account of being dropped off at a Muslims-only checkpoint, and being challenged by Israeli guards to recite Islamic prayers—at gunpoint.
Somehow he makes his way through the gate. He tries to pray at the Dome of the Rock, but gets chased out by an Arab. Then he wanders into a coffee shop. The coffee’s good so he drinks a lot of it. Now he has to urinate. He happens into a lecture hall of Al-Quds University, where he befriends the Palestinian faculty. He’s able to relieve himself and also listen to a list of grievances, which includes the statement that the Israelis crucified Jesus.
Next he’s shown a new project financed by the UN and the EU to the tune of 2.4 million euros to protect the Palestinian cultural heritage. It’s a Turkish bath! Inside the hamam, they’re screening a film called The Land Speaks Arabic. Tenenbom writes, “the movie asserts that ‘Zionists’ came over to this part of the world for no obvious reason and committed countless massacres of innocent Palestinians, such as slaughtering thousands of sleeping civilians in the middle of the night. Those they didn’t kill, they expelled. Thusly the Jewish state was created in the year 1948.”
Surprised to learn that this film was also financed by the EU, Tenenbom decides to attend the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival, which happens to be the following night. There he views a film that equates the IDF with Nazis. The director’s Israeli, but the funding comes from Germany and Switzerland. Tenenbom talks to several directors and the upshot is clear: There’s plenty of European money to fund Israeli filmmakers—as long as their projects have an anti-Israel bias.
Potemkin—through the looking glass
The pattern continues as Tobi the German visits the West Bank. He hires local guides who take him on their standard tour. It’s a series of Potemkin Villages in reverse. One the one hand, the
guides hurry him past the palatial homes built with the Western money in the Tubas section of Jenin (including the deluxe Jenin Cinema), the bustling developments of Nablus, or the brand-new city of Rawabi, built with more than $1 billion in foreign investment.
On the other hand, they take him to locations such as the ruins of a village called Al-Araqeeb, which supposedly has been demolished 58 times. After being shown a video of the most recent destruction, Tenenbom examines the site more closely and concludes that the video was staged.
His suspicions are also triggered after being shown a BBC report of a French diplomat who was supposedly dragged from her car and beaten by the IDF. In fact, the incident was a set-up, designed to entrap the military into overreacting, and the story and footage were selectively edited to convey this impression when it failed to happen.
Tenenbom also encountered two doctors from Médecins San Frontières who were in a Palestinian village, concocting data about medical problems that did not exist.
Something’s happening here
Catch the Jew! exposes a massive pile of corruption that stinks with a peculiarly institutional stench, because it involves the complicity of the UN, the EU, the media, and money-laundering-for-Palestine operations run by the cartel of global NGOs.
Tenenbom’s book has already produced a tangible impact. The book has been a best seller in Israel and Germany. And the Knesset is now debating legislation that would require greater transparency from NGOs in Israel in reporting donations from foreign entities. Funny to hear all the flacks for the EU complaining that this somehow violates their civil liberties.
Press response to Catch the Jew! has been surprisingly favorable across the political spectrum. Even Haaretz, the Israeli equivalent of the NY Times, said, “read Tenenbom’s book; we don’t have the luxury not to know what he’s telling us.”
Tablet’s response seems kneejerk in comparison—overwhelmed by the facts, and by Tenenbom’s overpowering chutzpah. Here’s a man who has the nerve to venture into the lair of General Jabril Rajoub, former head of Palestininian security, armed only with his wits and mastery of language. Tenenbom’s life is at risk on numerous occasions throughout this enterprise. Yet he proceeds with a joyous effrontery, eating, drinking, joking, fondling Arab women, taking selfies with the men, while asking suspiciously probing questions.
No wonder the intellectuals at Tablet are reduced to name-calling. David Mikics’s review meekly complains about the places Tenenbom didn’t visit, the people he didn’t interview, and the ideas he didn’t articulate. Basically he criticizes Tenenbom for not covering the side of the story that’s already over-reported.
Weak and insecure? Hmpf. Tenenbom’s got the right kind of chutzpah. Blustery? Bah! You should be so blustery. We all should be. It’s a dangerous time for Jews and all of western culture. Tuvia Tenenbom’s book is a call to arms. And that’s why Catch the Jew! receives the inaugural Golden Banana.