Israel was recently hit by a literary bombshell. The title of the best-seller is Catch the Jew. Its author is Tuvia Tenenbom, the founder of New York’s Jewish theater.
Tenenbom is an eclectic character. He was born in Israel to a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family, left the Haredi world to join the army, and then left Israel and Judaism altogether to become a playwright in New York. He is fluent in many languages (including Arabic and German), and writes columns for Die Zeit and Corriere della Sera. His 2011 book, “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” was described as “tremendous” by theNational Review. Once translated into German, it became a bestseller. Tenenbom spent a year among Germans, recording his encounters with caustic humor.
Now he has done it again, this time in Israel. He spent a year here, meeting both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and laymen, always introducing himself as “Tobi the German journalist.” The resulting book is altogether hilarious, tragic, and devastating.
Tobi begins his journey in Jerusalem. He meets with “Professor Assma” from Al-Quds University, who explains that “the Israelis crucified Jesus.” Then he goes to Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi, who claims that the Palestinians have been living here “for hundreds of thousands of years.” An agnostic Christian, Ashrawi admits that Christians, numerous in the past, are now rare in “our pluralistic Palestine”. But Muslims have nothing to do with this. It’s the Israelis.
Tobi walks around Ramallah and chats with Rim Talhami, a Christian Arab-Israeli singer who describes herself as “a Palestinian from the occupied lands of 1948.” Talhami explains to Tobi that “Palestine is 14,000 years old” (Hanan Ashrawi must have added a zero by mistake); that she strongly rejects the “two-state solution” because that would imply recognition of pre-1967 Israel; and that Israelis are worse than the Nazis. Back in Jerusalem, Tobi tells this story to his host, a liberal American Jew whose son works for Addalah, an NGO that receives funding from European governments to promote the Palestinian “right of return.” “That can’t be,” she protests. “People in Ramallah don’t talk like that.” When is the last time you were in Ramallah? Tobi asks her. She’s never been there.
Were Israelis like this when I was a child? Tobi wonders. There’s no place like Tel Aviv to meet real Israelis, such as this university professor who describes herself as an expert in Judaism (“a pagan religion,” she insists, but one she studied for decades). “What can you tell me about Isaiah’s vision?” asks Tobi. The “expert in Judaism” never heard of it. Next is Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy, a self-proclaimed advocate of the “Palestinian cause” who admits that he doesn’t speak Arabic and that he doesn’t have a single Palestinian friend. As for Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, his “dream” is the end of Israel with an Arab majority, though he doesn’t speak a word of Arabic either.
Then there is Itamar Shapira, an Israeli tour guide who describes himself as “an ex-Jew.” He is paid by European NGOs that are funded by the European Union (EU) and by European governments to give tours of Israel to European students. Itamar takes them to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, to explain that what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Jews are now doing to the Palestinians. Europe pays an ex-Jew to explain to young Europeans that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their grandparents because the Jews are much worse.
Sickened by the Jews, and ex-Jews, Tobi goes back to the Palestinians. He meets with PA official Jibril Rajoub. They become friends, and Jibril invites Tobi to one of his famous nature walks. Rajoub gets so fond of “Tobi the German” that he decides to give him a new nickname: “Abu Ali.” What an honor, explains one of Rajoub’s aides: this is how we call our German hero Adolph Hitler. Ah, sighs the aide, what a shame that Rommel didn’t make it.
Now “Abu Ali” misses the Israelis. He meets with Arik Ascherman from “Rabbis for Human Rights.” Israel is evil, and Arik can prove it. He organizes a tour of the West Bank for Tobi, thanks to European tax money, so that Tobi can see for himself how bad the settlers are. All day, Arik’s driver takes Tobi around the West Bank to catch settlers burning trees, destroying houses, and beating-up innocents. Alas, the settlers never show up. Thankfully, there is the Negev desert. There, Tobi will see for himself how the Bedouins suffer from ethnic cleansing. “No, no, we shall not be moved!” sings a Bedouin, in English, to Tobi. “Who wrote this song?” Tobi asks. The Europeans.
What emerges from this book is that Europeans are making things worse in our region by using the Arab-Israeli conflict to absolve themselves of their past crimes, and by laundering their anti-Semitism into humanitarianism.