Tuvia Tenenbom, Catch The Jew!

, March 8, 2016

Catch The Jew! By Tuvia Tenenbom, Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2015, 484 pp.

In 1982-83, leading Israeli author Amos Oz traveled throughout the country on both sides of the long-gone Green Line. He recorded his experiences, first in a series of articles in the Labor party newspaper, Davar, and, later, in a book entitled Here and There in the Land of Israel, published in 1983. Oz refers to the country as “Land” rather than “State” because of his visits to Ofra and Tekoa, newly established Jewish communities in Samaria and Judea. He thus maintains the pre-state geographical terminology. A decade later, the English translation of his book was published with a postscript. Recently, some thirty years later, Tuvia Tenenbom has written a riveting account of his travels throughout Israel, on both sides of the Green Line, during 2013-2014. The difference between the two books is striking.

Tenenbom’s engrossing, shocking, cynical and humorously scripted book peels away layers of the context behind the news about Israel’s administration of Judea and Samaria. These territories, referred to as the West Bank (of the river Jordan), were ruled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from 1948-1967. When Israel was attacked in June 1967, it took those areas that were originally part of the League of Nations Mandate. Many Israelis, Diaspora Jews, Arabs and their supporters, mainly from Europe, regard Judea and Samaria as lands that are under Israel’s “illegal occupation” that must be liberated from Zionist-Israeli rule.

Catch the Jew! is a sequel to the investigative study by Edwin Black, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel, published in 2013, and the brief volume by Edward Alexander, Jews against Themselves (2015). Taken together, the three books provide a fuller and deeper understanding of the reality of pro-Palestinian interventionism.

Critic Raphael Magarik accused Tenenbom of penning “revelations [that] are padded and cheapened by lazy generalizations…sweeping prejudices.” Tenenbom, however, meticulously identifies his interlocutors by name and often is photographed with them. He designates specific locations and provides direct quotations and other details. Therefore, the book is objective, reliable and credible. By writing about issues such as Jews who base their anti-Zionism on fabrications and identification with terror; Arabs who engage in lies and misrepresentations; and Europeans who openly display their antisemitism, Tenenbom has upset and angered many people. His shaming of the officials of the Palestinian Authority by pointing out their questionable conduct toward their own people, as well as toward Israelis, discredits the uncompromising pro-Palestinian stance of their supporters.

Posing as a German for several months, Tuvia Tenenbom, who grew up as a haredi Jew, visited many places and interviewed a variety of personalities. Through his investigative journalism, he penetrates their mindset and follows their activities. Catch the Jew! shows the illogical premises and assumptions of Jews, Arabs and Europeans as they seek to “liberate Palestine.” Some of the characters appear to be nasty; others are pitiful. Some are propagandists and Jew-haters and others are motivated by self-hatred. Tenenbom presents people who are convinced by lies and those who invent them. Often, otherwise intelligent people spout inanities. His humor is presented without frustration and it is difficult to believe that the situation could be so bad.

For example, the Palestinian human rights organization, B’Tselem, employs an Arab field worker who is a Holocaust denier. A British journalist tries hard to make his interviewee conform to the requirements of his story that seem far from the truth.

Reform Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights receives special treatment. Tenenbom notes that a Christian Zionist knows the Bible better than he does. (241) In fact, I was present at the shouting match that Ascherman initiated at the book launch in Jerusalem. His behavior probably was a reaction to the embarrassing put-down in Tenenbom’s book.

Catch the Jew! proves that some international promoters of human rights simply deny the rights of Jews and Israelis. Arab residents of the Palestinian Authority appear only to care about the “struggle against the occupation.” Tenenbom observes presidents and prostitutes. He visits the Knesset and a hospital, goes on a midnight walk with a former terrorist, and even stops at a village that does not exist. An astute observer of human nature, he states that when Arabs are caught telling lies, they dismiss it and laugh, while Jews become tense. (262)

The book contains several factual errors. For example, on page 92, he writes that “Haim Arlosoroff was most likely killed [in 1933] by Jewish assassins.” This is may not be accurate. It is possible that the killers were Arabs. On page 93, he incorrectly suggests that David Ben-Gurion “probably” ordered the killing of the vocal Dutch-Jewish, anti-Zionist Jacob Israel DeHaan in 1924. It may have been a story that he heard as a haredi child. On page 133, he quotes Irene Pollak-Rein that German foundations do not fund projects that cater solely to Jews, only those that seek to integrate Jews and Arabs, despite the fact that these foundations provide money for projects that are exclusively for Arabs. This also applies as far as the United States Consulate in Jerusalem is concerned. Thousands of Jewish citizens of the U.S. who live in Judea and Samaria receive only consular services, while the Consulate attends to the cultural, artistic and scientific needs of the Arab population. And, on page 394, Tenenbom mentions that the Templars of Sarona were deported from Mandate Palestine during World War II but does not inform the reader of their pro-Nazi orientation. On the balance, these factual errors and omissions do not detract from this highly readable and informative book.

In his conclusion, Tenenbom notes the mantra of the majority of human rights activists asserted by a European whom he meets, as follows: “The Arab-Israeli conflict is my business.” (418) As Dr. Einat Ramon, wife of Arik Ascherman, admits: “Being a human rights activist in our time is to be a persona, not a philosophy; it’s a fad, it’s a fashion…No facts will persuade him.” Tenenbom’s account leaves one with the cynical observation that should there be peace, these activists will lose their jobs. Their presence in Judea and Samaria actually is a business. In any case, Catch the Jew! is an essential contribution to our understanding of the anomalies involved in the Arab-Israel conflict and the dubious contribution of Europeans and others whose vested interests may be to keep it alive.

About Yisrael Medad

Yisrael Medad holds a MA degree in Political Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is currently the Deputy Editor of the new critical-edition English langauge anthology of Ze’ev Jabotisnky’s collected writings.