Tuvia Tenenbom was born into an ultra-Orthodox family in Israel but broke with his background and left 33 years ago for the US where he is a dramatist, theatre producer and journalist. He wrote a best-selling book based on a six-month journey round Germany and when his publisher suggested a similar book on Israel he jumped at the chance. Catch the Jew! (Gefen Books, £20.99) is the result. It is unexpectedly revealing and sobering.
Tenenbom has been compared to the documentary film-maker Michael Moore and described as a “gonzo” journalist, which is generally taken to mean an anti-establishment type with a cavalier disregard for facts. It is presumably why Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman declined to be interviewed by him. They may have missed a trick because Tenenbom came up with a rather different picture of his native land, and of the Palestinian territories, than might have been expected.
What he found was a country full of self-hating Israelis and foreign NGOs, often funded by the European Union, combining to promote a distorted and largely untruthful image of the place.
He described himself as a German journalist and did not reveal that he spoke fluent Hebrew. The result was that Palestinian leaders and spokemen spoke openly to him, thinking he was on their side, as Germany finances many NGOs. The result is not flattering to them, revealing for instance widespread Holocaust denial, although they were reluctant to let Tenenbom see too much for himself on the ground, so used are they to European journalists doing little more than take dictation.
Things are just as bad in Israel itself, he found. He accompanied a group of young Italians, sponsored by an EU-funded “peace organisation” called Casa per la Pace Milano, on a tour of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Amazingly, their Israeli tour guide (who called himself “an ex-Jew”) used the tour to compare Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and asylum seekers with the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews in Europe: “What happens here in Israel is Holocaust,” Tenenbom quotes him as saying. Tenenbom muses: “It is interesting to see what the EU people are busy with these days, using Yad Vashem, the monument for millions of Jews slaughtered at their hands, as a platform for poisonous propaganda against the survivors of their butchery.” What impressions the young Italians took home with them are all too easy to imagine.
Wherever he goes, Tenenbom finds European busybodies monitoring Israel’s activities in the West Bank and boosting the Palestinians’ feeling of victimhood: Medecins sans Frontieres, EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) and, worst of all in his view, the ubiquitous International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “I don’t know why a bunch of Swiss-only nationals, individuals who were never elected in any democratic process and whose meetings are secretive, have so much power,” he comments and concludes: “The age-old story of Europe’s hatred of the Jews is continuing to this very day.”
As for the NGOs, they may find life more difficult in the coming months. The new justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, whose appointment was greeted with horror by liberals, advocates a law banning foreign funding of NGOs, and is now in a position to do something about it.