Catch the Jew!

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

Catch the Jew! chron­i­cles sev­en months the author spent criss-cross­ing the Holy Land in an attempt to win­now fact from myth in the prin­ci­pal polit­i­cal nar­ra­tive cur­rent­ly being spun by anti-Zion­ists. Is Israel in fact a tyran­ni­cal occu­pi­er of Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ry, or are reports of unfair treat­ment exag­ger­at­ed, if not out­right fabricated?

Tenen­bom estab­lish­es him­self from the out­set as an objec­tive observ­er. Though born in Israel, where he was raised in an ultra-Ortho­dox envi­ron­ment, he has long since part­ed ways with his home­land, liv­ing and work­ing now in the Unit­ed States (he found­ed the Jew­ish The­ater of New York in 1994 and still serves as its artis­tic direc­tor). He has lit­tle patience with both zeal­ous­ly reli­gious and zeal­ous­ly PC Jews, and a great love for the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple he meets in his trav­els, which com­bine gonzo jour­nal­ism with Borscht Belt gueril­la the­ater. Though flu­ent in both Hebrew and Ara­bic, Tenen­bom often plays dumb, pos­ing as a Ger­man tourist to suss out the true views of those he encoun­ters, emerg­ing not so much as an agent provo­ca­teur as a polit­i­cal­ly savvy tummler.

Since Tenenbom’s research is pure­ly anec­do­tal, it is hard to know how much cre­dence to lend to his gen­er­al con­clu­sion that Israel is get­ting the short end of inter­na­tion­al media cov­er­age. Nev­er­the­less, his book pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing insight into the pointil­list nature of Israeli soci­ety, where it seems impos­si­ble to turn around with­out bump­ing into a half-dozen dis­crete inter­est groups of wild­ly vary­ing prove­nance, pur­pose, and coher­ence. The book’s prin­ci­pal draw­back is a clum­sy, and uncred­it­ed, Eng­lish trans­la­tion from the orig­i­nal Hebrew (the book was a run­away best­seller in Israel). While Tenen­bom strives might­i­ly to be sharply satir­i­cal, the translation’s slop­py gram­mar and dic­tion rob too many of his punch lines of their sting.

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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