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.