Catching up With Tuvia Tenenbom

Author Talks Books, Stereotypes and Trips to the Holy Land

Eight Eyes To Watch You: Tuvia Tenenbom and Adam Langer talk about Tenenbom’s next book project while seated in a booth in Jim Brady’s restaurant in lower Manhattan.
Isi Tenenbom
Eight Eyes To Watch You: Tuvia Tenenbom and Adam Langer talk about Tenenbom’s next book project while seated in a booth in Jim Brady’s restaurant in lower Manhattan.

By Adam Langer

Published August 24, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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So, do you think you’ll find something in Israel markedly different from what you found in Germany? Or do you think you’ll be writing the same sort of book featuring people with different names?

If the citizens of Israel turn out to be the same as the citizens of Germany, then I will be writing the same book. If they turn out to be stubborn racists, that’s what the book will say. If they are not, that’s what the book will say. It’s not going to be a propaganda book.

Is there any place you won’t go because you think it will be dangerous or maybe even boring?

I will go anywhere I can. But I’m not going to spend time negotiating trying to get somewhere. If I can cross into Gaza, I’ll go into Gaza, but I’m not going to spend two months negotiating with the Israelis and the Palestinians about the conditions. I’m not going to spend this kind of time; I’ve already done it before. I’m not going to risk myself for the sake of risking myself, either. I’m not there to find the CIA files, the Mossad files. I’m there to find a portrait of the country; it’s a more spiritual thing.

So you’ll talk to whoever talks to you.

That’s the point. I never give up on any human. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe this is the essence of open-mindedness, the essence of what liberalism should be, not what it has become in reality.

I’ll talk to you when you come back and see if you’ve changed your mind.

It will be fun. You cannot write about this with a heavy hand.

Sure, you can.

Well, you can, but it would be boring. Very few people will read you.

Are you an American citizen?

Yeah.

Do you vote?

I don’t. As a matter of principle. If you’re a journalist and engage in public debate, you shouldn’t be voting. At no point should you feel like you have a stake in this.

Did you ever?

Before I was a journalist, yeah. When I was in Israel as a young kid, I did. I voted one time for Menachem Begin, and the next time I voted for Shulamit Aloni. And that was the extent of it.

So, do you think what you write will upset a lot of people?

This is not my aim. I’m like an iPhone — I record what people think, who they are.

Maybe that’s true to an extent, but you can’t be completely innocent or objective in the process.

I try to be. As much as I can, I try to let you convince me.

And will you be speaking in English? Hebrew? Arabic?

Whatever. My Arabic’s not as good as my Hebrew and English, but it’s good enough. But the point is, I’m going to talk to whoever will talk to me, and I will say: “Take me on a journey to your world. You are my actor. You are my stage. I am the audience. And if you take me on a long, beautiful, dreamy trip, I’m going to join you. And if you take me on a dark trip, I’ll join you, but it’s not going to be fun.” I’m very interested in what I’ll learn. I’m very interested in whose side I’ll wind up being on.

Whose side are you on now?

I am so confused at this point.

You think you won’t be when you come back?

I hope that some characters will stick with me. I hope that I’ll see the people more than the ideas.

What are you most confused about now, on the eve of your trip?

What it means to be a Jew. What is Jewish? Who am I? Who are the Palestinians beyond the stereotypes? Who are the settlers beyond the stereotypes? Who are the ultra-Orthodox? Who are the Zionists? Do they still exist? And what about Israel? Will it exist in 50 years?

Do you think it will?

At the moment, I don’t. I don’t know if this kind of animosity between groups can sustain a country for a long time when they are so opposed in such a small area. If you do a two-state solution and give the Palestinians everything they want, you have Palestine on both sides and Israel in the middle. How can that survive? And if you don’t do that and you go for a one-state solution, you have to give everybody the vote. But I’m talking to you through what I’ve learned through the media.

I wonder if you’ll come back with any clarity or just more contradictions.

Everything is possible. I might come back with more questions than I have answers, more confused than I am now.

Maybe you’ll come back a convert.

To what?

To anything. Take your pick.

Maybe I’ll become a Hare Krishna; you never know. I’ll sing “Hare Krishna.” Or maybe I’ll get the Jerusalem syndrome and I’ll become a messiah. Next time you see me, I’ll be riding a donkey.


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