PEN Canada, an arm of the international writers’ association, has come in for criticism from Jewish groups for inviting a vehement critic of Israel to speak at one of its events.
Max Blumenthal, a U.S. journalist and blogger, is slated to headline a Feb. 24 panel at the Toronto Public Library as part of Freedom to Read Week. The evening’s title is “Embattled Truths: Reporting on Gaza.”
Blumenthal, who has reported from Gaza, is the author of “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza and Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” Critics have described both books, as well as other works, as extreme in their anti-Israel tone, if not outright hatred of the Jewish state.
“Searching for truth within the fog of war is particularly consequential in dispatches from Israel’s occupied territories,” PEN Canada said on its website. “Depending on where we get our news, Gaza is either a terrorist haven and a legitimate military target, or a zone of unjustified violence against a captive civilian population.”
Blumenthal is “an odd choice,” Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs spokesman Martin Sampson told the Canadian Jewish News. “Why would they do that? Why would they put their reputation at risk by associating with Blumenthal?
“I think his extreme positions disqualify him from being a rational, reasonable contributor in the discourse about Israel.”
Blumenthal “represents the radical left’s extremist belief that Israel is the embodiment of all evil and has no right to exist,” Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Canadian Jewish News. Benlolo said Blumenthal’s books are popular on anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and conspiracy theory websites.
“I’m not sure what PEN is trying to achieve by giving Blumenthal a podium from which to spew his hatred, but if its goal is to contribute to increasing anti-Semitism in Canada, then I guess they will succeed,” Benlolo said.
PEN spokesman Brendan de Caires told the newspaper his group’s mandate is to “raise difficult subjects” while not necessarily endorsing them.
“We are a free speech organization. We embrace an open exchange of ideas,” he said, adding that Blumenthal fits PEN’s topic. “The whole premise of our discussion is that this is a hot topic.”
Blumenthal is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and now a Democratic candidate for president. The elder Blumenthal forwarded Clinton many of his son’s writings on the region, including several excoriations of Israel’s deadly raid of the Turkish flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010.