It’s a shame that Hillary Clinton wasn’t able to convince the Obama White House to let Sidney Blumenthal serve under her at the State Department. Blumenthal, the liberal journalist-turned-Clinton family consigliere, earned himself quite the reputation during the bruising 2008 Democratic primary, when his main job seemed to be sending out mass emails chock full of links to lurid stories about Barack Obama culled from the very “vast right-wing conspiracy” that he had combatted his entire adult life.
According to Politico, for his efforts, Blumenthal earned the moniker “Sulfur-Breathing Spawn of Hell” from Obama campaign staffers. That Clinton ever thought she had a chance of putting Blumenthal on the State Department payroll says something about her chutzpah.
If only those embittered Obama staffers had let bygones be bygones and harnessed the acumen of the inveterate emailer, they might have been able to strike a major blow for Middle East peace.
Buried in the pages of once-confidential missives that Blumenthal sent to Clinton during her tenure at the State Department, since subpoenaed by a congressional committee investigating the 2011 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, was a claim that the then-interim president of Libya, Mohammed Yussef el-Magariaf, wanted to “seek a discreet relationship with Israel.” According to a “sensitive source,” Blumenthal wrote, “political realities in Libya at present will dictate that this relationship be handled in a low key manner, but the new President of Libya shares many common friends and associates with the leaders of Israel and intends to take advantage of this situation to improve the lot of the Libyan people.”
It’s entirely possible that this information was overly optimistic, if not entirely false. Forwarding the email onto an aide, Clinton expressed skepticism, prefacing her remark that the news was “encouraging” with “if true.” When Seymour Hersh, himself a man known for an overactive imagination, questions the validity of your information (as he did Blumenthal’s claims, made in another email to Clinton, that Hersh was preparing to interview an ousted Muammar Gaddafi hiding in Chad), it’s a discouraging sign.
But what’s most revealing about Blumenthal’s giddy hopes for a potential Libyan-Israeli rapprochement is how much it differs from other sentiments he had expressed about the Jewish state. For it wasn’t so long ago that Sidney Blumenthal was hawking the vitriolic anti-Israel book published by his son, Max, and attacking those who had criticized it.
In the course of a short career, the younger Blumenthal gradually exiled himself from respectable journalistic outlets, and so several years ago decided to reinvent himself as Israel’s most outspoken and extreme Jewish antagonist, at one point writing for a Beirut-based newspaper aligned with the Assad regime in Syria, before deciding that the blood-drenched regime in Damascus was no longer to his liking. His 2013 book Goliath is so venomous in its denunciations of Israel, and so strident in its defense of terrorism against it, that Eric Alterman, himself a harsh critic of Israel and a columnist for the far-left Nation magazine, concluded that it “could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed) without a single word change once it’s translated into Arabic.”
The book is replete with comparisons of Israeli Jews to Nazis, and calls for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East. The book’s last chapter, “Exodus,” a riff on Jewish biblical history and the Leon Uris tome of the same name, envisions the reverse Exodus of the Jews out of their homeland. Asked at a 2013 event about what he believes should happen to Israel’s Jews, Blumenthal fils responded, “There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (that is, the Jewish population): “Become indigenized…you have to be part of the Arab world.” Those who don’t? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic majority is non-negotiable.” In other words, leave or suffer.
When Max’s book came under attack from Alterman, Sidney did what he does best: he launched what Buzzfeed described as “an online campaign” against the Nation columnist. According to Alterman, “I worried that by telling the truth about his son’s book, I would soon hear of nasty e-mails about me sent by Sid to our mutual friends and professional acquaintances. Call it ‘bizarre,’ if you will, but sadly, that’s just what happened.”
It’s one thing to love your son, and another entirely to endorse his controversial work (Sidney hosted a book party for Max) and attack those who criticize it. By doing so, Blumenthal the elder identified himself as a sponsor of his son’s calumnies.
Not that everyone hated Goliath. Frazier Glenn Cross, the 73-year-old white supremacist who murdered three people at Kansas Jewish Community Center and retirement home last year, was one of Blumenthal’s biggest devotees. “Jew journalist Max Blumenthal exposes and explains this attempt by a foreign government Israel, to buy the presidential election for the neo-con, war-mongering republican establishment,” Cross wrote on a Ron Paul fan site in 2012, referencing an interview Blumenthal gave on the Russian government-funded RT network. A survey of a white supremacist web forum run by Cross found over 300 references to Blumenthal and his work, with posters lauding his exposes of nefarious Jewish influence.
Last year, Max earned himself the distinction of being barred from the German Bundestag after he chased the leader of the country’s Left Party into a toilet, demanding to know why the parliamentarian had put the kibosh on a talk Blumenthal was scheduled to give at the invitation of two Left Party members. Scheduled to speak on the day after the anniversary of Kristallnacht, outraged party members initiated a petition criticizing their colleagues’ hosting Blumenthal, which they said amounted to “stoking obsessive hate and demonization of Israel with an anti-Semitic argument pattern and trivialization of the Holocaust.”
The Clintons value loyalty about all else, and it’s hard to imagine Sidney Blumenthal doing anything that would make Hillary consider him a liability. But Blumenthal’s freelance diplomacy raises an intriguing question: who is the real Sidney Blumenthal? The one promoting Israel’s interest in the broader Middle East by trumpeting a Libyan politician eager to make peace with the Jewish state? Or the one who promotes his son’s work portraying Israel as a uniformly ghastly, racist country and American Jews as its disloyal double agents?