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March 8, 2017 8:00 am

Using Humor to Expose Hatred

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

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Review
Tuvia Tenenbom on one leg of his American trip. Photo: provided.

Tuvia Tenenbom on one leg of his American trip. Photo: provided.

Tuvia Tenenbom’s fantastic new book, The Lies They Tell, uses humor as a weapon to expose hatred.

The playwright, who runs the Jewish Theater of New York and is also a journalist, previously wrote books about modern-day antisemitism in Germany, and the large amount of Arab antisemitism in Israel.

Here, the Israeli native — who has lived primarily in New York for the past few decades — travels across the United States to see what “regular joes” think about Jews and Israel. In the book, former ADL chief Abraham Foxman tells Tenenbom to expect more antisemitism than ADL surveys report, because people reveal more to someone who talks to them informally than someone who calls with a survey.

The Lies They Tell is riveting because of the casual antisemitism that Tenenbom exposes. It’s hard to believe that so many people spoke this candidly to him on the record. Perhaps it was due to his vibrant appearance (Tenenbom sometimes wore pink glasses).

In Seattle, a cab driver from Somalia tells him that the “Jews own everything and they don’t help anybody who is not Jewish…that’s why Hitler killed them.” In Dearborn, Michigan, a man tells Tenenbom that Jews can pass through — but can’t live in — a certain area, and also claims that Jews carried out the 9/11 attacks. In Michigan, two women selling desserts proudly proclaim that they support Hezbollah.

In Chicago, police tell him that he should leave a dangerous area, where he is trying to interview African American youths. He tries to get an interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but an aide gives Tenenbom a business card with a fake email address. Another Chicago man uses toilet paper with Barack Obama’s picture on it. On numerous occasions, Tenenbom marvels at how the people he interviewed criticize Obama for being too soft on Israel and too hard on the Palestinians — while also admitting that they don’t know much about the topic.

Reading the book, one wonders if these people are representatives of all Americans — or just a bunch of wackos. Either way, the things that they say are pretty disturbing, and due to the recent spike of antisemitic attacks in the US, the book seems prophetic.

It’s hard not to be a fan of Tenenbom’s audacity, zeal and energy. In his writing and in his persona, Tenenbom is over the top. In the book, Tenenbom jokes that after getting high on marijuana, he doesn’t know the difference between Wagner and Moses. And he touches on race when he mentions that in nice restaurants, almost all of the patrons are white and the servers are minorities.

The Lies They Tell is a book that may or may not surprise you. Like many of Tenenbom’s works, it will make you laugh, but also disturb you and leave you wondering what exactly to make of what he’s uncovered. Even if we dismiss some of the most outrageous people that Tenenbom talks to, his findings are quite disturbing.

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