Text size

The night before Barack Obama thrilled Cairo, two cameramen strolled through downtown Jerusalem and filmed a handful of drunken American kids doing their best David Duke impressions. Forty-eight hours later, the video has gone viral, linked from a hundred political blogs, and is circling the internet at a critical velocity on a mission to humiliate the Jewish people.

As someone who lives on and off in the American bubble in Tel Aviv and came to Israel on a Birthright tour like some of the kids in the video may have, this is embarrassing, shocking, bizarre, but familiar. And as someone who spent many nights grimacing at similar overheard conversations from American Jews in town for the week from Long Island, the booze-fueled hubris and uber-Zionism is not so strange at all. In the Jewish homeland for the first time, on a free trip, fleetingly experiencing a place gripped by a visceral realism and powerful sense of purpose, it's easy to let the beer overtake you.

While documentary filmmaker Max Blumenthal rejects this argument ("No amount of alcohol could make me express opinions that were not authentically mine," he says. "If anything, alcohol is a crude form of truth serum that lubricates the release of closely held opinions and encourages confessional talk."), many American Jews understand how hubris and chutzpah can flow much freer in Israel. Spared the political correctness, decorum and social mores of America (or Britain, South Africa or Australia), many find that they walk taller, step louder, and even sprinkle their speech with words they'd never say back home.

Not to excuse the behavior of those in the video, I don't believe this idiocy reflects the values of young American Jews or their opinions on Obama, but rather the way that Israel, in particular Jerusalem, can radicalize the young to the left or the right. It also proves (once again), that fools and alcohol and camcorders do not make a good match.

Coincidentally, the video comes about a week after Haaretz reported on the campaign launched by far-right Israelis called "No, you can't," meant to persuade their countrymen of the dangers of the "anti-Semitic" Barack Hussein Obama - with the emphasis on "Hussein." So far, the campaign appears to consist of sparsely attended rallies and posters of Obama in a kaffiyeh, much like those of Yitzhak Rabin before his 1995 assassination.

For many, the video is shocking because they think Jews aren't supposed to be racist. Especially not nice Jewish boys like those in the video, showing off the hip hop gear bought on the mean streets of Great Neck, their hats cocked sideways as they survey the city they profess to own.

There are really only two types of young American Jews in Israel: the ones who head for Jerusalem, and the ones who go to Tel Aviv. I hope Blumenthal films his next segment in Tel Aviv, though the results would probably be far less salacious. On a balcony in Florentin, he would ask the drum circle what they think of Obama and through the purple haze would hear only praise for the president, before being forced to listen to a 30-minute account of a recent trip to Nepal.

This video either proves that drunk Americans are starting to resemble Kahanists, or Israeli far-rightists have achieved the rhetorical brilliance of drunk American Jewish yahoos. Talking to drunken American Jewish 19-year-olds to gauge Israeli opinion on Obama is like using far-right conservatives to measure American public opinion on gay marriage. You're speaking to the wrong crowd and at the wrong time of night, only in a country where there is no closing time or public drinking ordinances. One can only imagine what would be caught on film in an American college town under these circumstances.

More by Benjamin Hartman:

  • Making swine flu kosher: A symptom of the disease of Israeli politics
  • 'Lapdancegate': Strip club witch-hunt misses the point
  • Lieber-fear and Bibi-phobia: How fear of the far-right could make Livni PM
  • Benjamin Hussein Netanyahu, or, How a little bit of Obama goes a long way
  • Ben Hartman on the U.S. elections