Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Goldberg’

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish Exceptionalism

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Apparently the criticism of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Amalek defense” of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gotten to the Goldblog, because his latest defense is somewhere between shrill and absurd. In short, the criticism “perverts” the story of Judaism’s obsession with Amalek because, well, because apparently it’s just not possible for Judaism to do/condone bad things:

In any case, this whole debate is a perversion, and not only because genocide is the specialty of other religions, and not Judaism. Iran has called for the elimination of the Jewish state, and seems to be building nuclear weapons that could make that a reality; Israel simply seeks to protect itself from a country that wants to exterminate it. If Israel does strike Iran, it would bomb military targets while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, already has a long and distinguished record of murdering Jewish children. There’s simply no equivalence here. Yes, Israel does various idiotic and immoral things. But it isn’t, even on its worst day, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It’s rare to see this much deplorable nonsense rolled into one paragraph, so let’s unpack it point by point. First of all, and most obvious, is Goldberg’s overt resort to an argument of tautology. Apparently Jews do not commit genocide in the same way that Americans don’t torture; if we do it, it’s by definition not bad. But this is just, well, odd. God commanded Saul to kill every single Amalekite, man, woman, and child, as well as killing all of their livestock. Saul was removed from his kingship for taking the livestock for spoils instead of killing them, and for letting the Amalekite king live. That’s a genocidal order any way you slice it, and a divine punishment for not carrying out the order murderously enough. It would be one thing, I suppose, if Goldberg were taking the orthodox position that this was ok because it was commanded by God, but that would sound rather ridiculous, especially in the context of complaining about religious terrorists who believe they’re carrying out divine orders. So Goldberg resorts to pure Bushist tautology; Jews don’t commit genocide, so if Jews do something, it’s not genocide. And he doesn’t just leave it at that because, instead of just saying “Judaism does not specialize in genocide,” he adds the modifier “unlike other religions.” This begs the obvious question; which religions do Goldberg feel “specialiaze in genocide?” 

What’s really odd about this whole string of posts from Goldberg though is how he’s basically trying to argue that the Amalex reference is irrelevant, even though it was his column that brought it up. Yes, it was an “aide” to Bibi, not the Prime Minister himself, who invoked the specter of Amalek to describe Bibi’s mindset, but it stands to reason that Goldberg thought there was something to that when he put it in the original column. And given this factor, it simply doesn’t make any sense to blithely declare that Israel doesn’t want to harm Iranian civilians; God’s commandment to Saul was not to kill the Amalekite king, but take care to spare everyone else, it was to kill every single Amalekite. There’s not really any way around that. Which isn’t to say that I think Israel does intend to wage some genocidal war against Iran (I don’t), it’s merely to point out how stupid the analogy was, and continues to be. Goldberg is trying to have it both ways; on the one hand, he wants to invoke the ancient bane of the Jews who, in Jewish tradition, epitomizes evil to describe Iran in maximally favorable terms, but at the same time he wants to disavow the implications of that comparison, based on a reading of the scriptures. Shorter, Goldberg is trying to invoke “Jewish tradition,” while at the same time trying to pretend the scripture says something other than, well, what it says. And the increasingly shrill tone being taken more or less belies that Goldberg knows there’s no way out of this for him, short of implied accusations of anti-Semitism, which is all the above quote represents.

Finally, as Matt Duss points out, Goldberg’s off-hand comment that Iran “seems to be e building nuclear weapons” is completely unsupported by facts, as it is the official position of the US intelligence community that Iran has not restarted its weapons program since halting it in 2003. But of course, over-hyping threats based on completely unsupported, sensationalist claims would be par for the course with Goldberg. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg: Still a Warmongering Wanker

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I was going to write a nice long post about this drivel from “Goldblog,” but ultimately, it’s just not worth the time. Anyway I’ll just note that Goldberg resorts to the typical neocon tropes of implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war in order to paint their extraordinary measures vis-a-vis the civilian population in that conflict as somehow unusual, and responding to evidence casting doubt on Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons with nothing more than a completely speculative claim that they’re lying.

I’d also point out that Goldberg is just completely misrepresenting scriptural references in calling God’s command to commit genocide against te Amalekites an “inoperable commandment, never to be carried out.” TO be sure, Saul found himself unable to commit the brutal act, but in response, God stripped him of his kingship in favor of David, who waged a continuing war attempting to exterminate the Amalekites. Which really just leaves one question; is there anything Jeffrey Goldberg won’t lie about to agitate for war against Muslim countries?

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Bibi’s Epic Fail, The Israel Lobby Gets Shrill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The entire article is well worth a read, but this bit from Gideon Levy’s Haaretz column really stood out to me:

Suddenly all of Israel’s “friends” in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.

How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.

I don’t know how accurate the line about “Israel’s friens in Washington” is. AIPAC is more or less unchanged in position, and the rest of the usual suspects are similarly consistent. There’s perhaps a growing awareness that further settlement activity will impede the peace process, and even be bad for Israel’s interests in the long run, but there seems to be little desire to emphasize the point amongst right-of-center Israel watchers, and even less desire to push for the dismantling of existing settlements.

Still, the point about Bibi’s failure in Washington is well taken. Netanyahu was clearly hoping to force Obama into a concilliatory position with regards to Likud, a posture Obama rather easily brushed off, leaving Bibi looking rather ridiculous in places. I’m actually sort of surprised this happened, actually, given Bibi’s reputation for handling Western sentiments, and, putting aside the possibility that this is exaggerated for a second, this sort of makes you wonder if 8 years of an extremely deferential American administration hasn’t made the Israeli state somewhat delusional in regards to the special relationship. After all, great powers rarely like being pushed around geopolitically, and certainly don’t take kindly to being pushed around by a much smaller state that is much more dependent on us than we are them.

And you can almost sense the realization of the worm turning amongst the usual suspects. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, is barely even trying anymore (apparently, writing hagiographies to Bibi couched in little more than ancient superstition as if it’s a positive aspect to Bibi’s personality will suck the intellectual will right out of you), and it’s almost hard to follow his thought process at this point. Does Goldberg think it was a mistake to normalize relations with Vietnam? Does he think the US, or vital US interests, have been adversely affected by this move? I mean, Cohen’s point in relation to Vietnam is so benign a sto almost be inarguable. Which, I suspect, is why Goldberg has to attack it in such irrelevant terms; too much reminding people that normal relations with “mean” people doesn’t, in fact, lead to buildings blowing up in Omaha and the AIPAC line will seem even sillier than it does right now. (Also, does Goldberg really think he’s insulting Cohen by linking him and one of the most respected International Relations scholars alive?) 

Also, via Yglesias, I see that David Ignatius, for one, has finally realized that Israeli “peace offers” are shot through with ridiculous demands the Palestinians must accept, even though no rational actor would ever accept such an egregious encroachment upon their sovereign rights. Now if only Ignatius (or Yglesias, for that matter), would notice that the Israeli center-left, as represented by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, made exactly the same demands and then some at Camp David in 2000. It’s not ust Likud that’s imposing a barrier to agreement on the Israeli side of things.

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Jeffrey Goldberg’s Continuing Netanyahu Hagiography

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

From today’s New York Times:

Nevertheless, the prime minister’s preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear program seems sincere and deeply felt. I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.”

“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.

If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think. In our recent conversation, Mr. Netanyahu avoided metaphysics and biblical exegesis, but said that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons represented a “hinge of history.”

So let me get this straight; Netanyahu’s fixation with Iran is the result of a belief that the Iranians are the latest manifestation of an ancient malevolent spirit that, according to religious tradition, has been tormenting the Jewish people since the days of Moses, and is responsible for Babylonian conquests, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and Hitler and Stalin…but Iran is the “apocalyptic messianic cult?” Seriously?

Snark aside, this is to be expected from Goldberg, who ultimately is nothing but an AIPAC hack who will shamelessly shill for whatever Israeli policy is at the moment. Some people have taken to referring to the AIPAC wing of the American “Israel debate” as the “Likud lobby,” but this strikes me as being wrong. AIPAC, Goldberg, and company will mostly shill for whatever Israeli policy is at the moment, regardless of who is leading the government at the time. This is, in no small part, because on the question of the Palestinian conflict, there’s really no difference, beyond superficial optics, between the major three parties in Israel.

The real shame here lies with the Times for accepting a submission from Goldberg. Jeffrey Goldberg is the writer who not only savaged Jon Mearshimer and Stephen Walt in one of the most unprofessional, unserious “book reviews” ever printed by a major media publication (eventhulibrul New Republic), he’s the “journalist” who was most loudly running around in “mainstream” outlets trumpeting the connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the run up to the Iraq War. You would think that being that spectacularly wrong about such a critical piece of information, and his obvious lack of objectivity in matters regarding the Middle East, and Israel in particular, would largely disqualify him from getting any further warmongering published in “respectable” outlets, let alone in the week when we’re getting quite a bit of knowledge about the ways in which torture was employed to produce “evidence” of the arguments Goldberg was advancing prior to Iraq.

But that’s not how American journalism works anymore, is it?

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It’s the Hegemony

Monday, April 13th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’m of the opinion that some of Roger Cohen’s reporting regarding Iran has been overly glib, but I suppose that’s somewhat understandable considering the nature of the criticism he’s encountered for it. Still, his column in The New York Times last week was both very good, and very important for the ideas it will hopefully put into the discourse surrounding the new Israeli government, and Israeli foreign policy in general.

First of all, it’s good to see such a reminder that Israel has long been hysterical about Iran. As Cohen points out, a mere 5 years before 9/11, and only 2 years before the al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Africa, Shimon Peres was declaring Iran the “center” of global terrorism, as well as predicting Iran would possess a nuclear weapon by 1999. 10 years later, Iran is still nukeless, and has halted their weapons program altogether according to U.S. intelligence, and no one is asking Peres for betting tips. But Israeli leaders are still hyping the specter of a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. But Cohen takes on that canard as well, by noting that the evidence of the body of action by the Iranian regime since 1979 is one of both realist rationality and a seeming aversion to direct armed conflict. And that’s without noting that it’s been literally centuries since the Persians have waged an expansionary war of any kind.

But most important is the fact that Cohen calls out the real reason Israel has been perpetually worked up about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. Simply put, it’s the hegemony stupid. At present, Israel enjoys more or less unchecked dominance in the Middle East. Their military can route any of their neighbors, and can probably fend pretty well against all of the Arabic states working in unison. Additionally, there’s very little in the way of a deterrant on Israeli action present. The closest you get is in Saudi Arabia, where the central importance of their oil production to the global economy means that the world likely would have little patience for an Israeli attack against Saudi Arabia that would send the price of oil to largely unimagined levels, but even that isn’t quite as effective as a legitmate military counterweight. But, a nuclear armed Iran would function as a significant deterrant against Israeli military action. Israel would be constrained by the same principle of MAD that other nuclear armed powers have been vis-a-vis their dealings with Iran, and the Iranians could extend a protective shield to other states in the region, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the region away from Israel and to, at the least, one that is fundamentally balanced between the nuclear armed Iran and the nuclear armed, highly sophisticated, Israel. Which isn’t t say that this isn’t a legitimate rationale for Israeli positioning, but it’s important that the United States keep this in mind when they hear Bibi implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war, or casually asserting that a regime that has managed to last for 30 years now will suddenly become suicidal, in order to justify an Israeli attack that would cause the region to erupt.

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Jeffrey Goldberg’s New War

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Personally, my favorite nugget in “Goldblog’s” interview with Bibi has nothing to do with the Israeli Prime Minister whatsoever. Rather, it’s this bit off seemingly off handed framing Goldberg inserts:

Both Israeli and American intelligence officials agree that Iran is moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.

Of course, that’s not true. American intelligence believes that “Tehran halted their nuclear weapons programs in 2003.” And Goldberg seems to let on to this a few sentences later:

American officials argue that Iran has not crossed the “technological threshold”; the director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said recently that Israel and the U.S. are working with the same set of facts, but are interpreting it differently. “The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said.

Of course, what Blair is saying, while putting it diplomatically, is that the Israelis are acting irrationally out of emotion (I’d quibble with the reasoning, but that’s best left for another post). What Goldberg wants you to infer is that Israel is the one interpreting the facts correctly, which is why he so casually misleads his readers with intonements about how American intelligence agrees that Iran is “moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.” The only way that’s true, based on what Goldberg goes on to lay out, is if Blair is telling the truth that Americans and Israelis have the same set of facts, and Israel is interpreting them correctly. Of course, misleading the public in the name of furthering a march to war is a game Goldberg is quite familiar with.

Not for nothing, it’s things like this that drove the Chas Freeman controversy. More than a few people have remarked on how bizarre it was the see the chairmanship of the NIC raised to such a high stakes position, but what people like Goldberg and Steven Rosen were afraid of was the possibility that Freeman’s “contrarian” realism might lead him to take a much more critical reading of intelligence vis-a-vis Iran, and would likely be unreceptive to the sort of irrational hyping Israel and the Israel lobby prefers, and is necessary to keep the drumbeat for war with Iran going. At this point, the real question is which American leader is going to be brave enough to accurately characterize the opinion of the American intelligence apparatus, and stop genuflecting to the myth of Iranian nuclear weapon development.

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The Politics of Oppression

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Not that he has a lot of credibility, but Jeffrey Goldberg does do a lot here to illuminate how the media sees the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Responding to Daniel Levy’s criticism of Israel’s withdraw from Gaza, Goldberg writes:

Ariel Sharon did not evacuate Gaza to serve the Oslo peace process. But he evacuated Gaza all the same. His motivation is not as interesting to me as the colossal reality. Yes, it was wrong to do unilaterally — I agree with Daniel on that — but he did it! And Daniel knows as well as I do that Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, hoped to do the same thing across much of the West Bank. But what stopped him? Palestinian rockets from Gaza, a special gift from Hamas. Palestinians interested in a two-state solution would have viewed the withdrawal in 2005 as a first, important step toward independence.

Assuming that Goldberg has a better working knowledge of the situation than most, this is an alarmingly dishonest stance to take. Palestinians interested in a two-state solution didn’t view the withdrawl as an “importnt step toward independence,” not because they didn’t want a peaceful solution, but because the Gaza withdrawal was never meant to achieve that. Rather, Sharon gambled, accurately as it turns out, that withdrawing from the battered, impverished, and mostly useless land in Gaza he could earn cover in the Western, and especially American, media to ramp up settlements in the much more valuable West Bank.

And there’s also the little issue of the subsequent blockade of Gaza by the Israelis that largely cut the territory off from the rest of the world. That a battered, desolate, overcrowded, and deeply impoverished area didn’t develop a vibrant economy and functioning government given the blockade really shouldn’t surprise anyone, but nevertheless media figures like Marty Peretz and Jeffrey Goldberg inevitably use it as proof that the Palestinians somehow aren’t serious about a peaceful solution or governing themselves like civilized people (or in some cases, that they aren’t people at all). And that’s a feature of Israeli strategy as it relates to the area, not a bug.

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