The resident anti-Semitism expert at Tablet, Yair Rosenberg, raised an important question in his recent attack on Phil Weiss and Mondoweiss. When, if ever, is it “news” and appropriate for a news organization to raise a person’s ethnicity or religion when announcing a hire? Rosenberg accused Phil Weiss of anti-Semitism for calling attention to the fact that the Atlantic magazine gave no hint of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish Defense League/Israeli Defense Forces past, or his very unusual Jewish/Zionist identity when announcing his appointment as editor-in-chief. This two-part article will delve a little deeper into Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish identity and let readers decide for themselves whether that information might be a benefit in understanding Jeffrey Goldberg the journalist and editor.
To see what makes Jeffrey Goldberg different from every mainstream Jewish journalist, let’s compare him to another leading Jewish journalist, the Haaretz columnist and CNN commentator Peter Beinart.
They have the same profile. They are both centrist Democrats who have almost identical domestic policy positions. They both supported the Iraq war. They both take their Judaism seriously. The only difference seems to be that Goldberg is more hawkish on foreign policy questions and Israel.
In fact, the ideological difference between Jeffrey Goldberg and Peter Beinart is much greater than meets the eye. Take, for example Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the Palestinian-led civil rights movement. At first you will notice the similarity between the two. Both Beinart and Goldberg, being Zionists, support the two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict and they oppose BDS. The BDS movement, in its stated policy or not, seem to favor a one-state democratic solution to the I/P conflict.
It is what happens next where the ideological divergence between Peter Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg is most apparent. Consider this Goldberg tweet from last May:
The Facebook photograph is of a Norwegian ska/punk band called Razika at a demonstration. The young musicians are happy to advertise their support for boycotting Israel at a rally- “fri Palestina!” The word Jews is nowhere to be found.
Jeffrey Goldberg connects these young European women’s support of BDS to historical European anti-semitism. Goldberg’s tweet suggests that when he looks at these women they remind him of the Hitler Youth. Goldberg doesn’t believe these women could have come to their support for the Palestinian cause “honestly,” that is, on the basis of Israeli policies and practices. He believes it must be a result of Jew hatred– that they grew up reading Mein Kampf in their beds with a flashlight under the covers after the lights were out.
Despite being considered by those who should know, as the best journalist in the country– or the best of “just under 500 people as the current and next generation stars to meet,” as the owner of the Atlantic put it, in announcing Goldberg’s hire— I don’t think Jeffrey Goldberg reached his conclusion about these women’s Jew hatred by intrepid reporting, or having a deep source inside the Norwegian BDS campaign, for that matter.
This is not Jeffrey Goldberg the Journalist tweeting; this is the Jewish advocate Jeffrey Goldberg speaking.
Let’s gather some more evidence of what Jeffrey Goldberg acting as a Jewish advocate is telling us.
Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, supports BDS. That is not remarkable. That commitment is consistent with the rest of her politics. When Stein endorsed BDS last June, she cited US aid to “governments committing war crimes and massive human rights violations, including Israel and Saudi Arabia,” and described BDS as a “peaceful, nonviolent set of actions organized by civil society across the world aimed to end Israeli apartheid, occupation, war crimes, and systematic human rights abuses.”
Jeffrey Goldberg did not see the statement as a political action.
Goldberg reasons according to a simple syllogism 1. BDS hates Jews. 2. Jill Stein is Jewish 3. Jill Stein must be crazy in the head to support BDS.
As an aside, this is one of numerous examples where Jeffrey Goldberg treats those with Jewish identities he doesn’t favor as religions have historically treated their heretics. I will return to this Goldberg mindset in part two.
Here is yet another tweet of Goldberg with the same message. BDS is preoccupied with Jew hatred.
Now note how Peter Beinart speaks about the same BDS movement that according to Jeffrey Goldberg is all about Jew hatred. While he is also against it, he is open to other perspectives:
“… I oppose the BDS movement. But one can be a Zionist, and celebrate the miraculous rebirth of Jewish statehood in the land of Israel, yet also recognize why Palestinians—even Palestinians who don’t hate Jews—might see our blessing as their curse.
And what does Beinart think about the claim that the BDS movement is anti semitic?
“Equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism turns Palestinians into Amalekites. By denying that they might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.
Palestinians didn’t become anti-Zionists because they needed a rationale for hating Jews and found the old ones outdated. They become anti-Zionists because their experience with Zionism was extremely rough.”
So Peter Beinart is saying: while he opposes the BDS movement, he has no reason to question the motives of the movement. He sees nothing inherently immoral about BDS. He understands BDS as a manifestation of the Palestinian encounter with a successful Zionist project. It makes total sense from their perspective.
And Beinart goes even further than that. He says those who attach the anti-Semitic label to anti-Zionists are guilty of dehumanization of their very human targets, and that’s what anti semites did and do to Jews. Reread these lines:
“By denying that they might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.”
Unless I am mistaken Peter Beinart is suggesting that Jeffrey Goldberg is the equivalent of an anti-Semite.
It is noteworthy that Goldberg sees vessels of Jew hatred in every corner. Consider what he did to Jimmy Carter’s 2006 book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid when he was reading it “carefully.”
“When you read it carefully, you realize that it is essentially a theologically based rant. The essential argument of his book is that Israel today plays the role the Pharisees played 2,000 years ago during the time of Christ. And the conclusion I came away with was that Jimmy Carter never got the memo that evangelical Christians are supposed to like the Jews now, and he’s still stuck in sort of an old mode of thinking.”
So Jimmy Carter too is reduced to a vessel of Jew hatred.
I don’t know if Ezra Klein read Carter’s book, or Thomas Friedman or JJ Goldberg or Peter Beinart or David Remnick or Glenn Greenwald or any other Jewish journalist in the country. But I suspect even after a careful reading they would come away with a different conclusion than it was a “theological based rant” about the Pharisees.
Ezra Klein stuck his neck out on this very question a few years ago when he accused Goldberg of “fearful tribalism” when it comes to leveling the anti-Semitism charge against intellectuals who criticize Israel:
Rolling that grenade against critics of the Israeli government’s actions might shut down debate, but it’s a dangerous strategy, as it cheapens the meaning of the term and tells a lot of people that they are not simply being critical of Israel’s actions, but that their beliefs actually set them against Jews. Friends are important, even if you disagree on some things.
It is safe to say Jeffrey Goldberg is out of the mainstream here. He sounds the alarm bells whenever he is talking about Jews and Israel. And you don’t have to read Goldberg very carefully to see it.
Look at what the Washingtonian said about Goldberg in its profile 3 years ago (“Washington’s Most Pugnacious Journalist”): when it came to Iran, Goldberg’s judgment could not be trusted.
Goldberg is perhaps best understood as a “never again” journalist. IS IT POSSIBLE TO THINK TOO MUCH ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?, a Goldblog headline asked. His reply:
“No, the answer is no—it is not possible to think about the Holocaust too much.”
This mindset helps account for Goldberg’s fixation on whether Israel will launch an airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities…
Paul Starobin writes that even Goldberg admirer longtime Mid East negotiator Dennis Ross, and his friend Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and now in charge of “public diplomacy” in this Israeli government, acknowledge Goldberg kept on getting things wrong, about an area about which he is supposed to be a specialist on.
[I]n forecasting, on multiple occasions, a high degree of likelihood of an Israeli airstrike (which he doesn’t necessarily consider a good idea), Goldberg has exhibited a degree of certainty that perhaps no outsider can possess.
But that seemingly chastening experience didn’t stop Goldberg from writing in his Bloomberg View column last March that “I’m highly confident that Netanyahu isn’t bluffing—that he is in fact counting down to the day when he will authorize a strike against a half-dozen or more Iranian nuclear sites” and still again to predict in his column in July that Israeli leaders “may very well decide” to launch a strike before the American election on November 6.
Nope and nope. It could be that the only thing off is his timing. But he risks sounding like a broken record.
Starobin said that Jeffrey seems to be the worst journalist when it comes to Iran. Why? Because of his “fixation” with the Holocaust. I’m unsure what Phil Weiss did wrong, but Starobin has to be doing something much worse here. He brings all this evidence that Jeffrey Goldberg’s usually balanced judgment eludes him when it comes to Iran. And he says it’s because Goldberg’s Holocaust “fixation” is not allowing him to be objective about Iran. Reading what Yair Rosenberg wrote about Phil Weiss, I would start preparing my defense to this charge if I were Paul Starobin:
“…..the insistence on publicly labeling individuals with their religious background in order to darkly impugn their motives and delegitimize their standing is textbook bigotry, and the classic recourse of the anti-Semite…. Normal people critique their political opponents on policy grounds. Racist people critique their political opponents based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds.”
In part 2 I will follow up on Starobin’s scoop and look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s more recent Iran writings and report if he was able to resolve his “fixation.”
And finally, the young anti-Semitic scholar Yair Rosenberg deserves special praise for opening up for discussion a topic that has traditionally been seen as off limits, or “politically correct.” We should applaud him for his courage and wisdom. To me at least, Yair Rosenberg is already ready to inherit Jeffrey Goldberg’s numinous mantle.