Here and in Comment is Free I wrote about the Israeli ‘perception management’ campaign here in the U.S. to persuade us that war with Iran is both necessary, inevitable, and salutary for the world. This campaign takes many and varied forms.
Jeff Goldberg is too smart for that. He’s a talented enough writer to pen his own propaganda subtly advocating war with Iran. What I don’t get is that in this U.S. political climate in which a Democratic administration is ascendant and the foreign policy message is pragmatism, deliberation and negotiation, Goldberg has thrown his lot in with Netanyahu and the Jewish rejectionists. I guess he knows which side his bread is buttered on and he’s managed to find a publishing niche at The Atlantic and N.Y. Times as Bibi’s amanuensis.
Goldberg has a new Bibi profile in the Times Week in Review which is utterly horrendous. He even goes so far as to call Iran Amalek, which is interesting in that Obama’s Jewish opponents in the last election likened HIM to Amalek and Haman, two of the Jewish people’s most potent existential bogeymen. This is suave and effective pro-war propaganda and therefore we must expose the noxious role Goldberg plays in the Israeli campaign.
Goldberg’s reporting is telling not only for what it INCLUDES, but for what it OMITS. Goldberg acknowledges Bibi’s reputation for cynically throwing over his allies when it’s expedient to him and concedes there are those who believe the politician is using such an approach on Iran (besides exploiting the issue in order to delay dealing with the Palestinian morass). But then he immediately dismisses this possibility by saying Bibi is firm and sincere (with no proof provided):
But this [theory of Bibi’s cynicism] is to misread both the prime minister and this moment in Jewish history.
Note the invocation of “Jewish history,” which both elevates and distorts the true meaning of the Iranian threat. First, Iran’s alleged threat has little, if anything to do with JEWISH history, though perhaps a tad more to do with ISRAELI history. The conflation of the two is a deliberate misrepresentation on the part of pro-Israel writers like Goldberg. Second, it is arguable that Iran is little more than a chapter in Israel’s history and certainly arguable that Iran now or in the near future can play any role as an existential threat to Israel. To paraphrase Walter Mondale’s riposte to Ronald Reagan during a presidential debate: that’s what Jeff Goldberg won’t tell you. I just did.
“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.
Here, once again, Goldberg engages in a willful propaganda campaign demonizing Iran. When you invoke a religious injunction as he has done, you withdraw Israeli policy from a volitional, political space and transfer it to the realm of theological obligation. This is not far from the craziness of the settler movement, which divorces settlements from any political context and insulates them from debate, walling them off in a religious domain that can neither be questioned nor rationally analyzed.
Even if we debate this issue in religious terms, where is the evidence that Iran IS Amalek? Have Iranians expressed a desire to exterminate the Jewish people? Have they even expressed a desire to exterminate physically the Israeli people?
Muslims have a right to blame Israel for its oppression of the Palestinians. They have a right to be angry with Israel for its policies. They do NOT have a right to set off a nuclear weapon on Israeli soil or kill Israeli civilians. They don’t have the ability (nor the desire, I would claim) to do the former, and to the extent that they have done the latter they should be condemned. But such condemnation must always be understood in context of aggressive Israeli policies toward Palestinians.
Iran is NOT Amalek. The children of Israel did nothing we know of to deserve Amalek’s murderous attacks. That is how the Bible justifies the genocidal command to annihilate Amalek. Iran, and Muslims, while they have no right to kill Israelis, certainly have a right to denounce them in strong terms. This is far from Amalek. And that is the danger of abusing theological categories for political purposes. What Bibi is doing is a toxic distortion of Jewish history. As a Jew who loves and studies the history of my people, I deeply object to his falsifications.
We know what happens when politicians attempt to impose political solutions on scientific or medical problems (think Terri Schiavo). Virtually the same thing happens when political partisans impose religion on politics. You abuse both religion AND politics and destroy the ability for your society to see plainly the issues at hand.
In the following passage, the best I can say for Goldberg is that it is Bibi who lies about Iran’s record instead of the reporter:
“Iran has threatened to annihilate a state…”
Iran has not launched a war against a neighbor in generations and isn’t about to start now. Iranian radicals have stated that Israel should “disappear.” Certainly a noxious concept, but where is the claim that Iran will do the deed? This is an inconvenient fact that Bibi would have you gloss over.
Here again Bibi invokes Nazi analogies that hold no water:
…One lesson of history is that “bad things tend to get worse if they’re not challenged early.”
This is the case only if you are talking about Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. But this is not true if you are talking about a dispute between two countries which each have legitimate interests and grievances to adjudicate. Iran is NOT Nazi Germany. Precipitate action of the sort Bibi advocates will not stop evil, it will only turn a dangerous situation into a maelstrom of regional violence and possibly war.
Bibi and his political handlers have been tremendously active devising preposterous scenarios for Iranian domination of Israel and the region. Here is an entertaining sample:
Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t believe that Iran would necessarily launch a nuclear-tipped missile at Tel Aviv. He argues instead that Iran could bring about the eventual end of Israel simply by possessing such weaponry. “Iran’s militant proxies would be able to fire rockets and engage in other terror activities while enjoying a nuclear umbrella,” he said. This could lead to the depopulation of the Negev and the Galilee, both of which have already endured sustained rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah.
To believe this delusional scenario, you have to imagine Hezbollah and Hamas not only fully armed with medium range, accurate missiles to hit the Negev and Galilee, you have to imagine the two movements fully unleashed to launch such a massive attack on Israel. There are no circumstances in which I can imagine either condition unless Israel itself has launched a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Ironically, it is Israeli aggression that could launch the kind of depopulation Bibi is prepared to blame on Iran.
The narischkeit continues:
…A nuclear Iran “would embolden Islamic militants far and wide, on many continents, who would believe that this is a providential sign, that this fanaticism is on the ultimate road to triumph.”
Muslim Pakistan has nuclear weapons yet somehow this prospect has never happened. Even Islamists in Pakistan do not talk of using their nuclear weapons in any other way than to defend against an attack from India.
At this point in the essay, Goldberg enters new and even more pernicious territory. He begins:
To understand why Mr. Netanyahu sees Iran as a new Amalek, it is essential to understand two aspects of his intellectual and emotional development: The scholarship of his father, and the martyrdom of his older brother…
Yonatan, who was killed while leading the 1976 raid on the Entebbe airport in Uganda to free Israeli captives of Arab and German hijackers, is perhaps the most venerated figure in the post-Warsaw Ghetto Jewish martyrology…
Since when is the death of an IDF officer in combat martyrdom? Since when do we use such loaded religious terms (“martyrology” is another term from the Jewish prayer book) to describe what is, in reality, a death on behalf of a nation and not a religion. Once again here we see Goldberg slipping sacralizing concepts into political discourse. And once again, this is noxious and unacceptable misappropriation of religion for partisan political purposes.
Goldberg also slips the Warsaw ghetto into the discussion in order to elevate Yonatan’s death from a mere combat casualty to a religious sacrifice in service to the fight against Nazis everywhere, whether they be in the Warsaw ghetto, Entebbe or Teheran. This is deeply twisted, dishonest journalism and Jewish historiography.
We have explored in depth here the hysterical views Bibi’s father holds towards Arabs. You won’t find a word of this in Goldberg’s piece. Instead, you will find a celebration of Ben Zion Netanyahu’s historical scholarship minus any of its noxious political repercussions.
Delving into the scholarship, this is how Goldberg summarizes it:
Benzion Netanyahu argued that Spanish hatred of Jews was not merely theologically motivated but based in race hatred (the Spanish pursued the principle of limpieza de sangre, or the purity of blood) that reached back to the ancient world.
If the reporter’s characterization is accurate, there are several problems here. First, to posit that Spanish hatred of Jews is NOT inspired by Christianity; but instead goes farther back in Spanish consciousness to “the ancient world,” you’d have a slightly inconvenient matter to explain. Why was the history of Jews in (pre-Christian) Moorish Spain relatively benign and even fruitful? How do you explain the good relations between Moors and Jews, the integration of Jewish poets, scholars, bankers and political advisors into the fabric of Muslim Spain?
This is, of course, Netanyahu refuses to acknowledge because his “narrative” suggests that Arabs harbor deep-seated hatred of Jews.
Goldberg suggests another deeply distressing notion embedded in the elder Netanyahu’s historical work:
The only rational response to such sentiment, in the Netanyahu view, is militant Jewish self-defense.
Now, that’s an interesting phrase. Clearly, one man’s “militant self-defense” is another’s “militant offense.” If you read my earlier posts about Netanyahu’s contemporary views of Arabs you will understand that “self-defense” has nothing to do with his world-view. From his perspective, there is no point in self-defense since Arabs are perfidious through and through. You might as well show them who’s boss by hanging a few in the village square to let them know what’s in store if they step out of line (and yes, this is an example of something he actually believes).
Not a peep from Goldberg about these notions. I wonder why?
In the following passage, Goldberg’s peroration reaches the level of pure megalomania:
…Destiny has chosen the Netanyahus to expose and battle anti-Semitism — before it reaches the point of genocide.
How many leaders in history have had similar views of their own “chosenness,” their own personal destiny to lead their people to greatness or some other major national achievement? I say beware the one who believes his political career is fated. They are the ones who will lead their peoples and the world into the maelstrom. This is deeply scary stuff. And what especially distresses me is that Goldberg has absolutely no journalistic distance from it. He is essentially Bibi’s stenographer putting the great man’s words into a public forum.
At the conclusion of his profile, Goldberg attempts to draw lessons for Bibi’s meeting with Obama. They are riddled with odd notions:
[If Iran achieves nuclear weapons] it would mean that the 30-year-struggle between America and Iran for domination of the Persian Gulf will be over, with Persia the victor.
I had no idea the U.S. was struggling for “domination” of the Persian Gulf? Did you? Certainly, I was aware that we have struggled with the Iranians in 1979 and that since then relations have been fraught with conflict. But a struggle for regional domination? That’s Goldberg’s locution. Not mine and not anyone else’s I know.
One of the most disturbing passages in this essay is the following:
…By the end of this year, if no progress is made, Mr. Netanyahu will seriously consider attacking Iran.
Given the access that Goldberg has been provided, we can be sure that this threat is genuine and an expression of Israeli intent. This means that, considering Bibi knows the U.S. opposes an Israeli strike, that Israel is prepared to go to war against America’s express directive. I don’t think such a thing has ever happened in the entire history of U.S.-Israel relations. Unless you count the Sinai war, after which Eisenhower hectored Israel and her allies into an abject retreat.
In publishing this piece, the N.Y. Times has allowed itself to be co-opted by the Israeli propaganda machine advocating war against Iran. This is a terribly sad development in the Times’ journalistic history.
gene schulman says
Bravo, Richard. This is an exceptional, well needed contribution in countering the Israeli propaganda machine. I hope you sent it to the NYT as a rebuttal to Goldberg’s hysteria.
I had just finished reading G’s. piece in the IHT and was considering my own rebuttal in the form of a letter. But yours cannot be improved on. Thanks. I’m sending it on to my own mailing list.
While you’re at it, Bernard Avishai’s piece is highly recommened, too.
And to think I was sure Goldberg would never be able to surpass the dishonest warmongering of his 2002 OMGSaddamhaschemicalweapons piece in the New Yorker.
The NY Times has been co-opted into the campaign for war on Iran for at least four years now. What else were all the ‘nuclear crisis’ headlines about?
The key for every American who cares about a future for our country, and for every supporter of Israel who’s to the left of Avigdor Lieberman, is to demonstrate some sanity by refusing to be stampeded. The IAF is going to strike Iran without U.S. agreement? I think not.
Hard work essays like this are the reason I read here. Thank you. As for the NYT, I disagree with “allowed” My conviction, after 40 years of reading the NYT, is that it continues to wilfully implement a decision made at its highest level to do everything it can to foster public acceptance of the Zionist revisionist goal of ridding Palestine of its indigenous Arabs. It is not a noble institution.
Arie Brand says
I second this. I found Goldberg’s op-ed deeply disturbing as well and I am glad that Richard took it to pieces so effectively.
Goldberg argues that a nuclear umbrella will enable Iran to target Israel, or have it targeted, with rockets. Even if this were true how would such pinpricks lead to the “Second Holocaust” Netanyahu is talking about?
When Professor Shahak pointed to the Amalek-complex of certain Israelis he was accused of slander. But now this form of genocidal paranoia is preached from the very top as the latest in political wisdom.
And Goldberg attempts to give his imprimatur to it.
I understand that Goldberg didn’t have much credit to lose before publishing this piece.
Arie Brand says
Supplementary sentence.: Now he seems to have lost it altogether.
And to add to Timothy’s “It is not a noble institution.” It’s also a dying one too.
i saw this not as a co-option but as goldberg’s attempt to set the record on how bib thinks – and hence here is my take.
There is a scary Times op-ed today by Jeffrey Goldberg about Benjamin Netanyahu’s beliefs in Amalek.
The column is an amazing and penetrating review of Netanyahu’s worldviews as they pertain now especially to Iran. As we interpret it, Goldberg argues that in the guise of historical narrative, Bibi was fed by his father a set of religious and mystical beliefs about the nature of antisemitism in the world and the recurring danger of a transcendent archenemy of the Jewish people, who must be labeled by the ancient near Eastern tribal name “Amalek.”
My rebbe, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, lectured frequently on the truth of the two-part Amalek narrative in rabbinic Judaism. In every generation, the first part of the story goes, there is a tribe or nation that rises up to obliterate our people. The Rav proposed that in the 1940s Amalek was the Nazis. In the 1960s Amalek was the Russian communists.
These instances of national antisemitism are political and historical facts that can be examined and verified or falsified. The notion that this trend repeats itself eternally — well that is a mystical religious belief and one that we really don’t want our political leaders to base their decisions on.
The second part of the Rav’s (and Judaism’s) Amalek narrative is where the religious obligation kicks in with a literal vengeance. You see the rabbis teach that it is a high level mitzvah to attend synagogue to hear the reading of Parshas Zachor — the ominous warning about Amalek — on the Shabbat before Purim, before the reading of the book of Esther in which Haman — a descendant of the Amalek tribe — proves the religious and mystical theory to be absolute historical fact. In that biblical book’s narrative, Haman tries to exterminate the Jews of Persia. But through cunning and guile and an implied divine intervention, Mordecai and Esther foil his plot.
According to the rabbis, and the biblical text is quite clear on this too, the mitzvah in the Torah is to blot out the very memory of Amalek. Hence, and this is what scares me, the very essence of ancient near Eastern account of Amalek is the license to kill. You must obliterate the nation that wants to obliterate you.
Goldberg makes it clear that he believes that Bibi Netanyahu operates under the license of Amalek. What he does not spell out in the Times is that religious Jews believe that gives them a blank check to do anything and everything to their mortal enemies — including to commit a preemptive genocide against them.We specifically filled in the blanks to spell out the whole religious and mystical narrative of Amalek.
But wait. Today there is more. As if reading the script right out of the Bible, the Persians in Iran recently have clearly proclaimed on their own religious grounds that they are Israel’s mortal enemies and that they do in fact want Israel to disappear from the map. Bibi calls Iran’s leadership a “messianic apocalyptic cult.”
So yikes. Now we have both sides reading from the religious texts of the ancients — only they are not in Sunday School. Both sides possess the weapons and armies and are loudly beating the drums of war.
It appears to us that Goldberg comes to the Times with a raw message so urgent that he puts it up in his op-ed’s title, “Israel’s Fears, Amalek’s Arsenal.”
Our fears go way beyond Goldberg’s op-ed. We fear an imminent conflagration between two sovereign political states — both possessing great resolve and both possessing way too much religion and mysticism which colors and even guides their worldviews and their policies.
Accordingly, we hope that Goldberg has overstated his case regarding Netanyahu’s worldview. We pray that Bibi is not a true believer in the ancient mysteries of Amalek – rather that he is a tough and imaginative pragmatic and realistic political leader and modern-world statesman.
That’s a contradiction in terms, isn’t it? In order to blot out the memory, parts of the books Exodus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Chronicles and the entire book of Esther would have to go – and the very mitzvah with them.
Jeanne Capozzoli says
Jeffrey Goldberg is not honest.
At a panel discussion on terrorism at UCLA, I asked him what motives the terrorists — what motivates men to take flight lessons to fly huge airplanes into the WTC and kill thousands of people? He answered that they did not like our culture — recounting the story of a Muslim acquaintance who did not like the liquor stores on Wisconsin Avenue.
Surely, he had read the 9/11 Commission report in which KSM who was the mastermind of 9/11 stated that while he liked Americans (when he attended college in NC), it was US foreign policy — namely our support of Israeli treatment of Palestinians that enraged him.
I will never again believe Jeffrey Goldberg.
THe New York Times was caught red-handed lying and distorting IAEA reports about Iran’s nuclear program too.
the Amaleq analogy is much worse than you make it sound. The book of Samuel mentions the requierment:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox, and sheep, camel and ass,”(Samuel I, 15:3). By comparing the Iranians to Amalek, this article is providing grounds for a genocidal attack.
I don’t know anyone who calls anyone living an Amalekite, so I don’t know how that label gets used. When a guy like Netanyahu invokes the name “Amalek”, to what extent is he in fact also invoking the obligation to kill all the Amalekite men, women, children, and their little dogs too? (According to Goldberg’s gloss, he does not have that in mind at all.)
I find it amusing how people get so worked up about the “wipe Israel off the map” comment that Ahmadinejad DIDN’T make (he talked about the ” ‘Zionist regime’ disappearing like the Soviet regime disappeared”), and yet so casually make analogies to peoples who are supposed to be sytematically exterminated. Maybe he didn’t have that in mind, but why are we so generously giving him the benefit of the doubt, while people go wild about every Iranian statement?
RE: “How many leaders in history have had similar views of their own “chosenness,”…..?
HERE’S ONE – BUSH TOLD CHIRAC: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East”
FROM THE ARTICLE “When God Spoke to Me”: …..During those private interviews, Jacque Chirac had purportedly confessed to the journalist some personal remarks regarding the faith of George W. Bush that seemed quite daunting. He told the journalist that the latter called him twice beseeching him basically, in the name of their common “spiritual faith”, i.e., “Christianity”, to join the collective effort of the coalition being formed to wage a preemptive war against Iraq. In his first telephonic call he reportedly said to Jacque Chirac: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East” and then added that “the biblical prophecies are being fulfilled”…..
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=14890
A very powerful statement, Richard. Thank you.