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.