Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

  • Big News About the Libya Attack

    Susan Rice got one very important fact wrong during her appearance on Meet the Press after the Benghazi attack.

    So when Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went on Meet the Press last month and announced that the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi came under cover of a spontaneous demonstration against an offensive video about the Prophet Muhammad, she was right except for the part about there being a demonstration at all. This is what Rice told David Gregory:

    (O)ur current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.  They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya.  And it escalated into a much more violent episode.

    This is what Jonathan Karl is reporting tonight:

  • One Specific Step Romney Could Take on Middle East Peace

    He could hold an honest conversation, as a friend, with the prime minister of Israel about the demographic, security and moral consequences of continued settlement and occupation of the West Bank.

    In his foreign policy speech today, Mitt Romney is planning on saying the following:

     I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.  On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew. ... I believe that if America does not lead, others will--others who do not share our interests and our values--and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us."

    One thing Romney could do as president to help secure Israel as a Jewish state is to have an honest conversation, as a friend, with the prime minister of Israel about the demographic, security and moral consequences of continued settlement and occupation of the West Bank. I can understand why he might not want to announce such a plan a month before the election, but a president who is trusted by the prime minister would be in a great position to have this very hard talk. The talk would open with the following question: "So, Bibi, what's the plan? How are you going to maintain Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy if you're permanently controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians who don't want to be under your control?"

    This would be a helpful conversation to have.

  • The Flashpoint of the World

    The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, perhaps the most contested piece of real estate on the planet, is once again becoming the scene of violent struggle

    I've been working on a long project, so my apologies for the light posting. I wasn't planning on posting at all today, but I thought I could not let pass without comment the fact that the world is about to blow up. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the most contested piece of real estate on the planet at the moment, is once again becoming the scene of violent struggle, between Muslims who believe the Mount is solely their possession, and religious Jews who believe they should, at the very least, have a right to pray atop the Mount, which is Judaism's holiest site. This week, a tour of the Mount by the group calling itself the Temple Mount Faithful has once again caused well-meaning Muslims to fear that Jewish extremists are trying to supplant them, and has caused cynical Palestinian leaders to exploit religious sentiment by encouraging these fears.

    Extremist Jewish groups and individuals are pushing for a change in the religious status quo on the Mount. For many years after the Six Day War, religious custom, and the warnings of rabbis, kept Jews off the Mount (the general belief is that walking atop the Mount risks treading on the spot over the Temple's Holy of Holies), but messianic feeling has infected a portion of the religious Jewish population, which would like to see the Third Temple rise on the site. The Goldblog on this issue is simple: Jews, of course, have a right to pray atop their holiest site, but exercising that right in an explosive atmosphere is foolish and counterproductive, and the Israeli government needs to do all it can do to preserve the status quo. I will preempt angry letters by acknowledging that this is not fair -- that if the Palestinian leadership, and the broader Muslim leadership, would simply recognize that Jews have a deep connection to the Mount, much of this fever would dissipate, on both sides. But we also have to deal with the reality we are in, and we also have to face the unfortunate fact that exercising this "right" in the current political and theological atmosphere could get people -- Jews and Muslims -- killed.

    I've been worried for years about the chance that a single extremist could ignite this conflict by trying to speed the arrival of the Messiah by vandalizing the shrine or the mosque atop the Mount, or otherwise upsetting the status quo. Today, the extremists are seeing their theology slowly mainstreamed. This is a big problem. 

  • Through the Blasphemy Looking Glass

    Hussein Ibish on the push for new regulation by a number of Muslim potentates

    Hussein Ibish writes with rising disbelief about the push for anti-blasphemy regulation by a number of Muslim potentates:

    Amazingly, there has been virtually no pushback or reaction to remarks by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in his recent U.N. speech, which sought to place the blame for the violence entirely at the feet of the authors of the video and implicitly exonerated the rioters and extremist organizations behind them for the deaths for which they were directly responsible. He alleged that "freedom should not cross reasonable limits and become a tool to hurt and insult the dignity of others and of religions and faiths and sacred beliefs as we have seen lately, which regrettably led to the killing of innocent people who have not committed any crime."

    This is a perfect window into the through-the-looking-glass world of blasphemy-ban advocates. In this reality, those who engage in offensive speech (and there's no question that the video is patently Islamophobic and hateful) bear the full responsibility if others cynically exploit their intentional, calculated provocations for their own political and social purposes. If people are killed, that's the fault of the provocateurs, not the killers. These statements implicitly absolve extremist and violent reactions to provocative speech and suggest that the proper response is not to denounce and yet still protect offensive expression, but to suppress it in order to prevent a violent reaction.

  • Obama's Crystal-Clear Promise to Stop Iran From Getting a Nuclear Weapon

    Obama has been consistent and clear in his opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

    Reuters is reporting that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are both satisfied with their non-encounter at the United Nations last week. Both men "left the U.N. meeting with more than they arrived with: Obama with an assurance that Israel would not attack Iran's nuclear sites before the November 6 U.S. presidential election, and Netanyahu with a commitment from Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from producing an atomic bomb."

    I found the second half of this statement surprising. If it is indeed news to Netanyahu that Obama has promised to do "whatever it takes" to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, then he hasn't been listening. He's not the only one who hasn't heard the President clearly on the subject. I run into people constantly who believe that the bluffer in this relationship is Obama. Their argument holds that Obama will move toward a strategy of containment soon after the election, and that there is no way he would ever use military force to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

    I'm in the camp of people, however, who take him at his word, in part because he's repeated himself on the subject so many times and in part because he has laid out such an effective argument against containment and for disruption, by force, if necessary. With the help of Armin Rosen, of The Atlantic's International Channel, I've posted below a partial accounting of Obama's statements on the subject. Of course, it is possible that in a second term, should he win his bid for reelection, he will change his mind on the subject, and it is possible, of course, that Iran will somehow manage to defy his demands. But the record is the record: Given the number of times he's told the American public, and the world, that he will stop Iran from going nuclear, it is hard to believe that he will suddenly change his mind and back out of his promise.

    Here are some of his statements on the subject, going back to his first campaign for the presidency:

    June 5, 2008, in Cairo: "I will continue to be clear on the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be profoundly destabilizing for the entire region.It is strongly in America's interest to prevent such a scenario."

    June 8, 2008, to AIPAC: "The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.... Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel."

    October 7 2008, in the second presidential debate: "We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table,"

    November 7, 2008, press conference: "Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening."

    February 27, 2009, speech at Camp Lejeune: "(W)e are focusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world."

    January 27, 2010, State of the Union address: "And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise."

    July 1, /2010, at the signing of the Iran Sanctions Act: "There should be no doubt --  the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

    May 19, 2011, speech on the Middle East: "Now, our opposition to Iran's intolerance and Iran's repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known."

    May 22, 2011, in an address to AIPAC: "You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.... So let me be absolutely clear -- we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

    October 13,2011, press conference after meeting with South Korean president: "Now, we don't take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran."

    November 14, 2011, press conference: "So what I did was to speak with President Medvedev, as well as President Hu, and all three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don't trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. That's in the interests of all of us... I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table, because it's my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States."

    December 8, 2011,  press conference: (In response to question about pressuring Iran): "No options off the table means I'm considering all options."

    December 16, 2011, speech to the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism: "Another grave concern -- and a threat to the security of Israel, the United States and the world -- is Iran's nuclear program. And that's why our policy has been absolutely clear: We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons...and that's why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table. We have been clear."

    January 24, 2012, State of the Union address: "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."

    March 2, 2012, interview with Goldblog:  "I... don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."

    March 4, 2012, speech to  AIPAC: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency."

    March 5, 2012, remarks after meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu: "... I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it."

    March 6, 2012, press conference: "And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon -- because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists.

    March 14, 2012, remarks after meeting with David Cameron: "...And as I said in a speech just a couple of weeks ago, I am determined not simply to contain Iran that is in possession of a nuclear weapon; I am determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon -- in part for the reasons that David mentioned... We will do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically, but ultimately, we've got to have somebody on the other side of the table who's taking this seriously."

    September 25, 2012, speech to the United Nations General Assembly: "Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained...the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

  • Obama's Flawed Record in the Middle East

    On most everything other than Iran's nuclear program, passivity has been the theme of the administration's approach to the region.

    One of the prime missed opportunities of the Obama Administration came during the Iranian "Green Revolution" uprisings of 2009. The President could have advanced American moral and strategic interests by standing up more boldly for the young demonstrators protesting totalitarianism. But he was too passive in his approach. And passivity, it would turn out, is a theme of the Obama Administration's approach to the Middle East. On the most important and urgent issue, the Iranian nuclear program, Obama is an activist president, but on a range of other issues, passivity -- or "aggressive hedging," in the words of Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Institution's center in Qatar -- is the rule. From my Bloomberg View column this week:

    "...Obama's record in the Middle East suggests that missed opportunities are becoming a White House specialty.

    Syria is the most obvious example. Assad is a prime supporter of terrorism (as opposed to Qaddafi, who had retired from terrorism sponsorship by the time his people rose up against him), and his regime represents Iran's only meaningful Arab ally. The overriding concern of the Obama administration in the Middle East is the defanging of Iran. Nothing would isolate Iran -- and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah -- more than the removal of the Assad regime and its replacement by a government drawn from Syria's Sunni majority. Ensuring that Muslim extremists don't dominate the next Syrian government is another compelling reason to increase U.S. involvement...

    "There's a widespread perception in the region that Obama is a weak, somewhat feckless president," (Shadi) Hamid...  told me. "Bush may have been hated, but he was also feared, and what we've learned in the Middle East is that fear, sometimes at least, can be a good thing. Obama's aggressive hedging has alienated both sides of the Arab divide. Autocrats, particularly in the Gulf, think Obama naively supports Arab revolutionaries, while Arab protesters and revolutionaries seem to think the opposite."

    Leaders across the Middle East don't take Obama's threats seriously. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the Arab leaders of the Gulf countries believe he'll act militarily against Iran's nuclear program in his second term.

    Obama's handling of Middle East peace negotiations couldn't be characterized as passive; they could, however, be described as thoughtless. Obama publicly demanded that Netanyahu freeze settlement growth on the West Bank. When Netanyahu only partially and temporarily complied, Obama, in reaction, did nothing. Obama was wrong to draw a line in the sand over settlements, which are a derivative issue (if the Israelis and Palestinians settle their borders, the settlement issue will also be solved). But because he made it an issue without a thought to follow-up, he managed to freeze the peace process.
  • 3 Netanyahu Mistakes—and 1 Netanyahu Achievement

    The Israeli Prime Minister should have left that cartoon bomb at home. But over the past several years, he has still succeeded in getting the international community to take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

    In re: Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of the Iran crisis:

    1) Netanyahu shouldn't have waved around that cartoonish drawing on the podium of the United Nations. It made him look unserious, and a man in his position can't afford to look unserious. I'm hearing ridicule of that stunt from people in the United States government who are a) militant on the subject of Iran, and b) needed by Israel to carry-out effective anti-proliferation efforts. Don't confuse massive press coverage of his ACME bomb chart with approval of his ACME bomb chart. A non-Wile E. Coyote chart with a red line would have been more useful than this. 

    2) Netanyahu needlessly alienated President Obama by entering, inadvertently or not, American partisan politics. Obama has not done a stellar job of managing his relationship with Netanyahu, but it is Netanyahu who needs Obama's help, not the reverse, and so it is more incumbent on him to manage the relationship, and not embarrass the president.

    3) Netanyahu's constant threats, and warnings, about Iran's nuclear program have undermined Israel's deterrent capability. Netanyahu spent much of this year arguing, privately and publicly, that soon it would be too late to stop the Iranians from moving their centrifuges fully underground. He knows full well that the Iranians could soon enter the so-called zone of immunity, by moving the bulk of their centrifuges into the Fordow facility, where Israeli bombs can't reach. But he's now kicked the can down the road until next spring. If I were Ayatollah Khamenei, I would be less worried today about an Israeli attack than I was yesterday. If I were Ayatollah Khamenei, I would be more worried about an eventual American attack than he apparently is.

    But:
     
    Let's not forget that the main reason the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions to world peace (and to American national security, as President Obama has stated) is at the top of the international agenda is.... Benjamin Netanyahu. He has made this issue an urgent one. He has helped focus President Obama's attention on the issue, and he has helped focus Europe's attention as well. Without Netanyahu's constant prodding, I doubt that sanctions would be as strong as they are. While he's done a good job over the past several years keeping the world focused on this issue, lately he seems to be in a panic. He needs to regain control of himself and realize that condescending to the U.N. and alienating the American president aren't helpful to his strategy of getting the world to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold.

  • Trying to Understand Netanyahu

    With an election upcoming, the Israeli Prime Minister might have been targeting his U.N. speech--and his cartoon bomb--at a domestic audience.

    Benjamin Netanyahu's speech today before the U.N. General Assembly was many things. It seemed to be a concession speech (no attack until at least the spring). Unless, of course, it was a bluff designed to make us think that there will be no attack (in other words, a reverse bluff). The only reason I suspect that this could be true is that no sane prime minister would order Israel's Air Force to attack Iran at a moment Iran is expecting such an attack, unless of course Israel has developed a means of completely neutralizing Iranian air defenses. Remember that the previous two Israeli attempts at nonproliferation-by-force -- in Iraq and Syria -- were preceded by zero public discussion, and certainly not by cartoons.

    The speech also showed that Netanyahu might not know how to draw -- it appears he may have placed his red line in the wrong place on his now-famous Wile E. Coyote ACME bomb cartoon.  (UPDATE: The cartoon red line, it turns out, has been misinterpreted.) It also showed him to be a condescending person (I've heard from several people in the hall -- including a couple of people, rare for the UN, who don't hate Israel, who felt that the bomb drawing was Netanyahu's way of saying, "Look at this, you idiots.") Mainly, what the speech might be about is Netanyahu's upcoming reelection campaign. This from Yossi Verter:

    Thursday's speech also had political ramifications that presumably were not lost on the speaker: If, at the start of the Knesset's winter session in around two weeks, Netanyahu calls for early elections (probably in February ) it's clear that the election campaign will be centered on the Iranian threat. In an election campaign that has a security-diplomatic, even existential character, less experienced politicians or political wannabes like Labor's Shelly Yacimovich and Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, who are pushing a socio-economic agenda, will find themselves in terra incognita, with little to sell the public.

    The Wile E. Coyote cartoon makes sense in this context: Netanyahu was playing almost entirely to a domestic audience. His soothing words about the U.S. were obviously meant to calm down the White House, which has reached the point where it is getting infuriated -- inappropriately, I think -- over idiotic tweets from low-level Israeli government officials. But the audience was Israel. Israelis certainly don't mind a prime minister who condescends to the U.N., an organization that regularly scapegoats their country.

    Herb Keinon, writing in The Jerusalem Post, has a much more benign view of the cartoon stunt than I do:

    Netanyahu broke no new ground in his speech to the UN on Thursday. In fact some of what he said, for instance the clash between modernity and a medieval frame of mind, he said in 2009 in the very same UN hall.

    And Netanyahu probably didn't convince any minds sitting in the hall.

    But he did ensure that a picture of him drawing a red line on a sketch board illustration of a bomb will be on the front page of numerous newspapers Friday morning. And that was the prime minister's goal at the UN: to make clear to the international public what he means when he says a red line.  The best way to do that is to lug a sketch board, a graphic, and a squeaky red marker into the UN to literally illustrate a point.

    The illustration - and the image of the prime minster with his pen - will remain in the mind far after what he actually said is forgotten. And that is one way to sear an idea into peoples' minds.

    For what it's worth, I think Herb is kidding himself if he thinks Bibi seared anything useful into people's minds. What he did was take a deadly serious issue and turn it into a cartoon. People may remember his speech, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

    Oh, and by the way: If I were in charge of the Iranian nuclear program, I would spend the next six months accelerating the movement of all of my centrifuges to the underground Fordow nuclear facility.

  • Bibi: The Middle East's Wile E. Coyote

    The Israeli Prime Minister's cartoon bomb stunt at the U.N. was both puzzling and counterproductive.

    I just don't get it anymore. I know the prime minister of Israel, like many Israelis, sees an Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to his nation's existence. I know he's sincere in this belief. (I happen to share the belief.)  I also know that he's supposed to be a wonderful communicator. So why did he just pull out a Wile E. Coyote bomb drawing at the United Nations General Assembly? He insulted the intelligence of his audience (not just his audience in the hall, which quite frequently deserves to have its intelligence insulted, but his worldwide audience) and he turned the most serious issue facing the world today into something of a joke. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the impact of the bomb cartoon -- it is true that everyone is talking about it, after all. But not in a good way.

    On the other hand, we know exactly where his red line is now. On the other other hand, he wants President Obama to take him seriously?

    UPDATE: On Twitter a little while ago (you can follow me at @jeffreygoldberg if that's your thing) I wrote: "Netanyahu's bomb cartoon is the Middle East equivalent of Clint Eastwood's chair." I'm getting push-back on it, though why I don't know, since it's not as if the chair has helped Romney achieve very much. What I mean by this statement is that Netanyahu took the stage to discuss a deadly serious issue -- more serious than a presidential campaign, in fact -- and then turned that deadly serious issue into a cartoon. Literally, as Joe Biden would say. This is not a subject fit for cartoonish drawings of bombs. People are laughing at him in places where he can't afford to be laughed at -- I don't mean Twitter, where everyone is perpetually laughing at everyone else -- but in actual important offices of the United States government. Not good for his cause, and not good for the more general issue of focusing the world's attention on this threat.  

  • Taking the Iranian Regime at Its Word

    An argument, made a few years ago, about the need to take genocidal threats seriously.

    Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to the United Nations today to lay out his own red lines on the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, he has mishandled his relationship with the American president, and yes, he shows no urgency in grappling with Israel's other existential dilemma -- how to find compromise and peace with the Palestinians. But it is worth remembering that he is attempting to confront his country's most dangerous foe, a foe who makes it clear that Israel's destruction is the ultimate goal.

    Here is an argument, made a few years ago, about the need to take genocidal threats seriously. The writing is a little overripe and hyperbolic, but the author seems to understand the importance of taking the Iranian regime at its word. I would only note that since this piece was written, the regime in Tehran has only become more radical -- it has moved much closer to nuclearization; its suppression of its own citizens has become more brutal; and its support for terrorism has only become more pronounced.

    One thing I learned from studying the Third Reich in college: If a genocidal maniac attains power, it's always worth noting what he has said and taking him at his word. There's a tendency in the West not to believe the worst about our enemies. Hitler wasn't really going to kill all the Jews. Mao couldn't be massacring and starving millions, could he? Stalin meant well, no? Democracies, because we create cultures of reason and toleration, find it hard to get our heads around people who really do believe some crackpot theory. Take a look at this helpful essay about Islamist views of the Apocalypse. There are obvious parallels with our own religious far right - in fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's views are almost a negative image of Tim LaHaye's. What's also interesting is how modern a lot of this is. The new Christian dispensationalists who are anticipating the Rapture and the slaughter of all infidels in the End-Time are far more numerous and influential today than in the past. The latest Islamist apocalyptic ravings also have a new component: fanatical anti-Semitism, which has been around in the Muslim past but has never been as central to Islamist ideolog as than today. Money quote:
    "Most scenarios start with the Arab-Israel conflict, as the basis for the end-time events, though some start with the Gulf War (1990-91). At some time in the near future a demonic being, called the Dajal (the Muslim Antichrist), will gain control over most of the world, with the exception of certain Muslim countries (the lists of these vary, but are usually the most anti-western ones). This being will be a Jew and will control by means of a world-embracing conspiracy, after the fashion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In general, apocalyptic believers state that this being, if not physically present in the world today, malevolently influences the course of events preparatory to his eventual revelation. An apocalyptic war is postulated between the Dajal, who will lead the west and Israel, against the Muslims.'
    Now remember that someone who fervently believes in all of this, someone who has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, is on the verge of gaining the technology to detonate nukes. We can assume rationality on the part of the Iranian mullahs. But if we do, we are being irrational ourselves. They want the nukes because they expect the apocalypse. It's time we took their views seriously.
  • A Yom Kippur Curtain-Raiser

    "If you are not going to be better tomorrow than today, then what need have you for tomorrow?"

    A quote and a thought, tweeted by my friend Erica Brown:

    "Rabbi Nahman: 'If you are not going to be better tomorrow than today, then what need have you for tomorrow?'  Fast. Pray. Change. Tomorrow."

  • Obama Blows an Opportunity During the Blasphemy Riots

    Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. As Americans, we are compelled to defend the right of any blasphemer to be an asshole.

    Blasphemy, as Hussein Ibish argues, is an indispensable human right. I'm not much into blasphemy myself -- I generally find it offensive. But as Americans, we are compelled to defend the right of any blasphemer to be an asshole. This is the essence of free speech. We are not a country, and not a civilization, that suppresses unpleasant speech. We believe that the way to battle bad speech is with good speech. We are a modern society precisely because people here are free to say what they want. This is a lesson that President Obama could have carried to the Muslim world last week. But he didn't. 


    (UPDATE: He finally went part of the way today, telling the United Nations General Assembly that: "I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views -- even views that we disagree with.")

     From my Bloomberg View column yesterday:
    Given the obvious truth that this latest spasm of (ostensibly) blasphemy-induced rioting won't be the last, I think that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton squandered an opportunity to treat Muslims like thinking adults and to advance a core American interest: the spread of freedom.

    Blasphemy, we have come to learn, is taken quite seriously by Muslims. Free speech, however, is taken quite seriously by Americans. It would have been bracing for the president to go on Pakistani television, and to sit for interviews with Egyptian and Tunisian journalists, and stand up for a core American principle. Imagine a speech in which Obama described the mechanics of free speech and the undergirding philosophy that protects it. He could have spoken about the great gifts free speech bestows on a society. He could have spoken about how he himself is attacked mercilessly by a free press, yet he still values the principles that allow him to be attacked. He could have described how Christianity is often the target of attack, yet survives and thrives in the U.S.

    This wouldn't have been an easy message to deliver. As Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine told me, many of these protesters simply can't fathom the existence of a political system in which the government has no control over the news media, or over what gets posted on the Internet.

    Would it work? It wouldn't change the minds of Salafists, and al-Qaeda would continue to seek to kill Americans, whether or not some among us continue making idiotic anti-Muhammad videos. But a bold, uncompromising and guilt-free defense of free speech might have given comfort to the many Muslims, religious and secular alike, who want to lead their lives free of the fear of fundamentalist tyranny, and who would prefer the U.S. not attempt to reason with the mob.
  • The Middle East Is a 2nd-Term Problem

    A look at how the Obama--or, possibly, Romney--might approach the Middle East peace process over the next four years.

    In case you are sitting at your desk procrastinating, or worrying about the future of the Middle East (fake surveys show that a disproportionate number of Goldblog readers worry about the future of the Middle East), you can always listen to Steve Inskeep and me talk on Morning Edition about how President Obama (and, alternatively, Mitt Romney) might approach the Middle East peace process over the next four years. Just click right here for some good old-fashioned NPR intellectual stimulation.

  • Obama Rejects Containment of Iran, Again

    In his address to the UN General Assembly, Obama's position on Iran's nuclear program remained consistent, and unmistakable.

    After my interview with the President in March, and after his speech to AIPAC a few days later, many of his critics asserted that he was simply sucking-up to The Jews, trying to get through the November election, at which time he would call Ayatollah Khamenei and tell him, never mind. Well, here is what he is planning on saying to the United Nations (which is not exactly a Hadassah convention), later today. Granted, we are not on the far side of November 6 yet, but please tell me, how exactly does he take this back?

    Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    In March, he said the following:

    In addition to the profound threat that it poses to Israel, one of our strongest allies in the world; in addition to the outrageous language that has been directed toward Israel by the leaders of the Iranian government -- if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons. So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions. And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation.

    Nothing he has done or said since then makes me think he has altered his analysis, and changed his position on the necessity of stopping Iran from going nuclear.

  • On 'Court Jews,' Netanyahu, Dog-Whistling, and Puppet Masters

    I'm on the road right now in Colorado, but I've had a chance to catch up on various interrelated controversies.

    As I mentioned earlier, in my rejoinder to Andrew Sullivan, who accused me of posting on Rosh Hashanah, in violation of the Torah's ban on blogging during holy days, I've been away from the Internet for a while -- I'm on the road right now in Colorado, enjoying the delightful weather as well as the company of various upstanding Coloradans of all political stripes. But I've had a chance to catch up on various interrelated controversies, including an accusation by the "Big Journalism" site of Breitbart.com that I am a "court Jew" for President Obama, for whom, a Breitbart scribe alleges, I "bend over." (The original headline on the post was tuchus-themed as well: "Jeffrey Goldberg -- Asshole," and though it was later changed to "Jeffrey Goldberg Undermines Israel on 'Meet the Press;" the url remains "http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/09/17/Jeffrey-goldberg-ahole." My feelings are very hurt, but I will survive.)
    Here's the Breitbart understanding of my understanding of Middle East politics:

    Jeffrey Goldberg, court Jew par excellence, was on Meet the Press Sunday in order to pontificate, Thomas Friedman-style, and bash Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. Goldberg has never made a secret of his undermining of Israel's security. He even supports J Street, the George Soros and Arab-financed organization, participating in conversations about Israel.

    First, it is axiomatic that Jews, such as Tom and yours truly, can't pontificate. Second, this is what I told David Gregory on Meet the Press about the Netanyahu controversy -- specifically, Netanyahu's decision to make his criticism of the Obama Administration public --  that made the Breitbart writer so emotional:

     Well, there's two issues. One is a legitimate issue, which is this debate over red lines.  This is the debate that Obama and Netanyahu should have, a discussion, in private.  And that's legitimate for Netanyahu to raise. What's illegitimate, and let me just put this as bluntly as I can, I've been watching the relationship between the U.S. and Israel for 20 years, more than 20 years, very seriously.  And I've never seen an Israeli prime minister mismanage the relationship with the United States, with the administration, the way this prime minister has. Obama's not blameless. The first year, the peace process was a disaster. But, you know, one person here is the senior partner, and one is the junior partner.  And Netanyahu's turned this into a story about himself and Obama.

    The Goldblog in-box was soon filled with invective, from right-wingers who thought I was selling out the Jewish people (these are critics who, in addition to conflating the settlement proejct with Israel itself, also conflate the prime minister of Israel with Israel itself) and from left-wingers who thought I was wrong to suggest that Netanyahu had any right at all to ask President Obama what his "red lines" concerning the Iranian nuclear program might be.

    I also received some thoughtful responses, and read some in the media, including one, in Haaretz, from Chemi Shalev who wrote the following: "In the discussion that followed Netanyahu's appearance on Meet the Press, it was instructive to hear Atlantic magazine and Bloomberg blogger Jeffery (sic) Goldberg - whom right wingers consider to be a leftie, left-wingers view as a rightie and most Jews embrace as a voice in the middle - say that 'I have never seen a prime minister who has mismanaged Israeli-US relations like Netanyahu.' And while Goldberg's stature may be light years away from that of the legendary Walter Cronkite, my immediate association was to the oft-told but never-proven account of Lyndon Johnson's reaction to Cronkite's assertion in early 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

    Light years away is right, but it is true, and worth underscoring, that Netanyahu is making a hash of most everything right now. He's done a fine job of concentrating the world's attention on the Iranian nuclear program, but he's overreached with the American president, and he's allowed the settlement movement, the vanguard of binationalism and Israel's eventual dissolution, to steer state policy. And one more thing. This is only anecdotal, but he seems to be alienating American Jews at a rapid clip. One such Jew, a friend of mine in the media (we're everywhere in the media, you know), told me that he was becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu. This is not some sort of deracinated Jewish media person I'm talking about, either. This is the real deal. And yet he can't fathom Netanyahu's behavior, and Israel is not the source of pride for him it once was. Now Israelis will say: Who cares if we're a source of pride for someone in the Diaspora? Well, they will care when their support in America dissipates, as it could do.

    The extent of Netanyahu's overreach was the subject of a recent Maureen Dowd column discussed on this here blog. I'll get to the most controversial bit in a second, but on a more substantive issue, Maureen asserted that, "If President Romney acceded to Netanyahu's outrageous demand for clear red lines on Iran, this global confrontation would be a tiny foretaste of the conflagration to come." I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I do understand Maureen's general meaning to be that Netanyahu was off-sides for even suggesting the idea that red lines could, and should be, drawn.

    I happen to think that Obama has drawn his red line pretty specifically -- Iran will not get a bomb, he has said, a thousand different ways, at a thousand different times -- and to go any further would be unwise. But why is it wrong for Netanyahu to broach the subject at all (not publicly, of course, but privately?)  I would also point out that Romney's position on Iran is not discernibly different from Obama's, and I believe that the liberals who fear how Romney would handle the Iranian nuclear program will be unpleasantly surprised by Obama's handling in his second term (assuming he'll have a second term, which is a decent assumption to make at the moment). Which reminds me of a recent Chris Hayes tweet: "I really wish this presidential election presented as stark an ideological choice as the two candidates say it does."

    On the more controversial issue, namely, Maureen's suggestion that "neocon puppet masters" are pulling Romney's strings on Middle East, and my belief (and the beliefs of several other keen observers) that "neo-con puppet master" invokes an anti-Semitic stereotype, Andrew  had this to say:

    The usual would-be policeman of Washington's discourse on all things to do with Israel, Jeffrey Goldberg, takes a break from the Jewish holidays to consign yet another member of the thinking classes to the ranks of "something much darker." Dowd wrote a column in which she noted how Greater Israel fanatics run the Romney campaign's foreign policy (which they do), and their neoconservative bubble is part of what explains Romney's nasty and divisive attempt last week to politicize the recent flare-up of violent anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

    There are three problems with this one paragraph (four if you count the general ad hominem nature of it). The first I noted before (the business about Rosh Hashanah). The second is that Andrew neglects to characterize my criticism fairly -- I wasn't complaining about Maureen's focus on Romney's association with neoconservatives, I was complaining about her use (however inadvertent) of an anti-Semitic stereotype. Andrew decided not to tell his readers about my actual objection. Not cool.

    And then there's the accusation that I'm the "would-be policeman" of Washington discussion on Israel. I understand his motivation for making the charge -- he doesn't like to be criticized by me for what I think are his wrongheaded observations about the Middle East -- but policing? Really? There's no policing going on here -- I often post my opinions about what other people are saying about the Middle East, and I'm often critical in these posts. What Andrew calls policing most other people call blogging. I would only note that, by Andrew's own definition, he "polices" discussions of homophobia, and, from my perspective, more power to him. (By the way, for those of you who don't understand Andrew's seemingly obscure reference to "something much darker," the phrase refers to a Leon Wieseltier piece from 2010 accusing Andrew of being anti-Semitic.)

    James Fallows made more substantive points about the "neo-con puppet master" charge, in a post supportive of Maureen:

    For what it's worth, I know that the term "puppet-master," which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago's role as "puppet-master" of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd's column, the statement that a certain group was "slithering" back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote."

    Jim's post on the subject brought to mind Jonathan Chait's very smart observation that conservatives seem unable to hear racist dog whistles (when, of course, they're not doing the whistling themselves) and that liberals, conversely, are often unable or unwilling to hear anti-Semitic dog whistles. It is true that Dowd made no mention of the Jewishness of Senor or Wolfowitz. It is also true that Newt Gingrich made no mention of President Obama's race when he referred to him as a "food stamp" president, and yet Jim condemned Gingrich for racist dog-whistling:

    ...Newt Gingrich knows exactly what he is doing when he calls Obama the "food stamp" president, just as Ronald Reagan knew exactly what he was doing when talking about "welfare Cadillacs." There are lots of other ways to make the point about economic hard times -- entirely apart from which person and which policies are to blame for today's mammoth joblessness, and apart from the fact that Congress sets food stamp policies. You could call him the "pink slip president," the "foreclosure president," the "Walmart president," the "Wall Street president," the "Citibank president," the "bailout president," or any of a dozen other images that convey distress. You decide to go with "the food stamp president," and you're doing it on purpose.

    Jim went on to write:

    If Joe Lieberman had been elected, I would be wary of attacks on his economic policy that called him "the cunning, tight-fisted president." If Henry Cisneros had or Ken Salazar does, I would notice arguments about ineffectiveness phrased as "the mañana administration."

     (A short, illustrative, story: Several months ago, I wrote about the prevalence racist dog-whistling in the Republican primary campaign for Bloomberg View. A few weeks later, I was at a Bar Mitzvah when the Weekly Standard's Andy Ferguson (whose Bar Mitzvah it wasn't)  manfully admitted that he would be attacking me for my dog-whistling column in the next issue of Commentary. He explained to me his argument, and I made the point that I tend to defer to African-Americans when it comes to deciding what is racist and what is not, in part because as a Jewish person, I don't particularly like it when non-Jews take it upon themselves to define anti-Semitism for me. I believe that as a Jew, I'm qualified to tell what is what -- which doesn't mean, of course, that all Jews will agree with me. So, I explained to Andy, it seems only right that blacks should be granted the autonomy to decide what isn't racist, gays should be granted autonomy to define homophobia, and so on. Andy nodded in agreement, and said he understood my point. He attacked me anyway, but, whatever.)

    There's no doubt in mind that the term neocon is very often used as a dog-whistle by people who are signalling their distaste for Jews, or at least their distaste for Jews with political power. And there's no doubt in my mind that accusing Jews of puppet-mastering goyim is an ancient anti-Semitic trope. Combine them, and you're entering into nasty territory (which doesn't mean, of course, I think Maureen did it advertently).

    Why do I say that "neocon" is often used as an anti-Semitic dog-whistle? Because anti-Semites of the hard left and the extreme right have long made the connection between Jews and neoconservatism hyper-explicit. In non-polite company, "neoconservatism" is openly synonymous with "traitorous Jew." In semi-polite company, where it is preferable to speak in deniable code, the connection between Jews and neoconservatism is signaled through dog whistles.

    The left-wing activist Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine, and the Occupy movement, made the connection clear in an infamous 2004 article entitled, "Why Won't Anyone Say They Are Jewish?" Lasn, in the style of John Mearsheimer and Fred Malek, who are famous for cataloguing Jews, made a list of people he identified as Jewish neoconservatives for his readers. This is how he introduced the subject:

    Drawing attention to the Jewishness of the neocons is a tricky game. Anyone who does so can count on automatically being smeared as an anti-Semite....Here at Adbusters, we decided to tackle the issue head on and came up with a carefully researched list of who appear to be the 50 most influential neocons in the U.S. (see above). Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of them are Jewish.

    (My favorite part of this was Lasn's use of the word "smear" to describe what happens to people who make public lists of Jews they despise.)

    This article heavily influenced the discourse about neoconservatives on the far-left and far-right (which tend to agree on subjects including "Jewish power," the "Jewish lobby," Israel and Zionism.) Please see here and herehere, here, and here, for other extremist articles on the tight connection between Jews and neoconservatism. (I have links to a lot more, which I can post if there is sufficient demand, though I don't like linking to hate sites.)  Michael Lind, in an influential article in 2003, established the link between Jews and the hated ideology of neoconservatism with a bit more politesse:

    Most neoconservative defense intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the influential Jewish-American sector of the Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history. Their admiration for the Israeli Likud party's tactics, including preventive warfare such as Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, is mixed with odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for "democracy." They call their revolutionary ideology "Wilsonianism" (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism. Genuine American Wilsonians believe in self-determination for people such as the Palestinians."

    Now combine "neocon" with "puppet master," and you get a euphemism for malevolent Jewish power that approaches "international banker" and "rootless cosmopolitan" in potency. Jim is right, of course, to say that "puppet master" is a popular term in the wider culture. But it is true that anti-Semites and their fellow travelers -- Glenn Beck comes to mind -- often use puppet masters to describe powerful Jews (Beck, apropos Jon Chait's point, was roundly condemned for anti-Semitism for using the term, including by yours truly.)

    The Jew-as-puppet-master meme has been given a strong lift in recent years by commentators in the Muslim world, who see malignant Jewish influence everywhere. In 2003, the then-prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, made a now-famous speech to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference that laid out a vision of international Jewish puppet-mastery with concision: The Jews "survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking," he said. "They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power."

    In the context of Maureen's column, the word "neocon," when attached to the concept of "puppet mastering," is obviously going to be interpreted a certain way by people looking to have their prejudices confirmed. (In another post, I'll publish, if I can stand to wade through the muck, some of the e-mail I received praising Maureen for "bravery" and "guts" for condemning Jewish influence on the democratic process. And again, I don't think this is what Maureen was trying to do.)

    One final, amusing note: The far-right polemicist Steve Sailer, who spends most of his days arguing that black people are mentally inferior to white people, this week addressed the question of whether Maureen actually knew the meaning of the language she deployed (a question I raised in my first post), and in so doing, paid me a compliment I don't think I deserve:

    Right, Jeffrey, Maureen Dowd is obviously a naive young girl who hasn't been around the block a few times, so she doesn't understand the meaning of what she writes.

    Goldberg, as usual, is way exaggerating, but, still, there's a more here than when, say, Goldberg started the smear campaign that got Glenn Beck thrown out of the MSM.

    I had no idea I got Glenn Beck thrown out of the mainstream media. I thought he managed to do that to himself. But maybe I'm just an unknowing puppet master.

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