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.

  • On the Madoff Scandal

    Goldblog reader Zev Klagsbrun writes, in reference to a previous post on the morality crisis in Orthodox Judaism:

    I found the following language in regard to the Madoff scandal misleading and unfair: "I mean, just in the last year, we've had the scandal of Agriprocessors, and the Madoff scandal (admittedly, he wasn't leading even the facsimile of an Orthodox life, but the scandal has involved some prominent Orthodox Jews and institutions) and now this." This sentence implies that Orthodox Jews and institutions were involved in perpetrating the scandal, while in fact they just featured prominently amongst the victims.

    As an Orthodox Jew, I am all too well aware of the ethical disdain exhibited by many of my coreligionists. We have enough scandals actually perpetrated by Orthodox Jews to be ashamed of without having the Madoff scandal thrown into the mix.
  • Is Obama Underestimating Israeli Intelligence?

    Not Intelligence intelligence, but actual intelligence. Yaacov Lozowick thinks so:

    He preaches that we need to rethink our positions while demonstrating very little understanding of the complexities we've long since worked through; he assures us public bilateral agreements made a mere four years ago never happened; he seems incapable of distinguishing between settlements even when the Palestinians have already recognised such distinctions, and his position is empowering them to renounce positions they've already accepted.

  • The White House Reacts to Aluf Benn's Arguments

    Shortly after I posted a link to Aluf Benn's New York Times op-ed on President Obama, I spoke to two senior administration officials who seemed to feel fairly strongly that Benn doesn't understand what the President is trying to do. In his piece, Benn argued that Obama has spoken to most everyone in the world except to the Israelis -- the Cairo speech to the Muslim world being the most obvious example of Obama's desire to re-set relationships -- and that until he allays Israeli fears, and explains his vision for the Middle East and for Israel's security, Israelis will mistrust him, to generally deleterious effect.

    These two senior officials -- sorry, those were the ground rules -- made the plausible argument that the Cairo speech was, in fact, directed at Israelis as much as it was directed at Arabs. "The President went before a Cairo audience in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar with Muslim Brotherhood members in the audience and spoke of America's strong, unshakable support for Israel," one of the officials said. "He could have gone to a million different venues to say this, but he went to Cairo, and it wasn't exactly an applause line. Isn't it more important to say this to the Muslim world than it is to say it to an audience of Israelis or American Jews?"

    These two officials pointed out something that I forgot about the speech, which is that it contained strong condemnations of the cynical Arab ploy to use the Palestinian issue as a diversion (in other words, to keep the focus of unhappy Arabs on Israel and not on the weaknesses of their own anti-democratic, corrupt governments), and of course it contained an unequivocal denunciation of terrorism committed in the name of resistance.

    For what it was worth, I mentioned my worry that in all of the noise about settlements, the pro-Israel message of the Obama Administration wasn't being heard -- not only the left-sounding message that a Palestinian state is in the best security, demographic and moral interests of the Jewish state, but the message that Obama believes in the core ideas of Zionism (as he expressed them to me during the campaign) and that, because he's a believer, he sincerely wants to protect Israel from true existential threats.
    I asked these two officials when Obama might visit Israel, or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel, but they were non-committal, but I'm obviously hoping that this happens soon. Otherwise, the forces that seek to exploit the growing unease in some Jewish quarters with Obama in order to advance their own pro-settlement -- or pro-recalcitrance -- agendas will only be strengthened. The Obama Administration doesn't help its own cause when it condemns the so-called "natural growth" of settlement blocs that everyone from Abu Mazen to Hosni Mubarak knows will wind up as part of Israel in a final deal, but you're not going to get too many complaints from me, and, my guess is, from the majority of American Jews, when the Obama Administration questions the motivations of those who seek aggressive settlement expansion right now, at a time when the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank is actually fighting terrorism, and building a functioning economy.

    To be continued, I'm sure. 

  • Could the Arabs Ever be Satisfied?

    Goldblog reader James Wynn writes, in reference to my statement that time is running out for Israel to achieve permanent, internationally-recognized borders and diplomatic relations with the bulk of Muslim-majority countries,"

    Why do you think this is possible?  If Israel relinquished all territories gained since the start of the 1967 war (which would include the WHOLE of Jerusalem, not just East Jerusalem), the Palestinians will a) prohibit Jews from entering those areas --certainly from entering them safely-- and the Palestinians will begin drumming about the "right of return" to all areas of 1948 Israel. And the Muslim states and the European will reflexively nod their heads. Wishing something doesn't make it so.

    I don't know that it's possible or not. I do know that the status quo is untenable. I also believe -- not so strongly anymore, but still believe somewhat -- that a so-called "end of claims" by the Palestinians, recognized internationally, is not something that could so easily be thrown away.

  • iPhone Induces Guilt

    A new iPhone application, aptly titled Synagogues, directs users to nearby congregations, replete with their denomination, rabbi's contact information and, presumably, a place to hide the device once you actually get to synagogue, or a place to hide outside the synagogue. It's a little late if you consider the tech company RustyBrick -- which, among other things, locates nearby kosher restaurants and mikvahs -- but all this so-called convenience does make guilt that much more inevitable.

  • Another Message for Rahm

    This one from Bradley Burston, in the form of a letter to Rahm's boss:

    You are in danger of losing critical support for progress toward a two-state solution. Though you have been president for only six months, you are fast running out of time. Your primary enemy here is not the extremist hoping to blow up or gun down or forcibly squat a prospective peace to death. Your enemies are the clock, a culture which allows peacemaking only at the unlikely opening of a series of windows of opportunity, and, if you do not move quickly, your own inaction... Simply stated,take your campaign directly to the Israeli people, and soon. Fail to do this, or wait too long, and you'd be well advised to leave the table while you still have chips.... In your open and generous dealings with the Muslim and Arab world, you have demonstrated the one quality which underlies all emotional, political, and cultural transactions in this part of the globe: respect.

  • A Message for Rahm

    From Aluf Benn, asking why President Obama hasn't spoken to the Israeli people yet:

    This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price. Though Mr. Obama has succeeded in prodding Mr. Netanyahu to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he has failed to induce Israel to impose a freeze on settlements. In fact, he has failed even to stir debate about the merits of one: no Israeli political figure has stood up to Mr. Netanyahu and begged him to support Mr. Obama; not even the Israeli left, desperate for a new agenda, has adopted Mr. Obama as its icon.

  • The Morality Crisis in Orthodox Judaism

    Last week saw another eruption of alleged immorality in the American Orthodox Jewish community. Five rabbis were arrested as part of an investigation into political corruption in New Jersey. Is it just a coincidence that Orthodox Jews keep showing up in handcuffs on the evening news? Is there an ethics crisis in the most religiously observant corner of American Jewry? I called my friend Erica Brown to ask these questions. Erica is one of the leading Jewish thinkers in America today. She runs the adult education branch of the Partnership Jewish Life and Learning in Washington, and she's wicked smart. So to speak.

    Jeffrey Goldberg: Is there a crisis of morality in the Orthodox Jewish community today?

    Erica Brown: I don't believe that there is a moral crisis specifically in the Orthodox community. I believe that there is a crisis in the Jewish community at large that reflects a larger moral vacuum in society. And here I would make a critical distinction. Judaism upholds certain ethical values grounded in the book of Deuteronomy -- "And you shall do what is just and good in the eyes of God" -- that some Jews choose to ignore. That's a human problem, not a faith problem. In other words, there are Jews and there is Judaism, and they are not the same thing.

    The fact that observant Jews can turn away from the Talmudic dictum that the "law of the government is our law," namely, that we are bound by the jurisdiction of whatever country we are in, shows a moral failing on their part. As you know, Jeffrey, I grew up in Deal, New Jersey. I feel ulceritic at what I read and saw yesterday. As my daughter said loudly when she heard, "How can the paper report that they're Orthodox? There is nothing Orthodox about them."

    JG: I'm not going to let you off that easily. Your daughter is right, of course -- there's nothing Orthodox about them (assuming, of course, that the charges are true). But what is the failure in Orthodox education, or in the Orthodox rabbinate, that lets this happen over and over again. From a non-Orthodox perspective, I would hazard a guess and say that insularity combined with a hyper-legalistic approach to life -- i.e. I eat kosher, and I observe the manifold laws of the Sabbath, so therefore I'm right with God -- might lead to these kinds of moral failures. I'm not arguing against legalism, but can observing the ritual so fastidiously blind someone to the fact that there are a whole set of other laws governing the way we're supposed toward our fellow man?

    EB: Ideally, legal nuances make people more fastidious in their observance of the bigger moral picture. I think it has in my own life. For example, I would venture to say that traditional Jews are more scrupulous about returning a lost object than others may be because Jewish law demands diligence in this area. However, I think you're right that for some, strict adherence to law without an underlying spiritual compass can result in forgetting what the law is there to enforce. Maimonides had unkind words for such individuals. He called them scoundrels within the framework of the law.

    JG: Is the problem we're seeing getting worse, or is it just that we remember, for obvious reasons, photographs on the front page of The New York Times of Orthodox Jews being led away in handcuffs. I mean, just in the last year, we've had the scandal of Agriprocessors, and the Madoff scandal (admittedly, he wasn't leading even the facsimile of an Orthodox life, but the scandal has involved some prominent Orthodox Jews and institutions) and now this. Not to mention the famous story of the Bar Mitzvah party held in a New York jail a couple of months ago. Is there a crisis?

    EB: There is a crisis and the images of the black frock against the black newsprint have understandable staying power. The Orthodox community and the Jewish community in general -- remember, Bernie Madoff is not an Orthodox Jew -- have to do their own spiritual reckoning. There is a collective chest beating that must take place. The idea that many prisons have daily minyanim is not a statement of pride for us. It's a statement of shame. There must be more personal and collective accountability.

    JG: What is about Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox culture that has convinced or that has led some people to have contempt for non-Jews? Or am I imagining that there is a lack of respect for the non-Jewish majority (or the non-Orthodox Jewish majority) among the Orthodox, or at the very least, the ultra-Orthodox?

    EB: I think that's a loaded question, Jeffrey, and I suspect this has more to do with avarice than race or religion. I think every minority is suspect of the majority culture, largely because there is a history of marginalization and persecution that virtually every minority suffers to some extent in a majority culture. That is certainly true of Jews, and we don't have to look far back in time to appreciate that Jews may be suspect of non-Jewish motives and behaviors. A look at Jews in medieval Christendom is a real awakening if you've never studied that period of history. Even today, without persecution, victimization may consist largely of feeling ontologically unworthy in the eyes of the other. Look at the whole Gates debate.

    JG: I often feel ontologically unworthy. Especially next to you. It's a bit of a loaded question, but not much. In my own experience writing about the Orthodox communities of New York, I noticed a tendency on the part of some people to treat the federal government, or their local governments, as variants of the Czar's government. Which is to say, they transferred their attitudes from Europe to here, never contemplating for a moment that government here is fundamentally different. In any case, tell me what's being done in Orthodox circles to address these sorts of moral and reputational catastrophes.

    EB: Jeffrey, you are ontologically worthy, of course. Now enough about you. I think what you say is very true. In non-democratic countries, or at times that pre-date citizenship for Jews throughout Europe, Jews often had an unpredictable relationship with the monarchy or ruling power and sought both appeasement, on the one hand, and circuitous routes to achieve particular ends, on the other, especially in the financial arena. If you don't give people an easy route to be good or accepted, then they often look for loopholes, special dispensations, black market dealings, etc. This begs the question of why today, when we live with material ease and under the freedoms that we do, that we are all not more ethically upright and scrupulous in all of our dealings.

    The incident in New Jersey shows a level of disrespect for the law, a posture of disdain, a certain condescension toward normative legal behaviors that's deeply troubling. It used to be that scholarship and piety were status symbols in the Jewish community. For centuries that was the case. In our society, prestige is determined largely by money, and we're seeing the ugly result of that change of orientation. Morality is not a natural and assumed set of values, and we make a mistake as leaders or parents if we think that our charges will know how to do right and why on their own. Isaiah, in the very first chapter of "his" book says: "Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice. Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow." Isaiah makes no assumptions. He tells us straight-out - learn to do good. And so we must.

    JG: So Erica, do you feel that you need to do something about this problem personally? What I mean to say is, if you feel that all of these controversies reflect poorly on Judaism, what can a Jew do to make it better?

    EB: I feel an enormous responsible as an educator, writer and parent to speak to these issues directly. For a while, I thought one of the biggest challenges facing the Jewish community was boredom. So I tackled it last year and in a few weeks my book, Spiritual Boredom, will be out (Jewish Lights). But this year's series of crimes with Jews at their center has showed me that some of us may be bored and some of us have turned to transgressive behavior to relieve the boredom. I could use a little less excitement myself. I'm currently working on a new book -- When Jews Do Bad Things -- because we need to think about collective shame and strengthening our ethical base. I hope that will be some small contribution to facing these ethical challenges more authentically. As a group, I believe that the best way to combat the ethical morass that's landed on our doorstep as a minority is to go out of our way to articulate our own distance from this behavior and to go out of our way to do acts of kindness for others that show us to be a moral light in the world.

  • Bizarre Jewish Solipsisms

    Noah Pollak writes me to tell me how my priorities are all screwed up:

    If it's really true that Israel needs Arab recognition to survive, what rational argument can you make to Syria and Lebanon and the Palestinians that they should make peace? Here you are offering the Arabs the choice between glorious victory and a humiliating U.S.-brokered peace, and you think they're going to take humiliation? If you really believe that Israel can't survive without recognition, then you should also argue that Israel is doomed, because neither the Palestinians nor most of the Arabs are going to give it -- especially not when the Goldbergs, Olmerts, and J Streeters keep saying that Israel will perish without Arab approval. This entire line is like some kind of bizarre Jewish solipsism.

    Me, I think it's the other way around. I've spent all summer over here and what I see is a strong, young, vibrant, flourishing nation. And what I see on the West Bank and Gaza are societies that have made themselves so dysfunctional and self-hating that the UN collects their garbage for them. Somehow, the weaker and more divided the Palestinians get, the more powerful they become. And the more economically and militarily mighty Israel gets, the weaker it becomes.

    I specialize, of course, in bizarre Jewish solipsisms. I don't disagree with many of Noah's conclusions, particularly about the strength of Israeli society, but I continue to believe that the best way to short-circuit the international campaign to deny Israel legitimacy is to make reasonable compromises with Israel's reasonable adversaries. And I continue to believe that Barack Obama could help that process along. And yes, I do believe that some of Israel's adversaries are reasonable. 

  • The Rise of the Israeli Mafia

    A Tablet investigative series, written by my old goombah, Douglas Century, looks at the Israeli mafia. The author is guided by Ilan Benshoshan, who grew up on the street of Shchunat Hatikvah, "a breeding ground for Israel's toughest mob bosses," and today's introductory piece offers background and context to this subculture:

    As the economic opportunities contract--this year, according to Israel's Central Bank, marked the country's worst recession in its 61-year history--and as more and more of the market in this formerly socialist country is privatized, Israel's underworld, once a dangerous if quaint West Side Story-like demimonde governed by its own code of honor, has rapidly morphed into a hellish landscape, similar to the blood-soaked world of the Camorra and Sicilian Mafia as rendered in the book Excellent Cadavers and the film Gomorra.

    As long as the mobsters stuck to that age-old social contract to keep homicide within the mishpochah, the mob killings of the Holy Land generated considerable tabloid sensation but little public condemnation.  Bosses like Yehezkel Aslan were known more for their patronage and protection and, among the general public, inspired more awe than terror. ... Today's breed of Israeli mobsters, however, are far more violent, ruthless, and young--many still in their 20s and early 30s. Obeying none of the boundaries of the older generation and harboring few qualms about killing innocent bystanders, the new crime tycoons are making many Israelis feel an acute sense of crisis and insecurity, as if the country is being swept by a wave of organized crime.

  • Where Will Hamas Network?

    Ha'aretz reports that Facebook has removed a group supporting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The group boasted 10,000 members before it was shut down. "Numerous users and groups have been barred, and surfers fear the next to be removed could be Khaled Meshal's 17,000-strong fan page, dedicated to the exiled leader of the Islamic organization. The network has not imposed a comprehensive ban on Hamas sympathizers, though, and several other Haniyeh fan groups continue to operate."

  • Accused Swindler Wrote about Torah

    Rabbi Saul Kassin is not your typical 87-year-old Syrian Jewish community leader who landed at the center of a massive corruption investigation. He also writes. Among his several books is one called "The Light of the Law: Guideposts to Biblical Commandments and Their Rabbinic Commentaries."  He is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. If he's convicted, I will pull out choice quotes.


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