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.

  • Sex Gum Has Been on the Market for Years

    Libido-boosting chewing gum is so 1997.

    It turns out that 12 years ago, Palestinian Supply Minister Abdel Aziz Shaheen accused Israel of selling strawberry-flavored gum laced with hormones that drove women "wild with desire" while simultaneously serving as a contraceptive -- so a lot of premarital sex that didn't even help procreation. Very genocidal. At the time, officials said that the packs of gum, decorated with stickers of Disney's Pocahontas exhibiting "sultry" expressions (because clearly cartoons for five-year-olds tempt young adults), were sold at "suspiciously low prices near schoolhouses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

    Can't the Israeli army think of something new? If any Goldblog readers have tasted said gum, please write in with your experiences. Or let me know if there's a sugar-free bubblemint variety.

  • Is This Why Jews Argue So Much?

    Rabbi David Wolpe's thought of the week:

    If God wished Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in Eden, why create the tree?

    One among many possible answers: all real life is deciding. Wanting, weighing and choosing are the essence of being human. The fruit dangles from the tree, and even the choice not to decide is a decision.

    The essayist Gilbert Highet quotes "'a wise man' who said the Greeks' greatest legacy to the world's welfare was 'on the one hand and on the other hand.'" The constant weighing of options can be maddening; after listening to his advisors offer him conflicting economic advice Harry Truman burst out in frustration, "Can someone get me a one handed economist!" Of course not. If there were one choice, one path, vitality would be drained from the world. The gift of possibility entails arguing, failing, reevaluating, feeling the constant frustrating yearning to do better.

    God could have fashioned a garden without a tree. Eve and Adam would never have eaten and never have left. Eden would be their permanent, perfect address. It would have been a beautiful place to exist. But it would have been no place to live.

  • So a Baptist from Oklahoma Walks into a Mosque...

    The U.S. military is placing American religious mentors throughout the Afghan National Army with the task of encouraging the troops to exaggerate their adherence to Islam -- an unusual effort that has led people like James Hill, a "baby-faced" 27-year-old from Oklahoma, to befriend a 51-year-old mullah who has never shaved, and do things like give soldiers prayer rugs to distribute in villages and set up loudspeakers on checkpoints so locals can hear soldiers being called to prayer.

    The theory behind this plan is that if nearby villagers realize that their country's army is, in fact, Muslim, then they will be more likely to support it instead of Taliban insurgents, who regularly ride through isolated villages on motorcycles, "spreading the word that the Afghan army is led by godless communists working to urge the country of Islam."

  • On Human Rights Watch's Saudi Fundraising

    Goldblog reader P.F. writes, in a hostile though respectful e-mail:

    "Are you suggesting in your criticism of Human Rights Watch that its officials shouldn't talk to Arab audiences about Israel?"

    No! Of course not. What I'm suggesting is that they shouldn't fund-raise in Arab countries, especially un-free Arab countries -- by bragging about their opposition to Israel, and by invoking the greatest bogeyman of all, the Jewish lobby. It's just so tacky it's hard to believe Ken Roth, the group's director, would ever endorse this practice. It's absolutely fine for Human Rights Watch to talk to Arab audiences about the universe of its work (it would have been nice, of course, if Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, had seen fit to mention, you know, beheadings in front of her Saudi audience), but perhaps there should be a rule that Human Rights Watch not raise funds in its main target countries. I would argue that Human Rights Watch shouldn't raise funds in Israel, either. Imagine if one of the group's fund-raisers got up before an audience in Tel Aviv and bragged about how tough her group has been on Saudi Arabia. You can just imagine the outcry in the Arab world. 

  • Esther Klein's Brooklyn Porno Adventure

    Don't you hate it when you go to your local library to rent a copy of "Austin Powers" for your barely Bar Mitzvahed-grandchildren, only to find that someone has recorded porn over the end credits?

    This sad series of events happened to Brooklyn grandmother Esther Klein, and when she realized that some putz foiled her plan for an evening of wholesome family fun, she contacted a higher being, Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Hikind, who was "fuming" over the incident -- I know him, he's very good at fuming -- blamed the local library, calling it a potentially "unsafe" place for "young children" and demanding the banning of VHS tapes, or something.

    Not to belittle this problem, but if Esther Klein is anything like the 3,000 or so bubbies in Brooklyn I know, she really wasn't that fazed. You can't live in Brooklyn and be upset by much. My own late dear grandmother Cyd, who spent 89 or so of her years in Brooklyn, would have laughed. I was once with her in Brighton Beach buying herring from the Russians, and right in front of us, four police cars screeched to a stop, multiple police officers jumped out, guns drawn, and emptied a Cadillac of four or five hookers and a man I assume was their pimp. There was a great deal of cursing and yelling. It was an enormous spectacle. My grandmother was oblivious. I asked her what she thought of the events that had just unfolded before our eyes. She said: "I think the store across the street has the Bismarck herring."

  • Jim Fallows is a Very Polite Man

    Really, he is. I wish everyone in journalism would be as polite as Jim. He seems to be having a disagreement with our mutual friend and colleague Bob Kaplan about China's future, but it's initially hard to tell because he's so careful to be respectful. He first writes movingly about the Atlantic community, and its spirit of respectful disagreement (we'll see how that goes, now that the Atlantic on-line seems to be adding fifteen or twenty new "correspondents" a week, some of whom might even be experienced practitioners of journalism!). Then he carefully lays out his disagreement with Bob. You should read it for yourself; I have no idea who is right, though I would say that this Fallows line strikes me as pertinent and true (and certainly true in my own area of interest):

    Arguing for uncertainty, or for many possible futures that will in fact be shaped by real choices by real human beings, may seem weak and unsatisfying. On the other hand: it conforms to the facts...."

    This is something I learned the hard way in Iraq; it's also the reason I'm open to the idea that Iraq might conceivably have a brighter future than it once did. This is also something I've learned about the Israeli-Arab conflict. As I told Michael Totten in our recent conversation (yes, I know I'm quoting myself -- sorry, I live in Washington, it's one of the local diseases), but anyone who acts like they've figured out the entire Middle East doesn't know anything.

  • Hamas: Israel Uses Sex as a Weapon

    I think they might mean Jewish wives, not Israel. But don't let me interrupt a good story: Islam Shahwan, a Hamas police spokesman in the Gaza Strip, is accusing Israeli intelligence operatives of attempting to "destroy" the young generation by distributing libido-boosting chewing gum in the Gaza area. Shahwan said that "a Palestinian drug dealer admitted that he sold products that increase sex drive" after getting the goods from Israeli sources near the Karni crossing. The official investigation began after a Palestinian man reported that his daughter got her innocent hands on said gum and couldn't shake the "dubious" side effects. Me, I prefer Orbit sugar-free Bubblemint, to which I was introduced by Nicole Kidman, which wasn't the aphrodisiacal experience you might think it would be.

  • Fundraising Corruption at Human Rights Watch

    An on-line Wall Street Journal op-ed posted two days ago alleged that Human Rights Watch officials went trolling for dollars in Saudi Arabia, and that the organization's senior Middle East official, Sarah Leah Whitson, attempted to extract money from potential Saudi donors by bragging about the group's "battles" with the "pro-Israel pressure groups."

    This is a serious allegation, and one I found difficult to believe, because Human Rights Watch has always been moderately careful about the optics of its fundraising efforts. The group's credibility, of course, rests on its neutrality; playing traditional enemies off each other as a way to collect money from one (or both) sides in a conflict seems beyond the pale. (Let's put aside for now the queasy-making image of a human rights organization venturing into one of the world's most anti-democratic societies to criticize one of the Middle East's most democratic states.)

    Another problem here, of course, is that Sarah Leah Whitson, if the allegation against her is to be believed, trafficked in a toxic stereotype about Jews in a country that bans most Jews from even crossing its borders, and whose religious leadership often propogates the crudest expressions of anti-Semitism. The term pro-Israel lobby, of course, means something very different on the Arabian peninsula than it does here. Here, even to critics of AIPAC, it means a well-funded, well-oiled political machine designed to protect Israel's interests in Congress. In much of the Arab world, "pro-Israel pressure group" suggests a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world politically, culturally and economically.

    I'm not one of the people who believes that Human Rights Watch is reflexively anti-Israel, and I think the group has done admirable work exposing Israel's human rights violations (and admirable work, of course, exposing human rights violations across the Middle East). But this allegation, if proven true, would cast serious doubt on whether Human Rights Watch's Middle East division could ever fairly judge Israel again.

    I asked Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, if Bernstein's allegation was true. He forwarded me the following letter, from Sarah Leah Whitson, that was sent to the Wall Street Journal:

    It's a pity that David Bernstein didn't bother to do the most basic fact-checking before posting his opinion piece today (Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia," July 14, 2009), where he alleges that Human Rights Watch "said not a word about the status of human rights" in Saudi Arabia during our recent trip there, where one of our supporters hosted a dinner for us. Had he asked me, and not just "someone who claims to have worked for HRW," the only source he ever cites, he would know that we did indeed spend much of the time in serious discussion about Saudi violations, including its troubled justice system and the lack of women's rights, as well as our work in the region, including Israel. Mr. Bernstein implies that our work on Saudi has gone soft, focusing only on foreign domestic workers; had he checked our website, he'd know that Human Rights Watch in recent years has published more reports and press releases on a variety of rights problems in Saudi Arabia than any other human rights organization in the world. What's really at the heart of Mr. Bernstein's gripe is his misconception that efforts to raise support among Saudis are unseemly because, well, if they live in a totalitarian country, they must be bad people too. Human Rights Watch accepts funding from private individuals and foundations the world over, which we never allow to affect the independence of our work; we are proud to have a Saudi on the Middle East Advisory Committee and look forward to building an even stronger support base throughout the region. Support from citizens of Arab countries for the work of Human Rights Watch - including our vocal, public criticism of rights violations by their governments - is something to be applauded, not denigrated.  Believe it or not, some Arabs believe in human rights too.

    I don't think Mr. Bernstein thinks that no Arabs believe in human rights -- he certainly doesn't state that -- but let me note the salient fact here, which is that the Whitson statement doesn't address Bernstein's main charge, that she used her organization's battles with the "pro-Israel pressure groups" to raise money among Saudis. I sent Ken Roth the following e-mail in response to the Whitson statement:

    A couple of questions: Were you there?
    And, this letter doesn't address Bernstein's contention that Ms. Whitson "highlighted HRW's battles with 'pro-Israel pressure pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.'" Did she in fact attempt to raise money from Saudis by highlighting such "battles"? And do you in fact have "battles" with "pro-Israel pressure groups." And, were any of the people at this fundraising event associated directly or indirectly with the Saudi government?

    Here is Roth's repsonse:

    I wasn't there.  I've been told that we talked about the range of our work in the region, including Israel, Saudi and elsewhere.  The stereotype that Saudis (or other Arabs) are interested only in Israel, not their own government, is completely false.  They are eager for us to work on their government, know of the extensive work we have done, and support it. As you may know, we don't seek or accept government money from any government, directly or indirectly.  We never have.  So we certainly weren't soliciting Saudi government funds and would never take them.  As for whether any government people were there, the closest was a guy from the national human rights commission and someone from the Shura Council; not sure whether you'd consider them government or not.  No one senior, if that's what you mean.  I have met with quite senior Saudi officials -- ministerial level -- but to press our human rights issues in Saudi.

    As for whether we have battles with pro-Israel pressure groups: all the time.  There's a cottage industry out there devoted to criticizing anyone who criticizes Israel.  You must have seen that.  Every time we publish something on Israel they target us.  The fact that we publish far more extensively on other Middle Eastern governments (as well as the PA, Hamas, etc) is irrelevant, apparently.

    Still no answer, just the revelation that a member of the Shura Council was at the meeting. The Shura Council is the state-appointed religious leadership of Saudi Arabia. I wrote Roth again:

    On your last point, understood. What I'm getting at is whether or not your person talked specifically about the need to raise funds to fight back against pro-Israel pressure groups. Did she or didn't she frame it the way Bernstein has it?
    Or to put it another way, has HRW ever raised funds in Israel by advertising its work exposing human rights abuses in Arab countries? Either way it seems wrong.

    This is what Roth wrote in response:

    In SA we were mainly stressing the need for support to add to the credibility to our SA work (as well as their contacts with the government, etc).  The Saudis obviously are aware of the systematic attacks on us by various reflexive defenders of Israel.  Everyone is.  That comes up quite often in discussions about our work, including I presume in SA.  But we don't get any Saudi funds for work on Israel, if that's what you're driving at.  We do have some funds from Jews for work on other Middle Eastern countries (and some for work on Israel), but the vast majority of our funding is for our work as a whole.  It's been a great strength of the organization that most people attracted to us believe in the importance of applying our principles even-handedly to all countries, and give accordingly.

    Again, an evasive answer. I wrote back: "That's not what I'm getting at. I'm simply asking the question, did your staff person attempt to raise funds in Saudi Arabia by advertising your organization's opposition to the pro-Israel lobby?"
    Roth responded:

    That's certainly part of the story. We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception. It wasn't a pitch against the Israel lobby per se. Our standard spiel is to describe our work in the region. Telling the Israel story--part of that pitch--is in part telling about the lies and obfuscation that are inevitably thrown our way.

    In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers. It appears as if Human Rights Watch, in the pursuit of dollars, has compromised its integrity.

  • Does J Street Spend Too Much Time Criticizing Others?

    Goldblog Reader Adam Block emails in:

    "I wanted to be supportive of J-Street when it came out, but it seems to me that most of their activity has been wasted on just criticizing other people (however wrongheaded they may be) who are advocating for Israel, and relatively little seems to be spent on building support for another set of ideas." 

    Block goes on to say that, though the 15-months-old J Street has become increasingly influential, its attention-seeking, hyper-critical approach "only makes sense if you think that the biggest problem facing Israel is overzealous advocacy by right-wingers, and while that's a logically feasible position to take, I just don't see how someone could say that's the biggest issue facing the country."

  • The TSA Pulls a Goldblog

    The TSA, taking a page from yours truly, decided to investigate how ineffective its employees might actually be. So last week, security officials, in partnership with Delta Air Lines, planted a laptop, an iPod and two cell phones in a Miami-bound suitcase to see if two Delta luggage handlers would fulfill every passenger's worst nightmare and snag the goods for themselves.

    And, of course, they did. The two 20-somethings have been charged with grand larceny, possession of stolen property and falsifying business records -- for some reason, they thought it would be effective to swap luggage tags in attempt to throw everyone off -- and now face up to four years in prison if convicted. Yet another reason to carry everything you have on-board, even if it means fighting with surly flight attendants. 

  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Herring

    From Goldblog Deputy Managing Editor for Smoked Fish Affairs Tali Yahalom: As the New Yorker learned at last month's annual Herring Festival, even prominent neurologists can appreciate the timeless kiddush snack:

    "There are certain passions--one wants to call them innocent, ingenuous passions--that are great democratizers. Baseball, music, and bird-watching come immediately to mind. At the herring festival, there was no talk about the stock market, or gossiping about celebrities. People had come to eat herring--to savor them, to compare them. In its purest form, this meant seizing the new herring by the tail and lowering them gently into the mouth. The sensation this produces is voluptuous, especially as they slip down the throat."
  • J Street's Ben-Ami on the Big Obama Meeting

    It must have been quite a sight, Jeremy Ben-Ami from J Street sitting with Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Really Major Jewish Organizations during yesterday's big White House palaver on the Middle East. There's a lot of resentment of J Street among New York professional Jews, but they're going to have to get used to J Street's presence at the table. I asked Goldblog Deputy Editor for Global Jewish Affairs Tali Yahalom to put a few questions to Ben-Ami about the meeting, where attendees discussed everything from the Bush administration to how good President Obama looks in a kippah. Here is their conversation:

    Tali Yahalom: What was the atmosphere like during yesterday's meeting?

    Jeremy Ben-Ami: The president sets the tone and the president is sort of serene. There's very much a sense of calm and thoughtfulness and it makes for a much more harmonious feel even when there's disagreement. I think the president sets the tone of 'we're talking within the family.' He even referred to this several times as an 'intra-family discussion.'

    TY: Was there any tension in the room?

    JB: I don't think any of that contentiousness really came into the room. The few comments that were made that were pushing the president were made in a very respectful and calm manner. And the president then respectfully and calmly pushed back. The whole conversation was done in a very appropriate tone and manner.

    TY: What kind of comments?

    JB: One is Malcolm Hoenlein's, and he's said this publicly, that he feels that history shows us that progress is made on the peace front when Israel and the U.S. are in lockstep and there's no daylight between them on their position publicly. And the president said 'With all due respect, I would disagree. For eight years under the prior administration, there was no daylight between the two sides and there was no progress on the peace front, and no hard decisions were confronted, no progress was made.' He very politely, but very clearly, disagrees with the notion that there shouldn't be a public space between the Israeli government's and the U.S. government's position. I think that's a very important point.

    And the second example would be a question of tone, where there are those in the room who would say that the president has been one-sided in his demands. And that he is only asking things of Israel, and the president really again pushed back, very calmly but firmly, and said no, that he has on every occasion, where he has spoken out publicly, and where the [U.S.] government has taken a position, made it clear that there are obligations and steps that must be taken by Israel, and obligations and steps that must be taken by Palestinians and the broader Arab community. If we're going to make progress, both sides have to live up to commitments and both sides have to take some steps.

    TY: Was anyone who disagreed with the President tense or annoyed at all? Was anyone muttering under his breath?

    JB: I felt none of that. The majority of the people in the room are folks who were supportive of the president's campaign. There were people in there who were lay leaders of organizations that are very supportive publicly of the president. People in the room who have had long relationships -- not me -- but people in the room who have long relationships with him, so it sort of set a tone of congeniality. So you know, even within the top leadership of the Jewish community, there are those like Eric Yoffie, on behalf of the Reform movement, who just come right out and say 'we are deeply supportive of what you're trying to do on settlements.' You got that tone in the room.

    TY: What was it like to be in the room with so many right-wing leaders? Was anyone resentful of your presence?

    JB: Certainly none of our inter-community discussions entered the room. It was not the place or time to be airing that out in front of the president. Statements made were of people's positions. The president got to hear a diversity of opinions that are held by Jewish Americans when it comes to Israel. There are some in the community who'd like to maintain that the Jewish community should speak with a unified voice on all things related to Israel. That simply isn't possible when there are serious disagreements within the community. 

    TY: Is Obama speaking differently about the Jews and Israeli-Palestinian issues? Has there been a change in tone?

    JB: I didn't hear any difference yesterday. I've heard a real consistency from the president throughout the campaign and throughout the early stages of the administration in his public speeches and again yesterday. A real consistency. I don't know that I hear a difference in tone. He is very clear that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is a solid fundamental relationship and the security of Israel will always be a paramount interest to the U.S. -- he even said it in Cairo

    TY: The meeting was called in response to concerns from different Jewish leaders. Was there a sense that this was a meeting to do some crisis control?

    JB: I would disagree on that notion. There is a small handful of Jewish leaders ... who are publicly voicing their skepticism. There's a much broader array of people who are providing support. I think the purpose of the meeting was to allow a range of leaders and a range of groups to hear directly from the president what his strategy is, what he's thinking and what he's trying to accomplish.

    TY: What is the significance of Obama using the word 'pressure' rather than something milder like 'encouragement'?

    JB: He's talking about the very strong role for the U.S. and it grows out of a recognition that when parties have a dispute, it often requires an outside hand, and it's not enough to say to the parties -- as we've said in prior administrations -- that you talk amongst yourselves and figure it out. It's not enough. They'll ultimately have to agree. There can't be a solution which parties don't buy into, but the president, and the feeling among many scholars and diplomats, is that without an active U.S. leadership in achieving a resolution, it's not going to happen.

    TY: So is this the new paradigm for how Obama is going to deal with Jews on issues related to Israel?

    JB: The Bush administration spoke primarily to and drew support from a very limited portion of the community. I think what the president and the White House did yesterday was try to broaden the tent and bring to the table a set of voices that do reflect the diversity and the range of views within the Jewish community.

    TY: Do you think the concerns of Jewish leaders who worry about Obama's stance are alarmist?

    JB: I think the concerns about Barack Obama's support for Israel are misplaced. He clearly is approaching the issue from a deep sense of concern over the future of Israel, and in our opinion at J Street, and many others in the Jewish community and in Israel, he's correct in having that concern. The alarmist issue describes views of some of the more right-of-center leadership. They have been alarmist about raising concern about the president's support for Israel, which in our opinion is simply unquestionable.

  • I'm Beginning to Despise Southwest Airlines

    We fly Southwest whenever we can because we're a family of five and the Greyhound of the skies makes economic sense. Anyway, Southwest flies out to Denver more-or-less non-stop, and I'm a Rocky-Mountain-high kind of guy, and not just because of the subsidized family vacation known as the Aspen Ideas Festival (actually, it's not much of a vacation for me -- or, to put it another way, it's a vacation, but with half the State Department and a good portion of the Middle East diplomatic corps).

    I used to like Southwest very much; it was honest in its cheapness, and its flight attendants were actually quite charming. But now they seem to have become very surly. On our flight back from Denver the other day, they were mean, short-tempered and dismissive. I know it's a hard job, but they don't make it easier by alienating their customers.

    And there's one other problem with Southwest, apparently: They fly planes that have holes in their roofs (h/t Cindy Klein).

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