More on Glenn Greenwald, 'Israel-Firsters,' and Idiot Editors (Updated)

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Man, I'm taking a lot of heat in the Goldblog mailroom over something I wrote earlier (and, by the way, now that we've opened-up comments on this blog, please feel free to post your responsibly-written invective down below, though of course you can still email me directly). Here's what I wrote::

And by the way, as an American Jew, I believe, as most American Jews believe (and most American non-Jews, as well) that Israel should exist and flourish as a Jewish country, that it is an important project of the Jewish people, that  and that it is a natural ally of the United States. An American Jew can feel this and still be a loyal, upstanding American. (Certainly, non-Jewish Americans are permitted to feel this way.)  I get the sense, from reading him every so often, that Glenn Greenwald is in the minority on this issue. Which is fine, of course. (Bold is mine).

Here is one letter from a Goldblog reader:

You say that Greenwald's vicious anti-Israel double standard is fine with you. My question is what's wrong with you? Greenwald is part of a small coterie of Jewish anti-Semites who never miss an opportunity, as the saying goes, to blast Israel or Jews for supporting Israel. It is morally, ethically and spiritually wrong what he does. How can this be fine with you? Are you trying to suck up?

To that last question, Umm, no. Here's another, similar letter, more succinct:

You yourself are defining yourself as a self-hating Jew by endorsing the right of Glenn Greenwald to hate Israel.

Self-hatred is a deeply-inexact description of the people this reader is trying to describe. In my experience, those Jews who consciously set themselves apart from the Jewish majority in the disgust they display for Israel, or for the principles of their faith, are often narcissists, and therefore seem to suffer from an excess of self-regard, rather than self-loathing. "Self-hater" is a euphemism, then, for "auto-anti-Semite," or some other such locution. I generally try to stay away from such descriptions (though there are some very obvious candidates for the label of auto-anti-Semite, including the John Mearsheimer-endorsed neo-Nazi Gilad Atzmon).

In the case of Greenwald, here is what I think, from afar, since we've never met. When I write that Greenwald's ostentatious anti-Israelism is "fine, of course," I'm not endorsing his views, I'm simply acknowledging that he has a right to say whatever he wants -- he has a right even to defend the use of the neo-Nazi-derived anti-Semitic slur "Israel-Firster" to describe Jews with whom he disagrees -- and I'm also acknowledging, in a way, that he is not sui generis: There have always been Jews who define themselves in opposition to Judaism, Marxists mainly, in the style of of Isaac Deutscher's so-called "non-Jewish Jew." (By the way, Deutscher was one of Christopher Hitchens' favorite Jews, and we used to argue at great length about him. And by the way again, I forgot who made this argument to me, but it is possible to assert that opposition to Judaism is in itself a form of Judaism, given Judaism's disputatious, questioning nature.)

I don't know anything about Greenwald's Jewishness. He could be a Marrano Chabadnik for all I know, though, based on the way he writes about Israel and American Jewish organizations, I often suspect that some really bad shit happened to him in Hebrew school. (I mean, worse than the usual soul-sucking anomie). But about what he writes: I do know that he evinces toward Israel a disdain that is quite breathtaking. He holds Israel to a standard he doesn't hold any other country, except the U.S. Now, of course, if you read certain things I write (like this, for instance) you could say that I'm also hostile to Israel, though I also exhibit affection for Israel, both the reality of  Israel (or at least many of its facets) and the idea that motivated the reality into existence.

Greenwald has written millions of words (well, written and block-quoted, anyway), and I haven't read them all, so he may have said something positive about Israel, but I don't know. I've never seen him write with any sort of affection about Israel, Zionism, Judaism, the Jewish people, and so on. Of course, he doesn't write with affection about very much at all. (This is not to say I don't admire some of his stands, including his forthright stance against torture -- of course, this is a very Jewish position to take, if you ask me.)

Though his opinions are his to have, I don't think he is being intellectually honest when he defends the use of the term "Israel-firster." David Bernstein has an interesting look at Greenwald's hypocritical double-standard:

Obviously, Greenwald's sensitivity to offensive language depends on whether he likes/agrees with the target. When his favored candidate, Barack Obama, was being attacked by John McCain, he was extremely quick to accuse McCain of using language designed to appeal to racist sentiment. When pro-Israel activists and politicians, a Greenwald-disfavored group, are being attacked by his anti-Israel compatriots, suddenly they are inherently immune from any hint of using anti-Semitic (a form, of course, of racism) language unless, perhaps, they are wearing swastikas and celebrating Hitler's birthday. And the fact that Greenwald can and has come up with examples of where some of Israel's supporters have used charges of anti-Semitism in inappropriate or exaggerated contexts is quite irrelevant to the point, just as it would be irrelevant to Greenwald's post about McCain if someone pointed out that charges of racism against Obama's opponents are at times inappropriate or exaggerated.

There is a great temptation on the part of some Jews, now that anti-Semitism is being mainstreamed by people like John Mearsheimer (read this indispensable Adam Kirsch piece on Mearsheimer's unholy mission, and read this important Ben Cohen piece as well, on the chutzpah of anti-Semites who believe it is their right to define what is and isn't anti-Semitism), and now that actual neo-Nazi terminology is being used in the press to describe certain Jews (and now, of course, that the Israeli government has mostly given up trying to make outsiders sympathetic to Israel's cause), to communicate somehow to the non-Jews around them that they have nothing to do with Israel, or with Israel's supporters. This is a self-defense mechanism of petrified people, and though it isn't particularly admirable, it isn't unnatural.

"Israel-firster," of course, connotes someone who puts Israeli interests above America's interests. It plays on an ancient stereotype of Jews, that they are only loyal to their own sectarian cause (Henry Ford's "The International Jew" is a classic of the genre). From where I sit, there are three good reasons not to use the term:

1) It's probably best, for civilization's sake, to avoid using language popularized by neo-Nazis to describe Jews, especially because the manner in which neo-Nazis use the term is similar to the way in which the term is used by non-neo-Nazis. It is a term designed to stoke anti-Jewish resentment and prejudice.
 
2) It is a term designed to end an argument, not open a discussion.

3) It is an inaccurate way to describe American Jews who support Israel and support a strong Israel-U.S. relationship. It precludes the possibility that the person who supports Israel is doing so precisely because he or she feels that it is in America's best interest to support Israel. There are many reasons for the U.S. to support Israel (for one view, from a former undersecretary of defense, and a former deputy national security adviser, both not Jewish, please read this), and there, of course, non-anti-Semitic arguments to be made against such support. But those who argue against a close relationship between the U.S. and Israel too often assume the very worst of their opponents.

You do, of course, have schmuckos like Andrew Adler, the now-ex-editor of the Atlanta Jewish paper, who fantasized in print about the Mossad rubbing-out President Obama. I don't think this makes him pro-Israel, by the way, or whatever the non-anti-Semitic equivalent of "Israel-Firster" is. I think this makes him an idiot and a sociopath. The real subject of all this "Israel-Firster" invective is the fifteen or twenty percent of (non-lunatic) American Jews who feel very strongly anti-Obama because of his alleged dislike for Israel. The assumption among some people is that these folks aren't even dual-loyalists, that they're loyal only to Netanyahu. But though I'm not one of them (I'm accused almost every day of being in the tank for Obama), I think it is perfectly plausible to believe -- and I've talked to right-wing American Jews who say exactly this -- that pro-Israel Americans, Jewish or otherwise, are motivated to support Israel because they are Americans, and see in Israel a cause worth America's effort.

Of course, Israel's self-destructive leadership, through inaction on the occupation, by proposing laws that curtail free speech, by kowtowing to religious extremists, are creating conditions in which it will no longer be easy for Americans -- especially American Jews -- to see in Israel a reflection of American values. But this a subject for a separate post.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald just tweeted this: "Last week, @Goldberg3000 depicted himself as a McCarthyism victim - now he's back to smearing people as Israel-haters http://is.gd/4a13jH"

Put aside for a moment Greenwald's over-reliance on the verb "smear" to describe any sort of criticism of him. I do think that a reasonable reading of Glenn Greenwald's work on Israel would suggest that he likes it not at all. There's no proof in his writings that he has any affection for Israel, or any sympathy for Israel. Which, as I've said, is his right.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as 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.

His 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. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. 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. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

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.

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