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

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."

Presented by

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.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in National

From This Author

Just In