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

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.)

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.

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