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

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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."

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.)

There's no doubt in mind that the term neocon is very often used as a dog-whistle by people who are signalling their distaste for Jews, or at least their distaste for Jews with political power. And there's no doubt in my mind that accusing Jews of puppet-mastering goyim is an ancient anti-Semitic trope. Combine them, and you're entering into nasty territory (which doesn't mean, of course, I think Maureen did it advertently).

Why do I say that "neocon" is often used as an anti-Semitic dog-whistle? Because anti-Semites of the hard left and the extreme right have long made the connection between Jews and neoconservatism hyper-explicit. In non-polite company, "neoconservatism" is openly synonymous with "traitorous Jew." In semi-polite company, where it is preferable to speak in deniable code, the connection between Jews and neoconservatism is signaled through dog whistles.

The left-wing activist Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine, and the Occupy movement, made the connection clear in an infamous 2004 article entitled, "Why Won't Anyone Say They Are Jewish?" Lasn, in the style of John Mearsheimer and Fred Malek, who are famous for cataloguing Jews, made a list of people he identified as Jewish neoconservatives for his readers. This is how he introduced the subject:

Drawing attention to the Jewishness of the neocons is a tricky game. Anyone who does so can count on automatically being smeared as an anti-Semite....Here at Adbusters, we decided to tackle the issue head on and came up with a carefully researched list of who appear to be the 50 most influential neocons in the U.S. (see above). Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of them are Jewish.

(My favorite part of this was Lasn's use of the word "smear" to describe what happens to people who make public lists of Jews they despise.)

This article heavily influenced the discourse about neoconservatives on the far-left and far-right (which tend to agree on subjects including "Jewish power," the "Jewish lobby," Israel and Zionism.) Please see here and herehere, here, and here, for other extremist articles on the tight connection between Jews and neoconservatism. (I have links to a lot more, which I can post if there is sufficient demand, though I don't like linking to hate sites.)  Michael Lind, in an influential article in 2003, established the link between Jews and the hated ideology of neoconservatism with a bit more politesse:

Most neoconservative defense intellectuals have their roots on the left, not the right. They are products of the influential Jewish-American sector of the Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history. Their admiration for the Israeli Likud party's tactics, including preventive warfare such as Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, is mixed with odd bursts of ideological enthusiasm for "democracy." They call their revolutionary ideology "Wilsonianism" (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism. Genuine American Wilsonians believe in self-determination for people such as the Palestinians."

Now combine "neocon" with "puppet master," and you get a euphemism for malevolent Jewish power that approaches "international banker" and "rootless cosmopolitan" in potency. Jim is right, of course, to say that "puppet master" is a popular term in the wider culture. But it is true that anti-Semites and their fellow travelers -- Glenn Beck comes to mind -- often use puppet masters to describe powerful Jews (Beck, apropos Jon Chait's point, was roundly condemned for anti-Semitism for using the term, including by yours truly.)

The Jew-as-puppet-master meme has been given a strong lift in recent years by commentators in the Muslim world, who see malignant Jewish influence everywhere. In 2003, the then-prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, made a now-famous speech to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference that laid out a vision of international Jewish puppet-mastery with concision: The Jews "survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking," he said. "They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power."

In the context of Maureen's column, the word "neocon," when attached to the concept of "puppet mastering," is obviously going to be interpreted a certain way by people looking to have their prejudices confirmed. (In another post, I'll publish, if I can stand to wade through the muck, some of the e-mail I received praising Maureen for "bravery" and "guts" for condemning Jewish influence on the democratic process. And again, I don't think this is what Maureen was trying to do.)

One final, amusing note: The far-right polemicist Steve Sailer, who spends most of his days arguing that black people are mentally inferior to white people, this week addressed the question of whether Maureen actually knew the meaning of the language she deployed (a question I raised in my first post), and in so doing, paid me a compliment I don't think I deserve:

Right, Jeffrey, Maureen Dowd is obviously a naive young girl who hasn't been around the block a few times, so she doesn't understand the meaning of what she writes.

Goldberg, as usual, is way exaggerating, but, still, there's a more here than when, say, Goldberg started the smear campaign that got Glenn Beck thrown out of the MSM.

I had no idea I got Glenn Beck thrown out of the mainstream media. I thought he managed to do that to himself. But maybe I'm just an unknowing puppet master.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/on-court-jews-netanyahu-dog-whistling-and-puppet-masters/262560/