Goldberg’s Variation

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Jeffrey Goldberg's anti-Israel-lobby piece on last Sunday's NYT Op-Ed page continues to resonate. So as to understand it better, I watched Goldberg's starkly-different performance just six months back, on a panel attacking Walt and Mearsheimer at Yivo, the center of Jewish culture in New York. Here's the video link to that panel discussion.

What leaps out from the Yivo discussion and a rereading of the Times piece is that Goldberg changes dramatically on two points: Jewish colonization of the West Bank and the role of the lobby. In November 2007 at Yivo he called the settlements a "moral disaster" but one that was somehow separate from the Zionist dream. "Israel's settlement experiment," he said–a ghastly term, really, for a policy of dispossession and now apartheid that has been an institution of the Jewish state for more than 40 years–and then went on that the settlements didn't lower Israel's place as #1 moral country in the Middle East and "one of the most moral" in the world. Now in the Times piece, the settlements are upgraded to a "project," and are no longer just a moral disaster but a threat to Israel's very existence, for the usual demographic reasons–that they own Israel politically, are fostering the conditions of a binational state or apartheid, choose one. In this piece the moral braggartry is on hold.

The second shift is Goldberg's blatant ripoff of the Walt/Mearsheimer line on the lobby.
"…why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious:The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed
the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of
the West Bank with support for Israel itself," Goldberg writes, licking his thumb to turn the pages of his inspirational text.

Back at Yivo he denied such power. He spoke narrowly of AIPAC (maybe only of AIPAC, I’m not sure; it was torture to watch this thing last night when I could have been watching the Orioles paste the Yankees), and repeatedly stated that AIPAC was no more powerful than the NRA or AARP or PHARMA, and that derived its power from the fact that it has a broad following in the general American public. The old neocon elixir: that politicians love Israel because Americans love Israel. Just like they love ice cream, Steven Spiegel once said to Walt and Mearsheimer. Well the ice-cream line is out the window. Now Goldberg is saying just what I say, and W&M too, that our politics are broken, someone is tilting the scales here, it’s AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, the whole Jewish leadership, an octopus of American Jewry including rich men behind the gates of “Boca Raton country clubs”–no Walt and Mearsheimer didn’t even go that far–who are religious on the undivided-Jerusalem question. And that’s why Barack Obama is afraid to open his mouth beyond the mildest criticism of the settlements. The situation is “existentially unhealthy” for Israel. That too an argument put forward by the Hyde Park ‘n Harvard duo for years.

I move on to the Why question? Why did Goldberg shift? The answer is twofold. First, there has been a tremendous change in American consciousness, and the Jewish consciousness of Israel/Palestine in the last year. Jimmy Carter deserves great credit, so does Jonathan Demme, so do Walt and Mearsheimer, so do all the capillaries of the progressive movement, from the late great Hilda Silverman to the great Hannah Mermelstein to Adam Horowitz, who will be speaking tonight on the Nakba in Brooklyn, along with Zachary Lockman of NYU. There, I have just run off a few Jewish names without scratching my head. We are legion, and we are having a real effect. So is Obama. So is the Nakba recognition movement, which has shifted the focus from ’67 landgrab to ’48 landgrab. Israelis are panicked.

Seeing the winds are changing, Goldberg also is changing. That’s part 2. My friend Dan Swanson explained this to me today. Goldberg is a parochialist but he is also an intellectual entrepreneur. He wants to make a name off this stuff, which is just fine (so do lots of other journalists, including myself). And my friend Dan points out that the most successful American entrepreneur of ideas about this part of the world, Tom Friedman, made his name in the 80s by explaining the disturbing events of the Lebanon War and the first intifadah to a highly-literate American Jewish audience that was reared on Exodus and kibbutzim and was suddenly seeing images of massacres in Lebanon. Friedman showed what a tough neighborhood Israel lived in, and said it had to be tough. He rationalized Israel’s existence in a changing political environment, which is precisely the function Goldberg is serving now, in the environment of Walt and Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter, and MJ Rosenberg, Dan Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller. Goldberg is making the case for Israel in far more agreeable terms than lobby-deniers Dershowitz or Dennis Ross, by saying in essence, You’ve heard all this stuff about the Israel lobby shutting down politicians in the U.S., well some of it’s true, and it has to do with this project of settlements which Israel must reverse, now.

Enterpreneurially-effective? I think, Yes. Effective for policy? He is almost surely too late. Though the greatest change agent we have ever seen in our lives is in the house now, about to capture the Democratic nomination…

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