I finally read Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece on the likely Israeli attack on Iran in The Atlantic, The Point of No Return, and I’m surprised. Surprised that Goldberg would put it out there, given his role in promoting the Iraq war on a dubious basis and his admission last year on Israeli TV that Zionists have an interest re Iran that conflicts with the American interest; surprised that the Atlantic would run it, given the piece’s relentless ethnocentrism and emotional appeal to Jews and the Israel lobby on behalf of the Obama hawks; and finally, surprised that more journalists have not stepped up to attack this dangerous piece as a crude manifestation of the Israel lobby in our politics.
The first surprise is I suppose easily explained. Goldberg likes attention, and he’s going to get it whatever it takes. This time he’s basically carrying the water for the Israeli political and military establishment. He states that he doesn’t quite believe their argument for war, but this is a mere clearing of the throat. The rest of the time he is carrying water. His strenuous efforts to dignify the piece as journalism– he spent seven years studying the question and has interviewed scores of people in Israel and a couple of Americans too– are belied by its crude character. It is Jerry Springer at Yad Vashem. He is holding the microphone up to Israelis to describe their fears of Iran getting the bomb.
The amount of Holocaust talk in the piece is endless and staggering. Auschwitz and annihilation are repeated over and over, Ahmadinejad is identified often as someone who wants to eliminate the Jews. Hitler makes an appearance. Goldberg goes in for his customary ugga bugga about the Islamic world hating Jews, with the usual scholarly gloss. "[T]hrough the 17th and 18th centuries Shia clerics viewed Jews variously as ‘the leprosy of creation’ and ‘the most unclean of the human race.’”…
The piece is essentially emotional, it is an expression of Jewish power. Goldberg loves Jewish power. He grew up studying the abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust and thinking that the diaspora was dangerous for Jews, and this seems to have been the sum of his philosophical inquiry in life. As a young man he joined the Israeli army, and he still worships Israeli armor. The piece begins with a woody-producing scene of "roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft" heading east to Iran.
At a couple of points in the article Goldberg makes clear that such an attack would not necessarily be in the U.S. interest, that it would cause havoc for U.S. military forces, but this is mere lip service. I suspect the editors asked him for a To-be-sure paragraph or two, and he supplied it. The four corners of this piece are inside the Jewish psyche. Almost everyone quoted in the piece is Jewish. You may think that I am injecting religion– I always do– but Goldberg is as concerned with Jewish power as I am and he himself injects it when he says of his meeting with Rahm Emanuel, that Emanuel is "decidedly non-goyishe."
Why is he bringing religion into it, and in an offensive manner, aimed at signalling to non-Yiddish speakers that this is not their business? Because he is writing for Jewish readers.
And Jewish readers are powerful. The Obama administration holds a policymakers’ meeting with Goldberg because it is trying to demonstrate that it is taking a hawkish line on Iran– obviously because of its fears for midterms/reelection– and the most revealing moment in the piece is when Goldberg talks with Lester Crown, the Chicago billionaire, about his fears re Iran and disappointment with the Obama approach.
As if we ought to care about Israel lobbyist billionaires when we are making policy in the Middle East? As I say, this is Goldberg’s world.
Several writers have called the piece alarmist. The mood of the piece is pure fear. The Iranians are about to rebuild Auschwitz, we can’t take chances. The piece drives toward one paragraph that justifies American military action against Iran so that Israel doesn’t have to do it:
Based on months of interviews, I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States, which include his dream of a world without nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, I agreed with those, including many Israelis, Arabs—and Iranians—who believe there is no chance that Obama would ever resort to force to stop Iran; I still don’t believe there is a great chance he will take military action in the near future—for one thing, the Pentagon is notably unenthusiastic about the idea. But Obama is clearly seized by the issue. And understanding that perhaps the best way to obviate a military strike on Iran is to make the threat of a strike by the Americans seem real, the Obama administration seems to be purposefully raising the stakes.
My other surprises. I’m surprised that the Atlantic would run this piece without any counter-weight, the work of a parochialist who served in the Israeli army, over and over invoking Auschwitz as a cause for American military action? Why not an American reality check? No, the U.S. is treated as chopped liver here. "[T]he United States, with its unparalleled ability to project military force," Goldberg says. And some anonymous Israeli says, "The Americans can do this with a minimum of difficulty, by comparison." And the Atlantic puts this forward as an American argument? Not long ago Stephen Walt ran a piece responding compassionately to the big New York Times story about the American soldier who has lost his arms and legs and still carries on. Is there any room for concern about the American youth who will be sacrified to this Israeli idea?
I remind you of how emotional and Israelcentric this appeal is. I counted five annihilates or annihilation. Iran nukes are "the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people."
The Israeli national narrative, in shorthand, begins with shoah, which is Hebrew for “calamity,” and ends with tkumah, “rebirth.” Israel’s nuclear arsenal symbolizes national rebirth, and something else as well: that Jews emerged from World War II having learned at least one lesson, about the price of powerlessness…
Sneh says. “The Shoah is not some sort of psychological complex. It is an historic lesson….
“Many Israelis think the Iranians are building Auschwitz. We have to let them know that we have destroyed Auschwitz, or we have to let them know that we tried and failed.”..
The piece contains long lectures by crazed people, offered as arguments we should care about. Netanyahu’s father Ben-Zion
also argued that the Inquisition corresponds to the axiom that anti-Semitic persecution is preceded, in all cases, by carefully scripted and lengthy dehumanization campaigns meant to ensure the efficient eventual elimination of Jews. To him, the lessons of Jewish history are plain and insistent.
Rather than step back from these arguments as the effects of "national psychosis," as Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz has described the Israeli condition, Goldberg holds up the mike.
Other writers have pointed out that Goldberg’s piece falls apart due to a slippage, when you realize that the "existential" threat he keeps talking about may simply be a threat to Zionism and the idea of a Jewish state. If Iran gets nukes, one Israeli tells him, more Jews who can will want to live in other countries. We’re experiencing a terrible brain drain, they tell him. We’re diluting the quality of the Jews here. Iran is destroying the Zionist idea that Israel is the refuge for Jews.
Is it not the responsibility of a writer–oh I wish Tony Judt were still alive– to point out that political cultures change all the time? The South was desegregated, without revolution. The U.S. is becoming a post-racial society. Australia went from "Two Wongs Don’t Make a White" immigration policy to something more enlightened today. The Soviet Union becomes Russified. Muslims move to Europe. And we’re supposed to bomb Iran because a 120-year-old colonialst-nationalist idea is getting wobbly in an era of globalism?
Goldberg does CYA. This is a "devilish problem," and "devilish problems have sometimes caused Israel to overreach. But I see not one description of the overreach, I don’t see a word about the Gaza slaughter or the failure in Lebanon ’06, I see no acknowledgment of realist Ian Lustick’s shrewd analysis that the era of the Iron wall is over, Israel must engage with its neighbors or say sayonara.
Two larger omissions shadow this piece. The Atlantic would have its readers ignore the fact that Goldberg served up the last war on bad evidence, in his New Yorker piece tying Saddam to Al-Qaeda, and it would have us ignore the fact that Walt and Mearsheimer published a piece it killed, on the Israel lobby. The Israel lobby is embodied in this piece; it is all about Jews using political power in the United States to effect policy. It is a shame that the Atlantic’s readers are not supplied with this kind of information. No: Goldberg has said that he regards such analysis as anti-Semitic, and meantime he is trying to assure Lester Crown and other Jews that the Obama braintrust has taken nothing off the table.
The last surprise is that more journalists have not denounced this piece, denounced its Israel-centric focus and its push for war, denounced the fact that an American publication is serving as a platform for so many Jews traumatized by historical memory as a basis for policy-making. I am disappionted in Jim Fallows, who knows better; I’m waiting for Roger Cohen. So far the journalists to show up are bloggers, Paul Woodward, Steve Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Eli Clifton, Trita Parsi. But this is a national concern of the most profound character, we need reinforcements.