At the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies conference, Jeffrey Goldberg gave a plug for the worldview of Ben Zion Netanyahu, the 100 year old father of Israel’s prime minister who is reportedly much more a nationalist extremist than his son Bibi. In his essay published last September in The Atlantic, Goldberg sought to convey a semblance of journalistic neutrality about the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran, and his depiction of Ben Zion Netanyahu was in that vein: he simply characterized the elder’s Netanyahu’s writing and quoted a lot of Israelis who believe he holds great influence over his son.
But before an enthusiastic neocon audience Friday morning in Washington, Goldberg acknowledged his admiration. “I’m a huge reader of his [Bibi’s] father’s work” Goldberg said, adding that the elder Netanyahu’s interpretation of the Spanish Inquisition as not primarily religious but a form of proto-Nazism, once thought radical, was now “generally accepted.” The implication Goldberg drew from the work is that anti-Semitic rhetoric “inevitably turns into to anti-Semitic physical violence.”
There are real world consequences in this mode of thought. The elder Netanyahu (and hardly him alone) elide hostility to Zionism with hostility towards Jews. The implication is that rhetoric critical of Zionism is but a precursor to exterminationist violence. Those who criticize the policies of Israel are nothing more than proto-Nazis. For Israel, such a doctrine would seem to rule out meaningful negotiation or peaceful coexistence with enemies.
It doesn’t surprise me that Goldberg is a fan of Netanyahu senior, but to the extent that Goldberg is influential for framing American foreign policy, it signals a doctrinal departure for the United States as well.
Following Goldberg on the panel was Israeli general Yaacov Amidror. He reiterated Israeli strategic doctrine, which holds that neither Iran nor any other enemy of Israel can ever be allowed nuclear capability, and made it clear that when he is involved in decisive governmental counsels, he would be pushing for a war that he acknowledged would be “long” and “dirty”. No one in Israel wants war, he said, but they would prefer it to a nuclear Iran.
This is a familiar refrain, now voiced by many American politicians. Republican candidate John McCain used virtually the same words. Still it is jarring to hear it expressed succinctly in person.
To sum up, the Netanyahu/Goldberg/Amidror argument is
1) that any rhetorical expression of anti-Zionism is a close cousin to rhetorical anti-Semitism, which is the precursor to genocide;
and 2) that only Israel, of all the countries in the Middle East, can be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.
Whatever the sustainability of this doctrine—and I doubt that Israel will be able to maintain its nuclear monopoly for another generation, regardless of what happens with Iran–it certainly would seem to undermine one of the main selling points of Zionism, that the Jews should have a state “like all the others”. For it requires that Israel be treated not “like the others”, but instead be given an exemption from the rules of statecraft as they have evolved in the nuclear age. Israel is demanding that it be allowed to act as the United States did not act, when it failed to start a preemptive war against the nuclear programs of Soviet Union in the late 40’s or China in the early 60’s. It asks to be guaranteed in perpetuity the sort of nuclear monopoly the United States had from 1945 to 1949.
And through the medium of Jeffrey Goldberg and others, the American establishment is being induced to accept this view.