Yesterday I pointed out that Israel advocacy is so embedded in American public life, and the concern for Israel’s survival is taken as such a solemn charge by the media, that it requires Israeli establishment critics speaking out for our media to cotton to the idea that Netanyahu is feverish and irresponsible. Specifically, it has required former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying that he doesn’t trust Netanyahu on the Iran issue, and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin describing Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak as “messianic” to give American media permission to openly question Netanyahu’s judgment.
Well, American critics have been telling us this about Netanyahu for years; and they have been ignored, while the hysterics have been privileged, c.f. this cover story in the Times in January. Even President Obama’s warning about “loose talk” of war has had less effect than the Israelis speaking out.
NYT hysteria in January
Here is another landmark in the American media’s passive acceptance of Israeli messianism: a huge 2009 op-ed in the New York Times, written by Jeffrey Goldberg, rationalizing Netanyahu’s extremism as a reasonable response to the next Hitler arising in Iran.
At the time, Dan Luban at Lobelog called Goldberg out as a zealot– but who paid attention? Luban spoke out at a small news service, while Goldberg had the pages of the New York Times to promote hysteria about the next holocaust.
First, Goldberg excerpts (Hitler boldface is mine):
I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.”
“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.
If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think…
there should be little doubt that, by the end of this year , if no progress is made, Mr. Netanyahu will seriously consider attacking Iran. His military advisers tell me they believe an attack, even an attack conducted without American help or permission, would have a reasonably high chance of setting back the Iranian program for two to five years.
…When I visited recently with [Israeli President Shimon] Peres, who is now Israel’s president, I asked him if there is a chance that his country has over-learned the lessons of Jewish history. He answered, “If we have to make a mistake of overreaction or underreaction, I think I prefer the overreaction.”
Goldberg brags a lot about his access there. But Netanyahu didn’t attack in 2009. So much for that alarmism. And Netanyahu doesn’t even represent the Israeli establishment. Diskin, and Olmert, and now Livni prove that.
Here is Dan Luban deconstructing Goldberg in 2009 as someone trying to make nuclear war acceptable:
Strangely, Goldberg does not mention what is perhaps the most striking and well-known fact about the Amalekites: they were the targets of divinely sanctioned genocide. As related in 1 Samuel 15, God instructed the Israelite king Saul to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Saul “utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword,”
Goldberg clearly does not wish to rattle his right-thinking liberal New York Times audience, so he conveniently omits all this from his account of Amalek. However, if Netanyahu’s advisors are right to say that Bibi sees Iran as the new Amalek, this is a fact with profoundly disturbing implications. After all, the biblically ordained way to deal with the Amalekites is not through “smart but tough” diplomacy, “crippling” sanctions, or even precise and targeted military strikes. Rather, it is through root-and-branch extermination — that is, wiping Iran off the map.
Then Goldberg defended himself, and Luban went right back at him:
His op-ed deployed the Amalek reference to convince American audiences that, far from being a shallow opportunist or unthinking warmonger, Netanyahu is in fact a serious statesman whose belligerence toward Iran is deeply rooted in Jewish history, the Bible, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and so on. Readers are meant to come away with the impression (although it is never quite stated explicitly) that they should put aside their skepticism of the new Israeli government and trust its hawkish inclinations on the Iranian issue.
As it turns out, his op-ed seems to have had the opposite effect. Rather than reassuring American Jews about Netanyahu’s seriousness of purpose, all the talk of Amalek has simply reinforced their impression that Netanyahu is a dangerous zealot who should not be dictating U.S. policy towards Iran. [Luban was hopeful here; it didn't happen]
It is only now that Goldberg steps in to do damage control — claiming at first that there is nothing at all troubling about the Amalek analogy, next that there may be troubling aspects of the analogy but that these were completely unintended by those who used it, before finally falling back on the position that Netanyahu never espoused the analogy at all.
In any case, the basic message throughout seems to be “defer to Netanyahu”.