Friendly profile of Goldberg in ‘Washingtonian’ is a window on tribal power group

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A long and highly-favorable Jeffrey Goldberg profile in the Washingtonian Magazine portrays Goldberg as hilarious and aggressive, a little bit juvenile–but lovable– and the most powerful Jewish journalist in the U.S. At one level, the piece is about the Jewish establishment and a Washington guild of insider Jewish journalists. Author Paul Starobin informs us that he also is a “M.O.T.”–member of the tribe–and that he “performed volunteer duty a few years earlier at the [Israeli] kibbutz, Mishmar Ha Emek, where Goldberg lived.” Is this the kind of journalist to report objectively on the Israel lobby?

No; the piece is claustrophobic. Starobin approvingly cites Atlantic editor James Bennet’s concern about “the survival of the Jewish people,” in noting that Bennet and another powerful editor, Foreign Policy editor-at-large David Rothkopf, are the sons of Holocaust survivors. 

“I would put Jeff’s body of work on the subject of Israel, the broader Middle East, and Iran up against anybody, certainly in this country—actually anywhere[,]” [says] Bennet, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, can appreciate the intensity of Goldberg’s commitment to the survival of the Jewish people.

The piece opens a window, a little bit anyway, on a social klatch of journalists and Israel supporters, some of them members of a “Jewish studies group”:

“He has put himself at risk for his beliefs” in the Jewish state, and that makes him one of a kind—“sui generis”—among Washington journalists, says Michael Oren, the American-born Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Oren, too, is a good friend of Goldberg’s. “We just schmooze about things,” the ambassador says, especially when “I need a good laugh.” …

Another friend is David Gregory, host of Meet the Press. Goldberg and Gregory are part of an informal Jewish-studies group that includes other Goldberg buddies such as Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic; David Brooks, the New York Times columnist; and Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel.

The piece says that when Goldberg, fearing anti-Semitism in the U.S., moved to Israel in the 1980s, he wanted to go into Israeli intelligence– before he became a mere corporal in the Israeli army, working in a prison for Palestinians and exulting that his rifle “was electric with the promise of Jewish power.”

The tribal claustrophobia of the piece is punctured only by Andrew Sullivan, who puts his finger on it as usual:

“Jeffrey really believes that there is a high-priest caste of journalists at a certain elite level, whose job it is to tell people what they need to know,” Sullivan says. “That is not being a journalist—that is being an operator.”

What’s more, he adds, Goldberg “is a Jewish journalist before he is a journalist.” What Sullivan, who is Catholic, seems to feel exasperated by is that Goldberg is so unrelenting in asserting a Jewish identity. Sullivan recalls the misunderstood jew phrase on Goldberg’s door at the Atlantic: “You can’t even walk into his office without seeing ‘Jew.’”

The piece supplies valuable information about Goldberg’s hitjob on Walt and Mearsheimer’s book back in 2007. Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic editor, ordered up the hatchet job:

In 2007, Wieseltier invited Goldberg to review The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a controversial book by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt arguing that America’s misguided embrace of Israel was due to the influence of powerful, pro-Israel pressure groups in Washington. Goldberg responded with a 7,000-word article, the usual suspect, that appeared on the New Republic’s cover. The review called The Israel Lobby “the most sustained attack, the most mainstream attack, against the political enfranchisement of American Jews since the era of Father Coughlin.” Wieseltier recalls that he gave Goldberg the book to “demolish” it, and “he did demolish it.”

But Goldberg’s piece didn’t demolish the book. It called the writers anti-Semites in the company of Coughlin and Duke; but every assertion that Walt and Mearsheimer made is now a commonplace among journalists. Tom Friedman says Congress is “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Peter Beinart has said that AIPAC, which he once worked for, has prevented the U.S. from taking any action against illegal Israeli settlements. Ezra Klein called Goldberg’s attack implausible, and tribalist, which was worrying to him as a journalist:

The implausible rejection of the idea that America’s behavior toward Israel might be heavily influenced by groups interested in Israel, just as its behavior toward corn subsidies is heavily influenced by the corn lobby, and that this might have worrying consequences. I found myself shocked to see liberals engaging in all of this out of what struck me as a fearful tribalism. Not just shocked, but worried.

As I have pointed out, Goldberg has repeatedly called Walt an anti-Semite, and never provided any evidence for this vicious charge. Washingtonian writer Starobin never takes on the Israel lobby here (no, he’s part of it); though he does quote Walt:

Walt says he feels outraged by “this vile smear tactic” that “has made me somewhat radioactive in policy circles.”

Is it really any wonder that Walt has become “somewhat radioactive in policy circles” given the prevalence of tribalism in those precincts? He is not a member of the elite caste, he is not in a Jewish studies group, is not the child of a Holocaust survivor. He was just calling things as he sees them. 

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