On Thursday night, Jeffrey Goldberg, the new editor in chief of the Atlantic, spoke at Temple Emanu-El in New York, and said many quotable things: 60 percent of Americans depend on the mainstream media and the internet is a swamp of unreliable reporting that has given rise to Trump; the American Jewish community and the Israeli Jewish community are now “like two ships in the night;” the Democratic Party is split on Israel between its progressive base and its big Jewish donors; it is incumbent on Israel, the client state, to make things right with the U.S.; Netanyahu is a “reckless” “stunt”-man; the American Jewish community fed young Jews a “simplistic” narrative about Israel, but young Jews on campus don’t know what they’re talking about when they adopt the Palestinian version of events.
And: the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 was not a tragedy. No; the tragedy was Israel wasn’t founded in 1938. That comes last. Now let’s listen to Goldberg.
On Netanyahu’s recklessness and Israel’s responsibility to fix the relationship with the U.S.
This current [Israeli] government … has neglected the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community and has disastrously tried to turn Israel into a partisan issue… For the first time ever Democrats boycotted [a prime minister’s speech during the Iran speech]. Look, this is a huge question… American Jews are always uncomfortable when their president doesn’t get along with the prime minister of the Jewish state. It’s not been an easy eight years. Because that kind of dysfunction brings up all kinds of anxieties, brings up all kinds of narratives that we don’t want to hear in the media and elsewhere.
By the way I blame Netanyahu for 75 percent of that. It was probably 50-50 for a while. But after the stunt in Congress, which by the way he didn’t even win! He took this reckless gamble, risking the support of the Democratic party, and he didn’t even win. If you’re going to try to kill the king, kill the king. So I put it on the prime minister mainly.
The two Jewries are ships passing in the night:
There’s a much larger thing going on here, which is that the Israeli Jewish community and the American Jewish community, the two great remaining Jewish communities of the world, are becoming with each passing year, and each generation certainly, more like two ships in the night. Geography is destiny…. Israel is becoming more like a Middle Eastern country…
Third, fourth, fifth generation American Jews are adopting a more universalist approach to politics. Tikkun olam, which was not an expression that anybody used 30 years ago, is now the raison d’etre of non-orthodox Jewry. Intermarriage rates and assimilation are high. These are simply facts, and those are things that mitigate feelings of tribalism, which would lead to support for Israel. You have a universalizing Jewish community, non-orthodox Jewish community, and you have a more tribal Israel, and so that’s a recipe for long-term drift.
From my perspective, I know there are some people who don’t want to hear this, it’s on Israel, on the Israeli government to try to repair these relations, or strengthen these relations because Israel of course is the client state. If Israel understands that American Jewry is a national security asset…. Israel needs American Jewish support to make sure that it has American support. If it neglects that relationship, if it alienates American Jews in two different ways [choosing to continue occupation, denying religious freedom to non-orthodox Jews in Israel] – one day they’re going to look behind them and American Jewry is not going to be there anymore.
What you’re seeing in the Democrats is a lot of Jews in the Democratic Party, saying, I know you politicians always support Israel, say reflexively we love Israel no matter what– Well we don’t even feel that way any more. Politicians are hearing that from their Jewish supporters some times.
On what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Goldberg adopts the J Street narrative:
This is what President Obama has articulated over and over again to the chagrin of the Netanyahu government, to the chagrin of the Jewish right in America: To be pro Israel might be to say, you’re not going to be a Jewish-majority democracy if you continue down your current path. You might be a Jewish-democracy discriminatory state, or you’re going to be a mixed Arab Jewish state that no longer serves as a refuge for the Jewish people, because you have decided on a set of policies that appear to us to be ultimately self destructive…
So that’s the deepest dialogue and tension in the American Jewish community, is that it may very well be true that being pro Israel at this point means saying that we don’t understand what you guys are doing anymore, you have to explain how this status quo is sustainable.
Do traditional media matter less and less? (asked interlocutor Julia Ioffe)
I object to that characterization of reality. It’s not that the mainstream media matters less. It matters a great deal to the people who live in our ecosystem, which I would consider probably 60 percent of America. But what’s been created over the last 15 years or so is an alternative media ecosystem, an alternative information ecosystem. Which is the only reason that Trump could flourish. Because from my opinion it’s a media ecosystem that is not really tethered to facts as you and I would understand them.
I believe some of that was pure old-school bluster; Goldberg later said, “In my new role as editor in chief of the Atlantic, I spend most of my time worrying about Facebook.”
Jewish kids on campus who side with Palestinians don’t know what they’re talking about.
The disturbing thing on campus to me– Look, I come out of the Zionist left. I think of myself as being the Zionist center left today. But what’s happening on campus is that a lot of or at least some Jewish students who are not equipped for the complexity of this dialogue and want to be thought of as liberals are going to campus and deciding that the narrative that they were taught in Hebrew school, and the narrative they think they understood about Israel, the Leon Uris narrative, is illegitimate and so what they’re doing though and this is very anti-intellectual and very anti-academic, they’re replacing that narrative with an equally simplistic anti Israel narrative. Instead of saying You know what this is actually complicated and Israel is an interesting subject and it’s something that’s important to me, but I’m critical of some aspects of Israeli government policy– Some Jewish kids are ill equipped to not go with the flow, and the flow on a lot of northeast campuses, particularly, California campuses is anti Israel.
On the Democratic Party losing its consensus on Israel.
There is a split between what let’s call for shorthand the Bernie Sanders base of the party and what I would delicately call the donor class of the Democratic Party, which is disproportionately Jewish, and has been so for many years, there is a growing divide on how to talk about Israel. There’s no doubt about it. So the question is what does Israel do about it, and what does american Jewry do to convey to Israel that this is a problem…. Whether the people in the Bernie Sanders base are right and wrong… I tend to think that Israel, the Israeli government has to wake up to the fact that it can’t count on in some ways the level of bipartisan support it has always enjoyed. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is going to restore– it may feel like a kind of papering over–Hillary Clinton is going to restore an equilibrium in this relationship…. She is not going to publicly criticize the Israeli government in the way that Barack Obama has done. It seems like we’re going to have a quieter smoother relationship for four years if Hillary Clinton is president.
The White House was mistaken that Syria was going to turn into a quagmire. Part of the problem there was mirror imaging… President Obama understood his limitations in Syria. Putin of course has no limitations. Just murdering children by the thousand, they don’t care. They’re just murdering everybody… Chechnya was practice for Syria…. You kill your problems. To paraphrase Stalin, No people no problem, that’s what they’re doing right now….
I think with Hillary Clinton if she becomes president, she will push back a little more aggressively on Russian adventurism in the Middle East.
He’s annoyed that young Jews are forgetting the history of the Holocaust:
There’s this unfortunate thing I’ve heard, I’ve been speaking on college campuses. One kid put it this way, and I got a little bit annoyed. You know we’re tired of hearing about the Holocaust. A Jewish kid says that, it’s like we’re doing something wrong as his parents or his educators, the way it was framed. What I said to this person is, What would you think of a black person who said he’s tired of hearing about slavery. He acknowledged that he wouldn’t think very much of that person. I tried to make that a little bit of a lesson.
On the criticism of Israel in the next generation. Here’s the bit about the Nakba wasn’t a tragedy:
You can be a victim of your own success. My generation, the generation before my generation, the generation before that–we really can’t explain to people the necessity of a Jewish state. Israel is a victim of its own success. There are no persecuted Jewish communities in the world today for the first time in a couple thousand years. There are pockets of people in Iran who stayed, a few in Syria, a couple guys in Yemen. But basically the Jews of the world are free because there’s a place to go.
But what we forget. I grew up in the Soviet Jewry movement, we don’t have a Soviet Jewry movement anymore. If you don’t teach the reasons that things happen people forget them and they assume, it’s always thus. And then they ask the question. I’m talking to Jewish groups on campus, where kids ask, Why do we have to have a Jewish state?… I say, You know the tragedy of Zionism is not that Israel was founded in 1948 and led to the Palestinian refugee crisis. The tragedy of Zionism is that it wasn’t founded in 1938. If Israel had existed ten years earlier, potentially millions, hundreds of thousands or millions of Jews could have been saved.
We forget that Israel succeeded, with the help of American Jewry, beyond anybody’s wildest imagination, right? The same holds true for the United States [and its victories in World War 2 and the Cold War that young critics now forget].
A few comments. Goldberg’s last statement is Nakba denial: an ethnocentric statement about Jews that does not take into account Palestinian humanity. Goldberg’s counter-factual– Israel being founded in 1938– is meant to obscure a lived reality of ethnic cleansing and occupation that we are all dealing with today in the collapse of the peace process and the rise of the boycott movement. Deal with reality.
Also, Goldberg is saying, We don’t need a “law of return” for Jews and Israel anymore.
As to American Jews as a national security asset for Israel: Goldberg has adopted the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis of the critical nature of the Israel lobby and its base inside the Jewish community and among Jewish donors, the very conversation he sought to control and suppress for years. When he said that the tensions between Obama and Israel bring up “narratives” inside the Jewish community “that the media don’t want to talk about,” he means, dual loyalty. Maybe we should talk about it.
When he says, “I know there are some people who don’t want to hear this,” on issues such as intermarriage, he is saying, I used to speak for the Israel lobby. Sorry, folks… BTW, he noted that non-orthodox American Jewish kids are intermarrying at 70 percent.
As to my earlier assertion that Goldberg will become an anti-Zionist, it’s happenin folks. The night was a tale of two Goldbergs. There was an open struggle between the ethnocentric Jewish Jeffrey Goldberg of yesteryear and the newly-christened globalist Editor in Chief of the Atlantic Goldberg. The ethnocentric Goldberg made many plays to a conservative Zionist audience. While the globalist rose above the Israel lobby and its narrow concerns and said such things as NATO is far more important to the U.S. than Israel, Israel is the fifth most important issue in the Middle East, and Israel had better clean up its act or it’s going to lose the Democratic Party.
The comment about Jewish students being anti-intellectual when they adopt the Palestinian narrative is foolish. These kids aren’t simply reacting against simplistic training. They’re as smart as we were when we were in college, actually smarter, and they’re seeing reality. Reality is anti-Zionist.
Thanks to James North.