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When Netanyahu described Iran as Amalek — read, Hitler– NYT passed this along as rational thinking

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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 Magazine cover
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 [2009], 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”.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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21 Responses

  1. pabelmont on May 1, 2012, 11:22 am

    “Giving permission” is what it’s all about. That’s why American Jews must (over and over and over again it seems) “give permission” to all Americans (including Jews) to “speak truth to power” on the issues of Issrael and Palestine.

    No American should any longer be in a position to say — as an escape from thinking and speaking out — “but I don’t want to offend my Jewish friends.” think how much easier the debate of the Methodists today would be if 50% of American Jews were on record as opposing the occupation and favoring (some sort of) BDS.

  2. yourstruly on May 1, 2012, 11:50 am

    governing based on ancient texts of unknown authenticity and authorship, what a prescription for survival this is. as for the amalekites having attacked the israelites on their way out of egypt, according to a recent pbs passover program, there’s little if any archaelogical evidence to support there having been an exodus, or, if it did occur, it consisted at most of only a small number of hebrews. yet based on what amounts to nothing more than a wicked faery tale, 2500 years later we jews are to continue smiting the descendents of amalekites. except if were pursue such madness, wouldn’t this open the door for christians to reenact acts of vengeance upon the descendents of the jews who may or man not have been involved in the crucifiction* of jesus? so how can any rational and sentient being take this bs about killing amalekites seriously?

    the answer? enough already of allowing ancient writings to determine what sort of world and how we’re to be governed.

    *whether or not it ever occurred?

  3. Krauss on May 1, 2012, 12:46 pm

    Part of the reason why Goldberg is so effective is that he is a natural born liar. He is so breathlessly dishonest that few people can stomach themselves to the levels of pathology as he can.

    His thrice backstepping proves this point. Not once. Thrice.

    He always changes the story when debated. He doesn’t defend, he smudges the story.

    It reminds me on the same day as Beinart posted his NYT Op-Ed about what he called the non-democratic Israel etc. Goldberg immediately went on Twitter and threw up all over Beinart, claiming he is disgusted because “boycotts on Jews – I know where this ends”. Of course he was talking about the Holocaust.

    But when Daniel Levy of J Street confronted him about this in a smash piece on the Atlantic, Goldberg smudges the facts again and backtracked, playing offended and claimed he never went for that.

    When he can’t backtrack any longer he lashes out, calls people anti-Semites or worse. In the case of Jews, he likes a different method; quoted other people saying nasty things and then adding skeptical(but not dismissive) comments next to them. So when he debated Glenn Greenwald, he prominently quoted a reader calling Glenn a ‘self-hating Jew’, while Goldberg didn’t confirm this, he didn’t deny it, and then added he thought Greenwald wasn’t a very committed Jew (adding fuel to the self-hating Jew meme fire).

    If anyone ever wants to study how to become a slimy mainstream media enforcer(not insider, enforcer), then go look no further than Goldberg. The man has mastered the ‘art’ of mudslinging like no other person, as well as the propensity to lie and deny at almost pathological rates in almost every debate. Goldberg gets away with it, because his targets are usually left-wingers and often idealistic ones who don’t like to lie and who are not often aggressive people, often people who are sensitive. And this is why he gets away. And if anyone non-Jewish pesters him enough, he’ll play the race card to finish them. The man has no scruples whatsoever, a fact he greatly exploits to his advantage.

    • seanmcbride on May 1, 2012, 2:55 pm

      Krauss,

      Jeffrey Goldberg: deceitful, duplicitous, evasive, manipulative, shameless, shifty, etc.

      He cultivates a bogus affable Teddy Bear persona, but his vicious and nasty side keeps slicing through again and again — really cutthroat when he thinks he has identified a blood enemy of the tribe.

      He wouldn’t last for more a few rounds in a debate with a first-rate mind about any aspect of Mideast politics. He’s into spinning, fabricating. obfuscating and rationalizing, not into analytical thinking and truth seeking.

      He has no moral or ethical center that can be discerned from his writings. He is one of the most obsessive-compulsive and neurotic ethnocentric voices on the Internet — it’s always about ME, ME, ME defined as a member of a special ethnic collective. The concerns of the rest of the human race don’t register on his mind or engage his emotions.

      When I look at Jeffrey Goldberg I realize why it is that I would never want to be an ethnic nationalist. I wouldn’t want to be like that — to shrink my mental horizons so radically.

      Jeffrey Goldberg is all about the eternal apocalyptic struggle against Amalek. That’s his entire narrative.

  4. rensanceman on May 1, 2012, 1:24 pm

    Using biblical texts as a source from which to draw generational hatred seems essential to maintain the “victimhood”mind set that is used by Israel to justify its perverse policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, barbaric policies and disingenuous hasbara. The ethical model of: love thy neighbor as thyself, has been replaced with: we must kill them (i.e. amalikites) before they kill us. A poisonous Zionist doctrine insidiously seeping in to Judaism?

  5. eGuard on May 1, 2012, 1:38 pm

    Cue to Gunter Grass.

    This is what Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israelis-can-be-angry-with-gunter-grass-but-they-must-listen-to-him-1.423194
    Grass indeed went a few steps too far (and too mendaciously ) – Israel will not destroy the Iranian people – and for that he will be punished, in his own country and in Israel.

    • American on May 1, 2012, 2:07 pm

      “After we denounce the exaggeration, after we shake off the unjustified part of the charge, we must listen to these great people. They are not anti-Semites, they are expressing the opinion of many people. Instead of accusing them we should consider what we did that led them to express it..”

      I found this part……”we should consider what we did that led them to express this”….confusing, is he saying they don’t know what they, Israel the zionist do and did?

      • eGuard on May 1, 2012, 4:21 pm

        American, that last line was about Grass and Saramago, “these great people”. Confusing indeed.

        My issue with Levy’s column is this by example:
        But Grass exaggerated, unnecessarily and in a way that damaged his own position. Ad hominem. Why not take the poem as it is?

  6. DICKERSON3870 on May 1, 2012, 3:46 pm

    RE: “Well, American critics have been telling us this about Netanyahu for years. . . ” ~ Weiss

    FOR EXAMPLE, SEE: Bush Had Gog and Magog, Bibi Has Amalek, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 5/25/09

    (excerpts) “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers the lifting of the Iranian nuclear threat his life’s mission. Before coming to power, he had mentioned that such an operation might cost thousands of lives, but the price was justified in view of the threat’s severity.” – Aluf Benn, Haaretz

    “My job is first and foremost to ensure the future of the state of Israel … the leadership’s job is to eliminate the danger. Who will eliminate it? It is us or no one.” – Bibi Netanyahu quoted in Haaretz

    Recently, Jacques Chirac confirmed that George Bush, in telephone calls leading up the Iraq war, attempted to persuade France to join the coalition of the willing by invoking the Biblical war of Gog and Magog. . .
    . . . The closest political leader to Bush on today’s political stage is Bibi Netanyahu, as the above Haaretz passages make clear. In addition, there are Bibi’s references to Iran being Amalek, implying Israel’s duty to smite the mullahs a terrible blow lest they first strike Israel in an nuclear attack. . .
    . . . Aluf Benn credits Bibi with firmly held beliefs as does Jeffrey Goldberg (not that Goldberg is my arbiter of truth by any means). So we must at least credit some conviction to Bibi. In doing so, we have to concede that the fervor with which he leads Israel to war against Iran is frightening in the extreme.
    We have the example of George Bush to guide us. He too believed he was on a mission from the Lord to tidy up the Middle East. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/05/25/bush-had-gog-and-magog-bibi-has-amalek/

  7. Kathleen on May 1, 2012, 4:39 pm

    Professor Juan Cole has a must read up.
    http://www.juancole.com/2012/04/israeli-security-elite-slams-netanyahu-sidetracks-war-on-iran.html#comment-106420

    Israeli Security Elite Slams Netanyahu, sidetracks War on Iran

    Posted on 04/30/2012 by Juan

    Not only are high officials and former officials of the Israeli security establishment pushing hard back against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s seeming rush to war with Iran, they appear actually to be attempting to unseat him, as it becomes possible that Israel may go to early elections in September.

    Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has become the latest former high-ranking figure to savage Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak, for their threats to attack Iran unilaterally and soon.

    In contrast to Netanyahu’s circles, who have threatened a unilateral Israeli strike this summer, Olmert said categorically in a television interview that this is “definitely not to initiate an Israeli military strike.” Olmert, no dove, had himself launched the 2006 Lebanon and the 2008-9 Gaza Wars. But neither went well for Israel, and Olmert may have learned something from that.

    • American on May 1, 2012, 9:24 pm

      Regime change, regime change…….hee, hee, hee.
      Perhaps I give OB and the US Military too much credit …but dollars to doughnuts all the Israeli former official critics now after Netanyahu have been told…”we can’t work with Israel with that crazy Netanyahu in office.”
      Can anyone think of a single world head of state that doesn’t want Netanyahu gone?

      • Bumblebye on May 1, 2012, 9:55 pm

        Yeah – the one in his mirror!

      • American on May 1, 2012, 10:20 pm

        Bumblebye says:
        May 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm

        Yeah – the one in his mirror! ”

        Do Vampires have reflections? Or is it werewolves that don’t have have reflections?

      • AllenBee on May 1, 2012, 10:09 pm

        the death of Netanyahu’s brother unhinged Bibi.
        wonder what will be the impact on Bibi of the death of his father. Maybe Bibi will be struck sane? Feel like he’s finally free of the constant reminder that his brother died a martyr? that’s the kind of guilt/psychological burden that Old Testament specializes in, and Benzion was an expert in the genre.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/world/middleeast/benzion-netanyahu-dies-at-102.html

  8. marc b. on May 1, 2012, 5:23 pm

    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…

    am i reading this wrong (or maybe just being pedantic) but that’s not a metaphor. iranians, in goldberg’s rabbinical schematic, are amalekites. so iran’s nuclear program is ‘amalek’s arsenal’, not a metaphor for it. pffft.

    • Sumud on May 2, 2012, 10:08 am

      As I read it you are correct marc b.

      Phil quotes one of Netanyahu’s advisors talking about Netanyahu’s opinion of Iranians as Amalek – and there is statement about “if” the advisor is correct.

      No need for any “ifs”, in 2010 Netanyahu explicitly called Iranians Amalek, while he was at Auschwitz no less.

      As reported in Jerusalem Post, here:

      ‘A new Amalek is appearing,’ Netanyahu warns at Auschwitz

      • marc b. on May 2, 2012, 10:58 am

        sumud, any little opportunity to pick at that bloated ignoramus. friedman and goldenberg. only in america. maybe steve frank is right about remnick’s incompetence: he did keep goldenberg on the payroll for almost a decade.

  9. justicewillprevail on May 1, 2012, 6:16 pm

    Messianic, fundamentalist screwballs – just what the world needs in charge of nuclear weapons and a hi tec equipped army of ill-educated ideologues, not to mention a craven echo chamber of useful fools in Washington. This is the Fox News Glenn Beck version of history – fantasy, myth and lies put in the service of manipulating public opinion and the politicians who court their votes.

  10. Talkback on May 2, 2012, 9:31 am

    “divinely sanctioned genocide”

    No. Divinely commanded genocide. And then:

    “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18)

  11. on May 3, 2012, 5:18 am

    Since “remember the Amalek” …

    is one of the 613 commandments, a daily routine by observant Jews in 19th century Germany was to write ‘AMALEK’ on a piece of paper and then cross it out.

    The best book on the matter is: ‘Reckless Rites – Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence’ by Elliott Horowitz, Princeton University Press, 2006

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