David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy has done a very interesting interview with Jeffrey Goldberg about Goldberg’s interview with President Obama about Israel/Jews 2 weeks ago. And if that sounds inside-Jewish-baseball, well it is. Which is one of the takeaways from the exchange.
Here is the main quote. Israel is destroying itself, Obama isn’t destroying it, Goldberg says:
I probably share a lot of [Obama’s] analysis of Israel’s core dilemmas. To put it crudely, the basic split on Obama is this: Is he destroying Israel, or is Israel destroying Israel? I go more with the latter than the former at the moment. If you believe the former, you despise him. If you believe the latter, you can’t quite believe that a) Israel’s government is carrying out policies that will eventually lead to the country’s dissolution, or wholesale isolation; and b) that more Israelis don’t understand that an African-American president who speaks feelingly about the moral necessity of Zionism is a friend, not a foe.
The idea that Obama might be destroying Israel! And Rothkopf doesn’t challenge him on that point.
There is a lot of Jewish narcissism in the interview. Like this part:
I’ve argued that Obama is in many ways the most Jewish president we’ve ever had. I don’t want to rehearse all of my proofs right now, but in essence, no president has been shaped to the degree that Obama has been shaped by exposure to Jewish mentors, Jewish teachers, Jewish fellow community-organizers, Jewish advisers, Jewish political supporters, Jewish writers, and Jewish thought. On the Jewish right, of course, Obama is thought of as something approaching an anti-Semite. He’s not, of course. What he is, is a philo-Semite. And this comes with its own set of problems and challenges. If you read between the lines, you’ll see that Obama is asking Israel (pleading with Israel, in fact) to be — not to put too fine a point on it — more Jewish, to live up to what he understands to be Jewish values. Obama’s impatience with Israel, and his dislike of Netanyahu, is rooted in the fact that he is a very specific kind of Jew – an intellectual, Upper West Side, social action-oriented, anguished-about-Israel liberal values Jew. This happens to be a common American Jewish archetype, more common, in fact, than the Sheldon Adelson archetype.
As a person who so closely identifies with this Jewish archetype, Obama sometimes forgets that he is not, in fact, Jewish. It is remarkable, the degree to which he holds Israel to standards he doesn’t apply to other American allies. Doing this isn’t particularly fair, but it is particularly Jewish. You and I both know the argument — the Jewish people didn’t wait 2,000 years for a country so that it could be better than Syria. Obama holds Israel to high standards in part because he’s learned from [those] Jews who hold Israel to hold standards.
That’s an absurd analysis. Obama came into office hammer-and-tongs on the Palestinian question not because he believes he’s Jewish or holds Israel to a higher standard, but because the settlements are illegal and the colonization project and special relationship are hurting the United States across the Middle East. It has nothing to do with Jewish values. Obama by inclination respects universal human rights; he gave his first interview to an Arab news organization and five months into his presidency spoke to an Arab audience about the “daily humiliations –large and small — that come with occupation.” He soon learned to shut up about that.
More happy horseshit about Jewish values:
What drives [Obama’s] passion is, as I’ve mentioned, a deep-seated belief that Israel should be better than it is.
My theory of the Netanyahu-Obama relationship is that Obama looks at Netanyahu and asks himself, “What kind of Jew is this?” He’s accustomed to liberal American Jews, the anguished, over-intellectual types. For his part, Netanyahu looks at Obama and see.… I don’t know. Eldridge Cleaver? Jimmy Carter? Is the belief that Israel should be better, and more refined, than its enemies, given that it is a Jewish state, unrealistic and unfair, given both the neighborhood and the nature of Israel’s enemies? Maybe. Is it also a feeling that many American Jews share? Yes. You can see that in the reaction to his [May 22] speech at [Washington synagogue] Adas Israel, which, by the way, is not some Birkenstock-y, Woodstock-y counterculture outpost. Adas Israel is mainstream and establishment, and some of the president’s biggest applause lines last Friday had to do with the necessity of a two-state solution and the moral case for Palestinian independence.
Good; let’s stop talking about the president’s mind and talk about Jews. Goldberg is spot-on here:
If current trends continue, a civil war is coming. It will be a very civil, civil war, but it will be a civil war nonetheless, between an American Jewry that has been nurtured on the values of the Civil Rights Movement, and an Israeli Jewry that has been taught, harshly, that the Middle East is not a place of mercy. Many American Jews are probably too rosy in their understanding of the possibilities of peace and reconciliation; many Israelis, particularly those who believe that the settlement project on the West Bank is a moral success, rather than a disaster of epic proportions, don’t understand that their country is slowly growing unrecognizable to American Jews, and to would-be members of the tribe — including the one in the Oval Office — as well.
But why will it be a civil civil war? I am afraid it won’t be. The precedents in history for this sort of untethering of interests– Algeria, Ireland, the Civil War — suggest violent not peaceful reactions. Look what the revisionist Zionists did to Arlosoroff when he was going off the reservation. Look what happened to Rabin.
Goldberg says the two-state solution can be achieved, with Israel setting the terms; but Israel is getting the reputation as an apartheid state.
What Obama sees — and what frustrates him (and a large number of American Jews) — is an Israel that is burying its head in the sand. There is still time to arrange the birth of a Palestinian state in an orderly fashion, in a manner that allows the Israelis to set many of the security terms of this new state’s creation. No good can come of this continued waiting. There is a tipping point ahead — one day soon, Israel will be defined across most of the world as an apartheid state, unless it steps away from the status quo. So, to the question of whether Obama doesn’t understand Middle East reality, I would answer that, in the case of Israel, he is grappling with some of the core challenges to its existence, challenges Netanyahu is avoiding.
That’s an excellent answer. And by the way, Israel has done nothing to step away from the status quo. It is only solidifying the status quo.
The answer is of a piece with Goldberg’s observation four years ago, that the left doesn’t have an idealistic view of Israel, and the left is winning.
Now the right, of course, believes that settlements are an expression, not a corruption, of [the righteous Zionist] cause. The left, on the other hand, believes that settlements are a manifestation of Zionism’s true nature. I disagree with that argument strenuously. But I will say this, though: The left position on this question has the wind at its back.
Again, that was four years ago. A lifetime in politics. The left has taken giant steps since then, tragically aided by another Israeli massacre in Gaza, which goes unmentioned in the Rothkopf Goldberg exchange.
I wish Rothkopf had been more assertive, had expressed his view that Zionism is “exactly the wrong” response to history. Is he also destroying Israel? But Rothkopf seems a bit overawed by the glib Goldberg (who moved to Israel because of his fears of anti-semitism in the U.S. and served in the Israeli army before coming back here to prosecute his career).
Lastly, Goldberg should pay for this comment. He says “we tend to forget” that Americans die in wars for which “we” craft the policy.
Something that is not happening in the Middle East right now is that American soldiers are not dying. For the American people, this is of paramount importance, and this should count as an important Obama success. We tend to forget about this one when we discuss American policy in the Middle East. The American voter seems to be exhausted by the Middle East and its unsolvable problems, and Obama is under virtually no pressure domestically to dive further in to the mess.
I never forget this, and neither do people I know. And a lot of Iraqis died too, in the war that Goldberg pushed.