Thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu, the “hasbara culture discourse” that the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg cultivated and lorded over (and that I have anatomized for years) is being discredited among good thinking people. And that is because Benjamin Netanyahu has become a “hasbara culture” Frankenstein. Under “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israel does what it wants without a care in the world. And not only does Netanyahu and his government act like rules and norms that apply to the rest of the world don’t pertain to Israel, but Benjamin Netanyahu is now convinced that even he himself is above the law.
But Goldberg, the “spokesman for the Jewish people” (as David Klion called him), who dominated the Jewish and Israel discourse for many years, has seemingly lost all interest in “Bibi” and Jewish affairs since being promoted to editor-in-chief of the Atlantic two years ago.
This essay will explore the reason for Goldberg’s newfound reticence as well as that of other American Netanyahu-enablers.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel’s impunity and immunity rests on the power of a “sacred macho victimhood” perspective. And Netanyahu’s “American Bibi-ist” ideological allies, have empowered not only Netanyahu himself but the world view itself that gives Israeli political culture the exemptions no other western country claims. Let’s take a closer look at the hasbara culture “sacred macho victimhood” weltanschauung.
The two Netanyahu sentiments below express the Manichean “hasbara culture” “sacred macho victimhood” social construction of reality. It is by cultivating these potent sentiments that Netanyahu has become such a formidable political and cultural figure:
1. “The will to destroy the Jewish people has not changed. What has changed is our ability to defend ourselves and our determination to do so,” Netanyahu says. According to hasbara culture adherents, animosity and often even criticism of Israel is motivated by “eliminationist anti-Semitism,” by the age old “will to destroy the Jewish people”
2. “A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion,” Netanyahu says.
As I wrote in “Hasbara Culture and the Curse of Bibi-ism” at Tablet: “The struggle Israel has with its enemies is nothing like normal disagreements and conflicts other countries have. Israel is involved in a Manichean struggle between good and evil. And though related, ‘hasbara culture’ is different from the pro-Israeli ‘hasbara’ with which people are familiar. Hasbara is pro-Israeli spin. Hasbara is good public relations arguments in support of Israel. Hasbara is tactics. But Hasbara culture is different. Hasbara culture is a belief system about the world.”
It is the power of these ideas that is the root of Netanyahu and Israel’s impunity and immunity. From my 2016 column on Netanyahu’s holy war:
This may be Netanyahu’s most impressive achievement. He has associated his politics and even himself personally with revered Jewish history and its hallowed lessons.
Inside Israel, Netanyahu has convinced a big part of that society to look on his political and even journalist critics as being “leftists,” which in Netanyahu’s construction of reality means being sympathetic with “those that sanctify death and cruelty.”
Now listen to how Netanyahu recently described his legal predicament to a Likud audience, per Haaretz: “In ‘Witch Hunt’: Netanyahu Blasts ‘Tainted’ Investigation After Police Recommend Bribery Charges.”
Netanyahu was speaking at Likud event marking the first night of Hanukkah. The event was opened by coalition head MK David Amsalem, who turned to the prime minister, saying:
“Thousands of people came here to support you…. We’re in a democratic state, and governments are changed at the ballot box, not by the police.”
After Amsalem, Netanyahu spoke, saying:
“We are here to celebrate the victory of light over darkness. Listen to me, in the end, the light always prevails.
Netanyahu is deploying the same “light over darkness” Manichean hasbara culture discourse that’s usually reserved for the Palestinians, Iran and ISIS. That language is exactly how Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely described the recent killing of an Israeli policewoman by a Palestinian: “Hadas Malka, heroine of the war of light against darkness, the war of purity against brutality.”
And this is the reason why American Bibi-ists went from All “Bibi” All the Time to No Bibi Ever. Because American Bibi-ists share responsibility for empowering the (formerly enlightened) but now run amok “Bibi.”
Just consider the American Bibi-ists’ discourse on Netanyahu during the Obama years.
How to explain Obama’s difficult relationship with Netanyahu? How to make sense of the eight years of conflict between the two leaders? Whose fault was it? We know what American officials thought of Netanyahu. Recall Bill Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart’s impression of Netanyahu: “one of the most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into – just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth.”
And who can forget Bill Clinton’s own reaction upon experiencing Netanyahu. In “The Much Too Promised Land,” Aaron David Miller relates that during their first meeting in the summer of 1996, Netanyahu lectured the president about the Arab-Israeli issue, prompting Clinton’s, “Who the fuck does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?”
But when scrutinizing the writings of “Netanyahu’s enablers,” as the Forward describes the Bibi-ists, it’s all Obama’s fault. Let’s review the writings of the American Bibi-ists who are now Never-Trump-ers.
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post and MSNBC wrote two years ago, Netanyahu is not the issue. Obama’s problem is with Israel.
This president personally detests Bibi and cannot stand a country who stood up to him.
Obama wants to claim that his problem is with Netanyahu…But his problem is with Israel.
Bret Stephens chimed in: “Brilliant piece from
@jpodhoretz on the real facts and basic meaning of Obama’s turn against Netanyahu.” The piece challenged American Jews to oppose Obama who was acquiescing “to the gravest existential threat the Jewish people have faced since the Holocaust.” (The Iran deal).
Or contemplate the incitement against Obama from Jennifer Rubin:
John Bolton: Obama Didn’t Stab Netanyahu in the Back; He Did in the Front
It should not be a surprise that Obama had to sweat trying to become a member of a Jewish Golf Club.
Consider this stream of abuse from Bill Kristol. From 2015:
“One suspects that respondents…might have judged Netanyahu more of an America-lover than Barack Obama.”
Later the same year:
After watching Netanyahu at AEI dinner last night, obvious thought: Shouldn’t he be the GOP 2016 nominee?
And guess what, Obama’s probably anti-Semitic.
Obama attacks pro-Israel “donors.” Mainstream Am Jewish orgs? Crickets. Bibi accepts invite to speak. Am Jewish orgs? Clucking disapproval.
Bret Stephens again:
In the catalog of low points in American diplomacy, Obama’s betrayal of Israel ranks high.
Team Obama is awfully upset about Michael Oren’s WSJ op-ed on their Israel betrayal. Oh how the truth can hurt.
Again, this time with a Carter twist:
Great Washington Post editorial on Carter’s betrayal of Israel in late 1980. Mutatis mutandis
Obama is no Netanyahu, Stephens wrote:
“Chickensh–” Bibi versus Barack the community organizer. Sometimes a contrast of pictures tells you everything:
Serious people know that Obama was a friend of Israel and that Joe Lockhart had the right read on Netanyahu.
You only need to look at the 2019 Netanyahu and Israel and you know, The American Bibi-ists were on the wrong side of history.
That’s why it’s not good for the careers of the Never Trump American Bibi’ists, whose appeal these days is their thundering moral clarity, to be associated with Netanyahu. As I argued in my last essay here:
It’s not easy excusing “Bibi’s” flirting with fascism, and his war against democracy in Israel, while at the same time being celebrated for “moral clarity” and “fidelity to principles” in the “war of ideas” against Trump.
But there is an even more compelling reason that American Bibi-ists need to ignore Netanyahu and Israel news. Because even more egregious than empowering Netanyahu himself, are the hasbara culture ideas that American Bibi-ist’s have proselytized to Americans. And it is those hasbara culture ideas that are the root of the populist madness in Israel. The people who most represent the moral opposition to Trump in the U.S. are on the wrong side of the Jewish kulturkampf in Israel.
For instance, according to Netanyahu and his ideological allies in Israel, the leading newspaper of Israel — Haaretz — is “fake news” and inhabited by “stab in the back” “leftist” Jews.
That is the same opinion Jeffrey Goldberg and other American hasbara culture ideological Rottweilers offered:
Goldberg on August 1, 2016:
I think I’m getting ready to leave Ha’aretz behind, actually. https://t.co/EVBUzZ7iIM
Too many absurd op-eds to argue with. The choice of op-eds reflects the sensibility of the editors, I have to imagine.
The same day. Haaretz is downright antisemitic.
Look, when neo-Nazis are e-mailing me links to Haaretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I’m going to take a break, sorry.
Or here is another American Bibi-ist Never Trumper standing up for his hero. David Frum:
Netanyahu’s evil plan to crush the press? Allowing the existence of a paper Israel’s left doesn’t like. Yes, really
Goldberg, Frum, and other American Bibi-ists must ignore Netanyahu, because they can’t be leading the moral charge against Trump’s “evil plan to crush the press,” while offering obfuscation and obscurantism about Netanyahu’s actual evil plan to crush the press.
And listen to the Prime Minister’s son Yair Netanyahu’s celebration that he can finally say “what everyone in the country thinks.” Leftwing journalists and human rights groups are “traitors.”
That sure sounds like the same interpretation that Jeffrey Goldberg, Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin, Jaime Kirchick, et al. made of the American Jewish variety of dissenters just a few years ago, when they were supposedly ennabling the next Holocaust.
And whose side are the “liberal” Bari Weiss and Yair Rosenberg on in the ideological war of ideas in Israel?
Do they agree with Yair Netanyahu’s take, or are they on the side of Haaretz and their “leftist” allies against Trump? Here’s Bari Weiss baiting liberal Jews two years ago.
You don’t read that from Weiss now. The Bibi-ists claim to fame in American and Jewish political culture is their 20-20 moral clarity, and their deafening silence on Jewish issues (other than “anti-Semitism”) is the hope it won’t be noticed they are on the wrong side of the Jewish kulturkampf that is raging. To be continued.