Jeff Goldberg's blood-and-soil Israeli nationalist fantasy

Supporting a "two-state solution" isn't worth much, if you refuse to acknowledge any criticism of Israel

Published March 17, 2010 2:18PM (EDT)

As a Middle East expert who lived in the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, travels widely there, speaks the languages, writes history from archives and manuscripts and follows current affairs, I found that none of my experience counted for much when I entered the public arena in the United States. It isn't that I am thin-skinned or can't dish it out as good as I get it. It is that it is like being a professional baseball player ready for the World Series, who gets in the van and instead of being delivered to Yankee Stadium is blindfolded and taken to a secret fight club where people are betting on whether he can go 12 rounds with a giant James Bond villain. And he says, "But I'm not a boxer, I bat .400." And they sneer, "You will pay for insulting our great aunt."

This is an arena where vehement partisans are honored as "journalists," where ability to speak languages or engage in cultural interaction counts for nothing, and where rich and powerful patrons make reputations rather than any real knowledge. New York Times columnist David Brooks slammed me for not having recognized Ariel Sharon's potential as a peace-maker with the Palestinians and for not seeing how positive the Iraq War was for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. I was routinely denounced by David Horowitz, who used to be an insufferable leftist in the 1960s when he edited Ramparts and now is an insufferable right-winger, but who knows nothing at all about the Middle East. (And what he thinks he knows is wrong.) Marty Peretz, who married into the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and then used his wife's money to buy and ruin The New Republic, turning it into pro-Contra, pro-war rag, was annoyed to see me on television because of his vast fund of knowledge about Arabic hollow verbs. Michael Oren, a bad, partisan historian and Israeli army reservist (who fought in the Gaza War), who revived the Gobineau Orientalist tradition in his book on the U.S. and the Middle East -- and who is now the Israeli ambassador to Washington -- weighed in against my receiving an appointment to the Yale History Department. Princeton-trained Martin Kramer until recently of Tel Aviv University, who recently advocated using the Gaza blockade to force small families on the half-starving Palestinians, made a cottage industry of snarky and mostly false remarks about my writing. He has a relationship with the so-called "Middle East Forum," which runs the McCarthyite "Campus Watch," and which was part of a scheme to have me cyber-stalked and massively spammed.

More recently I have provoked the ire of a burly former Israeli military prison guard at the notorious Ketziot detention camp during the first Intifada, who is among our foremost journalists of the Middle East and given a prominent perch at The Atlantic magazine -- Jeffrey Goldberg.

Horowitz and the others routinely just make up entire passages and attribute them falsely to their victims. You always think you can defend your position in an honest debate. You aren't prepared the first time someone says, "How do you justify your spirited defense of Pol Pot?" Horowitz had someone string together a series of statements I never wrote and published them in a book on the supposed 101 most dangerous professors. (As if anyone is more dangerous to our Republic than a lying right-wing demagogue.) What I really mind is that he never sent me so much as a t-shirt. Also, students still don't seem sufficiently impressed by the title to get their papers in on time. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, who had supported the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front's attempt to take over the Algerian government, accused me of being pro-Islamist and then just made up entire sentences he claimed I had written, which he was forced to retract because I had not.

Likewise, Jeffrey Goldberg just now accused me of wanting "to deny to the Jewish people a state in their ancestral homeland." The fact is that, A) I'm generally sympathetic to the states recognized as United Nations members. But, B) wounded romantic nationalism of Goldberg's sort is a pathetic remnant of the twentieth century, which polished off tens of millions of human beings over wet dreams about "blood and soil." There isn't any "blood" or "pure" "races," and human groups have no special relationship to territory. My complaint about the treatment of the Palestinians is that they have been left stateless and without citizenship or rights. I'm not a Palestinian nationalist who insists that they return to what is now Israel (though they should receive compensation for lost property if they don't). The Germans weren't always in Germany (in fact they are relative newcomers), and they aren't of "pure blood," and the 200,000 Jews in contemporary Germany -- some of them Israelis -- have as much right to be there as anyone else. Most Germans and most Ashkenazi Jews have a relatively recent female common ancestor. As a species and subspecies, we are from southern Africa, and that only about 100,000 years ago. If someone is nostalgic for the Old Country, they should try Gabarone, Botswana.

Israeli Army Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg then corrects my assertion that he has no vision of the future of the Palestinians by saying that he has advocated for a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.

So let me say up front that I did not in fact think Goldberg would go quite that far, and that I apologize for getting him wrong.

But here are some problems with Goldberg's position, nevertheless:

  • He doesn't seem to understand that simply having a vague notion that maybe a two-state solution is desirable (for the good of his vision of an ethno-nationalist state in Israel) is different from actively working for it and being willing to criticize publicly those leaders attempting to forestall it. It isn't a talisman you can use to justify warmongering or bigotry. George W. Bush, after all, took the same position. In. One. Speech. I don't see the sense of urgency and passion about this issue in Goldberg that was visible in his wretched so-called "journalism" about Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which was riddled with ridiculous assertions about Saddam sleeping nude every night with Osama Bin Laden while playing with his miniature atomic bombs, and which Dick Cheney used to get up the horrific invasion and occupation of Iraq.
  • Goldberg has not only not exactly been at the forefront of the peace movement, he has argued and agitated against doing anything practical to achieve this increasingly unlikely goal. He is the Rottweiler of ideologues when it comes to making sure that no Israeli policy is ever criticized by anyone without his branding the critics bigots and even genocidal. Since, as noted, Goldberg is possibly still an Israeli army reservist and actively served in the Israeli Army as a prison guard during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising, I can't understand why anyone takes him seriously when he lashes out at critics of Israeli policy. I mean, what would you expect? If an Arab-American had served in the Palestine Authority police, would anyone give him a perch at The Atlantic and routinely bring him on CNN to denounce critics of Mahmoud Abbas?
  • Holding the leadership of a country harmless from civil society criticism guarantees that the leadership will not change its policies. Goldberg actually demanded that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not pressure the Netanyahu government to move in the two-state direction, on the grounds that pressure only sends Israeli leaders to their bunkers. Well, if you can't pressure them, then I suppose you are waiting for the Likud Party and Yisrael Beitenu to volunteer to cease colonizing the West Bank and cease blockading Gaza. The United States routinely pressures other countries, including allies, over issues on which there is a U.S. interest. The U.S. pressured Turkey to let the 4th Infantry Division march through that country to Iraq. The U.S. pressured France to vote for a UNSC resolution authorizing the Iraq War. The U.S. is currently pressuring Japan not to close the bases on Okinawa. Why does Goldberg think the U.S. should treat the Israeli leadership with kid gloves?

    Me, I see Likudniks and Avigdor Liebermans at the head of a country with one of the world's most powerful militaries and intending to implement policies likely to get Americans killed, and I intend to scream bloody murder.

  • Does Goldberg have a plan "B"? Because his two-state solution is so 1993. The problem is, it is almost certainly past the point where any such thing is possible, given the size and extent of Israeli colonies in the Palestinian West Bank. Goldberg admits that the only two likely outcomes of the current policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are apartheid or a one-state solution.

    Would Cpl. Goldberg like to specify which he would prefer, in case it comes to that (as it likely already has)?

By Juan Cole

Juan Cole is collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He runs a news and commentary webzine on U.S. foreign policy and progressive politics, Informed Comment. His new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Nation Books), has just been published.


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Israel Media Criticism Middle East