The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Jeffrey Goldberg's ‘American Problem'

There's been much about Jeffrey Goldberg's New York Times piece about how the powerful members of Zionist groups in America are being, er, more Catholic than the Pope (more Talmudic than the Rabbi?) in their inflexibility on the issue of West Bank settlements. Yes, it's good that a prominent Jewish-American journalist and former IDF soldier says that. Even if he slammed Walt and Mearsheimer from bringing attention to the lobby a year ago, resorting to the usual slander of anti-Semitism. Yet, to me, most perplexing in this piece is this:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, in their polemical work “The Israel Lobby,” have it wrong: They argue, unpersuasively, that American support for Israel hurts America. It doesn’t. But unthinking American support does hurt Israel.

Several things here: Goldberg has a problem with the omerta on this topic in the US presidential election not because a small group is silencing the debate on a major foreign policy issue, but because he thinks the policy is wrong (for Israel). So he's more concerned about the problems in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the damage to American democracy. And then the same line of thinking is seen again when he expresses concern not for the damage to US interests in support for Israeli extremism (one that would think has become amply evident after eight years of extremist Likudnik policies under Bush), but that this might hurt Israel. So basically he is saying we should have a full debate to consider various points of views of the Israeli political leadership (fair enough), but that this is the limit of the debate and benefits to America are not worth considering. Just look at the last line of the piece:

The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel. Barack Obama and John McCain, the likely presidential nominees, are smart, analytical men who understand the manifold threats Israel faces 60 years after its founding. They should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself.

But this won’t happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.

Quite amazingly, he does not seem to have a concern for the American political process, where discussion of a crucial policy question being banned by small but powerful interests. All his attention is focused on whether it might be good for Israel. Does he ever think that, for the majority of Americans who don't particularly care about Israel or Palestine, the fact that debate is being silenced is the most dangerous and offensive thing of all? Or that US policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict has hurt American interests?

(And incidentally, let's not forget that Goldberg is among the most biased journalists who cover this conflict in the US, as Finkelstein has argued.)