Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Apologia for Israel’s “Well-meaning” (but misguided) Supporters.

Announcement of Iran Deal July 14, 2015
Chuck Schumer, senator from New York, has broken rank with his fellow Democrats and come out in opposition of the Iran nuclear deal. He is the only Democratic senator who has come out against the deal so far, and he has taken quite a bit of flak for this decision. Jeffrey Goldberg wants to give him cover.

Republicans are universally opposed to the deal. I see three reasons for this: (1) Republicans are opposed for narrow political reasons; they have and will oppose every proposal of this administration, whether good, bad, or indifferent, for self-serving political reasons; (2) Israel has become a partisan political issue in the U.S. because Benjamin Netanyahu has overtly aligned himself with the Republican party and Netanyahu and his government are feverishly opposed to this international deal with Iran, and (3) both parties, but the Republicans especially, have great party cohesion on votes like this. If Netanyahu were in favor of this deal there would be no Republican opposition, so the actual merits of the deal, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the Republican opposition in Congress.

It’s up to the Democrats to figure out the merits of this deal. All the action is on their side of the alley, that’s why Schumer’s defection matters.

Jeffrey Goldberg was an infamous media war-hawk in 2002 (see Salon, 2010), doing his best to lead us into the Iraq war. This time he supports the nuclear deal with Iran as well he should. Through diplomacy, Iran has voluntarily agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons. [Goldberg notes: (1) “Stringent implementation of the deal could be to Israel’s benefit because the limitations placed on Iran should keep it south of the nuclear threshold for many years;” and more directly (2) “I suspect that opponents of the deal in the American Jewish community are wrong in their views.”] He is not, of course, alone in this judgment. For example, yesterday a group of three dozen retired admirals and generals issued an open letter in strong support of the deal. Likewise, the Israeli security establishment is broadly of the view that undermining the relationship between Israel and the United States is a far greater threat to Israel than anything Iran does.

Nevertheless, we are again confronted with Goldberg throwing sand into the gears of the deal in the service of an obtuse apologia for “Israel’s well meaning supporters” who he thinks are mistakenly opposed to the Iran deal: Why Understanding Iran’s Anti-Semitism Matters (The Atlantic (8/11/15). In order to make out opponents (think Chuck Schumer) as reasonable—as opposed to treasonous—Goldberg compares Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei to Hitler, he refers to unnamed non-Jews as more concerned than he (JG) is about the deal, and he frets whether Obama and Kerry are sufficiently understanding of the “eliminationist” nature of Khamenei's anti-Semitism. With friends like these, this Iran deal does not need enemies.

Here is Goldberg:
I put to Kerry what I thought was—to be honest—something of a gimme question: “Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?” Kerry responded provocatively—provocatively, that is, if you understand Iranian leaders, and in particular the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the way I understand them: as people theologically committed to the destruction of Israel. Quotes such as this one from Khamenei help lead me to this conclusion: “This barbaric, wolf-like, and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” The supreme leader does not specialize in nuance. 
I’m not sure what’s “gimme” about that question. Goldberg concludes Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel based on an English language tweet written in the name of Khamenei—a tweet that Khamenei most certainly did not write. Goldberg does not think it necessary to examine or discuss what’s behind this tweet (or Khamenei’s twitter feed in general), who wrote it, and under what circumstances. In examining the nature of Iran’s anti-Semitism Goldberg does not seem to think it necessary or relevant to discuss the condition of Jews in Iran, which would indicate that the regime is in fact not particularly anti-Semitic. Goldberg does not specialize in nuance.

So what’s Goldberg’s concern?
Kerry’s stated understanding of the regime’s anti-Semitism is somewhat different from mine. He told me, “I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps, to quote, ‘Wipe it,’ you know …” He paused, and so I filled in the blank: “Wipe it off the map.” Kerry continued, “I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me—they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.” 
Goldberg says he is “troubled by [Kerry’s] unwillingness, or inability, to grapple squarely with Iran’s eliminationist desires.” But, of course, Goldberg shows that Kerry does grapple with Iran’s “eliminationist desires.” Kerry notes that Goldberg’s insinuation that Iran has the same “eliminationist” ideology as Hitler is belied by the fact that Iran, in fact, has not acted on its nuclear capacity. Also, the fact that, by Goldberg’s estimation, this deal will keep Iran south of the nuclear threshold for many years would seem to support Kerry’s statement that worrying about what was inside the Ayatollah’s head when someone in the Iranian government wrote a tweet in his name is not the main concern.

Goldberg frets about Iran’s irrational behavior with a nuclear weapon, a weapon that it has given up in this deal:
[In conversation with Obama about Iran’s potentially irrational behavior…] I made a decision on the spot—later partially regretted—not to deploy the H-bomb…. In retrospect, though, I should have raised it, because Hitler is the perfect, but not singular, example of a world leader who made decisions that seemed, to his adversaries, deeply irrational except if you understood his desire to wipe out the Jews of Europe as an actual overriding policy goal, a raison d’etre of his rule. Anti-Semitism was not simply an “organizing tool” for him. And if you’re paying attention, you will see that bringing about the end of the sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East is a paramount political and theological mission of the Iranian regime.
Which Hitler decisions is Goldberg talking about? Which Hitler decisions does he think were irrational unless “you understood his desire to wipe out the Jews of Europe?” Is he really suggesting that Hitler’s annexation of Austria, the Sudetenland, the invasion of Poland, Russia, Ukraine, North Africa, France, Denmark, England, and the rest were all motivated by anti-Semitism? Or made rational by anti-Semitism? That’s a pretty ridiculous claim. If that’s not what Goldberg means, what—pray tell—is he talking about?

Does Goldberg really mean to suggest that Iran’s aspirations for influence in Iraq, Iran’s rivalry with the Sunni states, its support of Assad, the Houthis in Yemen, or its desire to build up its economy and military are all irrational unless understood through a lens of anti-Semitism?

Goldberg obliquely accuses Obama of being naïve:
Obama believes the Iranian leadership will check its behavior in order to avoid potentially catastrophic fallout. He may be right, but I would like to see his administration place slightlyless faith in the idea of regime rationality. Obama and Kerry both say they understand Jewish anxiety on this issue. (My position on this is simple: If, in the post-Holocaust world, a group of people express a desire to hurt Jews, it is, for safety’s sake, best to believe them.)
But who is being naïve here? Goldberg himself believes the deal will keep Iran below the nuclear threshold for many years. He knows diplomacy has blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon: Iran has agreed not to pursue a nuclear weapon, agreed to voluntarily abandon 98% of its enriched uranium, agreed to eliminate 13,896 of 20,000 centrifuges, and agreed to intrusive inspections. In the meantime, Goldberg knows that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons that it can deliver by long-range rockets, bombers, or submarines. And no one is inhibiting Israel from continuing its weapons acquisitions. Goldberg knows that, twitter feed or no twitter feed, Iran does not and will not have the capacity to pose a real threat to Israel. So why should Obama and Kerry not place faith in Iran’s rationality?

Finally, in the last four paragraphs of his piece, Goldberg hints at what may be his real concern—he wants to defend Chuck Schumer.

There was another question that was “nagging me” and that he meant to ask the President, says Goldberg:
Why does it seem to a growing number of people (I count Chuck Schumer in this group) that an administration professing—honestly, from what I can tell—to understand Jewish anxieties about the consequences of anti-Semitism in the Middle East does not appear to understand that the way some of its advocates outside government are framing the Iran-deal fight—as one between Jewish special interests, on the one hand, and the entire rest of the world, on the other—may empower actual anti-Semites not only in the Middle East, but at home as well? 
Well, nobody is saying it is Jewish special interests against the rest of the world: it’s neo-con Jewish special interests (including $20 million from AIPAC), the Netanyahu government, Sunni Gulf states, the Republicans in Congress, and Chuck Schumer against the rest of the world. As noted, Goldberg does not specialize in nuance.

The administration should be making pro-Israel arguments, says Goldberg, in a way that gives cover to Israel’s well-meaning supporters in the United States (read Schumer): 
[I]t seems to me that a plausible case could be made that this deal, as John Kerry has enthusiastically argued, is actually in Israel’s best interests—not only when compared to the alternative, but especially when compared to the alternative—and that the administration can make great hay out of the pro-Israel argument, and counter arguments that blame Israel’s well-meaning supporters in the United States for political difficulties surrounding the deal. I suspect that opponents of the deal in the American Jewish community are wrong in their views, but this does not make them warmongers, in the way Charles Lindbergh once understood Jews to be warmongers.
Well, Obama has been arguing strenuously that this deal is in Israel’s interest. But Obama is not getting much help from Goldberg who supports the deal but is throwing sand in the works, or the American Jewish Israel lobby who are fighting tooth and nail against the deal, or from Schumer who wants to be the Democratic leader in the Senate but who says he’ll vote with the Republicans on this.

Supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to be scapegoated, says Goldberg? Huh? Who is being scapegoated? Does he mean J-Street? Does he mean Schumer? Does he mean AIPAC? How scapegoated? Goldberg is being incomprehensibly opaque. I think he is dog-whistling “anti-Semitism;” but to what end? 

Goldberg chides that supporters of the Iran deal appear to be as certain as he (Jeff Goldberg) was in his support for the Iraq war—which he, to his credit, regrets. Maybe supporters of the deal are making the wrong call on the Iran deal? But this is a red herring. Our criticism of Goldberg for his war-mongering in 2002 is not that he was certain—it is that he was dead wrong. Just like Schumer is dead wrong now. 

Goldberg concludes with a warning:
The deal … may very well prevent Iran from gaining possession of a nuclear weapon for a very long time—and rejection of the deal now by Congress is unlikely to lead to a good outcome—but the risks here are huge: The administration, and supporters of the deal, are mortgaging the future to a regime labeled by Kerry’s State Department as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and a regime that seeks the physical elimination of a fellow member-state of the United Nations and a close ally of the United States as well. Given that there is so much risk and uncertainty in what the United States is doing, it would be useful for the administration to make absolutely clear that it understands the nature of the regime with which it is dealing. 
This is melodrama, and deliberately misleading in the overall light of the article. Yes, there are risks and unknowns in any course of action. But the risks of this deal are not more “huge” than the risks of no deal. Surely, the nature of the Iranian regime going forward will greatly affect the course of events, just like the nature of governments in Washington D.C., and Jerusalem, and Saudi Arabia, and Iraq will greatly affect future events. But these risks have nothing to do with a nuclear threat, or Hitler, or Jewish anxieties.

Goldberg is right in his support of the deal this time, but he is wrong for throwing sand into the gears of this deal in the service of an obscure and misleading apologia for “Israel’s well meaning (but misguided) supporters.”

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