“I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim – Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.
Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I’m not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment.
Am I being apocalyptic? Yes. Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so. Israel is still a remarkably vibrant democracy, with a free press and an independent judiciary. But on the other hand, the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago. The rise to power of the four groups I mentioned above has changed, in some very serious ways (which I will write about later) the nature and character of the Jewish state.”
Here again, the old Jeffrey is clearly present, who, despite his epiphany, still describes Israel as “…a remarkably vibrant democracy…”, but the wheels are clearly coming off the bus. He now sees the grave threats from the religious factions, the Russian immigrants, and from the settler movement. Most important, he sees serious changes in the nature and character of the Jewish state that now make it not the Israel he originally encountered over two decades ago.
The epiphany and doubts then emerge again on January 3 in his piece, “An Overheated Call for Action Against Iran” in which he criticizes an argument that the US should join Israel in a preemptive strike on Iran:
“The “America might as well join in the fun” argument has its obvious perils. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program represents, I think, an existential threat; for America, Iran represents a serious threat, but not one to its existence. At this point in American history, is it wise for Washington to open-up a third front (or fourth, of fifth, depending on how you count) in the Muslim Middle East? The downsides are great.”
While he remains equivocal and still seems to favor an Israeli strike, he also talks about “unpredictable consequences”, “obvious perils”, and “downsides” which suggest he is beginning to have some serious doubts.
The next day, January 4, he sees (in “A Certain Kind of Sickness“) that his recent lack of unquestioning loyalty and fealty to Israel’s every act has made him the target of a conservative Jewish writer, Richard Landes, who says:
“Alas, the majority of liberal Jewish journalists and writers like Thomas Friedman, David Remnick and Jeffrey Goldberg don’t have the fortitude, conviction and integrity of their elders. Instead of having independent minds, they have shown themselves to be self-hating.”
Goldberg angrily responds (being called a liberal is obviously too low a blow for him to ignore):
“This is sickening rhetoric. People … who conflate support for Israel with support for settlements — are creating conditions that will ultimately lead to Israel’s disappearance. …. How misguided! And how misguided is Richard Landes, to argue that Thomas Friedman, David Remnick and Goldblog are “self-hating” because we have differing opinions about the best way to secure Israel’s future….”
This is a fascinating article because it shows Goldberg is beginning to see that supporting the settlements may be suicidal for Israel, and that suicidal, Masada-like extremist impulses are not only part of the Jewish historical character but are celebrated even todayas heroic. He even sees some Masada-like parallels in the actions of today’s Israeli religious right. He also seems to be comfortable aligning himself with Thomas Friedman and David Remnick as fellow journalists with differing views about the best way to secure Israel’s future.
Two days later, on January 6, in “It’s Hilary Time“, he quotes favorably an op-ed by foreign policy expert Aaron David Miller who advocates Secretary of State Hilary Clinton taking a strong role in the Israel-Palestine negotiations. Goldberg concurs that Clinton has the intelligence, understanding and prestige to make it happen and should devote most of her time to this very important issue.
Here again, there is plenty of the old Jeffrey on display, i.e. the qualifier on the I-P issue not being the most important link to US success in the Middle East. Despite the equivocation, it is clear that Goldberg is beginning to see that the I-P issue must be solved both for Israel’s survival and for the preservation of US vital national security interests in the region and the world.
On January 10, Goldberg again weighs in on the Iran issue in “A Major Victory for President Obama” in which he cites Israel’s retiring chief of Mossad’s statement that Iran won’t be able to build a nuclear bomb for at least four more years, and says that things are clearly better than previously thought. While here again the old Jeffrey is present (he says Iran won’t have a bomb for at least one to as many as four years even though the retiring Mossad chief said that they won’t have one for at least four years), he clearly believes that an Israeli and/or US preemptive bombing of Iran is no longer an urgent priority.
” If a Jewish person’s only concern as a Jew is the acquisition of every square inch of biblical Israel on behalf of the Jewish people, then I suppose it is a Jewish interest. But if a Jewish person has other interests as well — such as in peace, or in the idea that Palestinians, though a much newer people than the Jewish people, deserve a state just as Jews do, or in the continued survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — than the slow takeover of [East Jerusalem] is not in the best Jewish interest.
Peace will not come without the birth of a Palestinian state on the West Bank which has itscapital in East Jerusalem. I’m as sure of that as I am of anything in the Middle East. Of course, peace may not come even with the birth of this state — I’m no longer quite so sure in the possibility, or at least in the availability, of peace — but it will surely never happen without it. This is why, of course, certain right-wing Jewish groups, aided and abetted by different factions in Israel’s chaotic government, are seeking to populate East Jerusalem with Jews: to prevent the birth of a Palestinian state. These particular Jews operate under the delusion that Israel can keep control of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem forever, and most of the West Bank forever, without negative consequences. They are drastically wrong. Eventually, something is going to give. At a certain point in the not-so-distant future, Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state, or it will cease to be a democracy. Attempts to abort the birth of a Palestinian state only hasten this moment of decision.
Israel will survive without the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. It will not survive if it becomes a pariah state, and, in this unfortunate world in which we must exist, Israel is in danger of becoming an outcast among nations.”
This is huge; this is the transformation of Jeffrey Goldberg from a highly influential near Zionist zealot and Israel-right-or-wrong Likkud apologist to a person who now realizes that Israel is in a death spiral and that influential Jews like him need to speak out strongly and speak out now if Israel is to survive.
The transformation of Jeffrey Goldberg is still a work in progress. Like many of us who have come around 180 degrees on in the Israel-Palestine issue over the past few years, we did and do so in fits and starts. It will be easy to snipe at him and take easy cheap shots at his past statements and occasional backsliding, to treat him as still the enemy. I think a better approach is to welcome him, to congratulate him on his metamorphosis, to help him in his transition, and to seek his help, allegiance and advice in helping bring this issue to the forefront of US politics. Jeffrey Goldberg is a new and late-coming ally in this struggle, but an ally he is and an important one at that. His transformation may be the opening of the floodgates; the Walter Cronkite moment of the struggle to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to save Israel from itself.