November 2, 2013
A Response to JJ Goldberg of the Forward
Picking up where Eric Alterman left off, and defending his thousands of words of error-laden invective, JJ Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward has turned out an indignant non-review (see the latest Alterman flubs here) of my book that reveals its chapter titles but fails to discuss their contents. Goldberg warps the responses of Alterman’s many critics, failing to provide links, and concludes with a distorted account of an exchange I had with Ian Lustick, mangling my quotes to falsely to suggest I had demanded the mass departure of Jewish Israelis from historic Palestine. Goldberg might have once been a sharpshooter in the Israeli Border Police, but in his attempt to reinforce Alterman’s attacks, he badly misses the mark.
Echoing Alterman, Goldberg expresses outrage with the titles of the chapters in Goliath but makes no attempt to present what I actually wrote in them or why they are titled as they are. For instance, he bemoans the name of my chapter, "This Belongs To The White Man," but does not mention that the title was merely a reference to the notorious statement by former Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who said the following about non-Jewish African asylum seekers in Israel: "Most of those people arriving here are Muslims, who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man."
Ignoring the hard facts presented in Goliath, Goldberg has spent the years since Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history projecting his political wishful thinking onto the country’s pro-settler leadership, imagining everyone from Benjamin Netanyahu to Shaul Mofaz (check out this howler) as potential peacemakers, which is not unlike describing Rob Ford as the political future of Canada.
Goldberg has labored to sustain his trance-like optimism in the face of the reality of record settlement construction as well as other harsh realities. After the Egyptian military staged its coup, an act that has led the U.S. to cut military aid, Goldberg warned that any reduction in military aid to Egypt would "kill Mideast peace hopes," writing that "America’s billion-dollar-plus annual aid package to Egypt does not exist for Egypt’s benefit, but for Israel’s." Apart from this strange formulation, as though Egypt only exists for the U.S. as a function of his notion of what its policy should be toward Israel, he completely neglected to mention the U.S. at all, as though the U.S. has no independent interests or principles of our own at stake.
To clarify Goldberg’s distortions for readers of The Forward: Goldberg claims I did not "tell of the thousands of rockets bombarding Negev towns for years" before Operation Cast Lead. However, I wrote on the first page of my book that "Hamas’s armed wing…fired dozens of rockets" in November 2008.
Similarly, Goldberg claims I did not "mention the hundreds of Israelis killed by…suicide bombers." In fact, I devoted an entire chapter of the book to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a remarkable Israeli academic whose daughter, Smadar, was killed by a suicide bomber. I discuss at length her and her husband’s experience after their daughter’s murder and how they became two of their society’s more outspoken opponents of the Israeli occupation. I go on to detail Israeli society’s response to suicide bombings during the Second Intifada in my chapter, "The Big Quiet," explaining how it influenced the rise of hafrada, or Israel’s policy of demographic separation.
Goldberg further takes issue with an exchange between Ian Lustick and me during an October 17 discussion of Goliath at the University of Pennsylvania. But, not providing the link to the video, he produced a badly mangled version of my remarks.
Here is the context to the exchange in question: Lustick had remarked that Israeli society could increasingly be described as "fascistic," suggesting that Israel had possibly crossed a moral Rubicon, then asked me to take on the role of God and decide whether to destroy "Gomorrah," even though there were some "good" people living inside it – people like the Israeli dissidents, critics and reformers I profile extensively in Goliath.
My response proposed a direction for preserving the presence of Jewish Israelis in a future Israel-Palestine while stripping away the violent, inhumane mechanisms of demographic engineering, endless dispossession and the walls that have pitted Israeli Jews against the Arab world. My prescription was essentially a rejection of Ehud Barak’s explicitly colonial view of Israel as a Europeanized "villa in the jungle."
Philip Weiss of the Mondoweiss.com website transcribed parts of my answer and summarized the rest. Here is the relevant part of transcript, which Goldberg omitted. (The full exchange arrives around 38:00 in the video):
"As for the Jewish Israelis… These are Israelis who are attracted to Europe, who do not feel that they are part of the Arab world. And it’s that attraction to Europe, that manifestation of Herzl’s famous quote, that the Jewish state will be 'a rampart of civilization against barbarism,’ which has led to the present crisis and the failure of Zionism. Because there is absolutely no way for Jewish people in Israel/Palestine to become indigenized under the present order, and that’s really what has to happen. You have to be willing to be a part of the Arab world, because you’re living in the Arab world. If you don’t, then you have to maintain this system and continue to harden the present system."
My meaning is plain: That the walls must come down — the separation wall, the legal walls of ethnic discrimination, and the psychological walls — as a basis for true peace.
Goldberg claimed without evidence that "Lustick appear[ed] stunned," when Lustick nodded in acknowledgement of my answer and did not express any perceptible displeasure; nor did he state any to me. In fact, what I said was intended to support what Lustick wrote in his recent essay on the "Two State Illusion" for the New York Times, Lustick offered a remarkably similar vision of an alternative future allowing Israeli Jews to live in peace in the Middle East; in which ultra-Orthodox Jews and Mizrahi Jews of Arab descent – groups routinely derided by liberal Zionists like Goldberg as retrograde and politically burdensome — could emerge as their society’s bridge builders, forging practical alliances with Palestinians:
"In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as 'Eastern,’ but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism."
I mentioned in my reply to Lustick that his question related to a debate that was raging among many of my leftist friends and acquaintances in Tel Aviv. As I detail in the final chapter of Goliath, "The Exodus Party," a number of my human rights-minded Israel friends have chosen to exercise the secondary, "emergency" passports that provide multitudes of Ashkenazi Jewish Israelis with EU citizenship, and they have moved to places like Berlin and London. Then there are others, like the Israeli journalist Haggai Matar, who are seeking means of assimilating themselves into the wider culture of the Middle East.
Goldberg has claimed, "Outside the far-left and anti-Israel blogosphere, 'Goliath’ has been ignored." But it is Goldberg who has ignored reviews by figures like Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz’s military and political correspondent, and Akiva Eldar, the Israeli journalist and author who served as chief political columnist for Haaretz for 35 years — writers who could hardly be described as "anti-Israel." Eldar wrote that, "a significant part of [Goliath’s] strength lies in the effect that is naturally created when a foreign correspondent describes the reality of your life and surroundings. Thus, as if from a bas relief, details are raised to which the local eye has become so accustomed that it no longer notices their existence."
I hoped to engage Goldberg in a discussion about his critiques of my book and about the future of Israel-Palestine. Unfortunately, that debate will apparently not take place. When Atlantic editor Robert Wright invited Goldberg to engage with me on the online political debating forum Bloggingheads, Goldberg declined, as Alterman did before him.