Jeffrey Goldberg is a well-known journalist and blogger who writes for The Atlantic and Bloomberg News. A former Israeli soldier, Goldberg has deep ties within both the Israeli and American political establishments. Although he is at times critical of neoconservative advocacy efforts, Goldberg tends to espouse a hawkish view of the Middle East, often arguing that the threat of U.S. military force is critical to American foreign policy in the region.
Goldberg has frequently attacked critics of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, sometimes disparaging them as anti-Semites. He has referred, for example, to Harvard Professor Steve Walt—coauthor of The Israel Lobby, a controversial 2011 book arguing that right-wing "pro-Israel" advocates had hijacked U.S. foreign policy—as a "grubby Jew-baiter." Disputing Goldberg's slur as politically motivated, Mondoweiss writer Philip Weiss called the charge "preposterous and outrageous" and observed that it was offered with "no evidence whatsoever." Goldberg has also taken aim at anti-Zionist progressives, attributing their critiques to what he calls "Apartheid Substitution Effect," or "the desire of some well-meaning leftists to experience again the excitement of the anti-South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s."
On the other hand, Goldberg has criticized Israel's settlement policies and advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Goldberg wrote in 2013 that "it is pro-Israel to be in favor of a settlement freeze, and in favor of jump-started negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. There is no other way out of the trap in which Israel finds itself. Most Israelis, according to the polls, believe in preserving both their country's Jewish character, and its democracy. This is not possible to achieve so long as millions of Palestinians are ruled, against their will, by Israel."
Goldberg has backed some aspects of the Obama administration's approach to Iran. For instance, in September 2013, Goldberg wrote approvingly of the administration's various hard-nosed measures aimed at Iran's nuclear program, writing: "Obama has crippled the Iranian economy by organizing some of the harshest sanctions imaginable, and he has stated repeatedly that he won't allow the Iranian leadership to acquire a nuclear weapon. The constant displays of American military might in the waters off of Iran these past four years, coupled with clear statements that the U.S. would use force to thwart the regime's plans, have also impressed Iranian leaders." He concluded that "Barack Obama's toughness" was "the one main reason why Iran is making conciliatory noises about its relationship with the U.S. and about the future of its nuclear program."
However, Goldberg frequently claims that Iran is dedicated to developing nuclear capability and that military action may be necessary to stop it. He has criticized Obama administration advisers for "undermining" the president by "analyz[ing] publicly the dangers of a military confrontation," claiming that such cautionary notes encourage Iranian leaders to "breathe a sigh of relief, and make the calculations that Obama is bluffing on military action." (The Daily Beast's Ali Gharib disagreed, writing, "Were the administration not willing to publicly discuss the potential consequences with its public, then the threats better be a bluff—because to launch this war without a national dialogue would be a monumental disservice to American democracy, not to mention irresponsible.")
In late 2013, Goldberg joined a host of generally right-wing critics in warning that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected that year on the promise of reaching a diplomatic accommodation with the West, was less moderate than he appeared. "Rouhani has been a superior soldier for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a defender of the regime, and an anti-American propagandist for much of his professional life," Goldberg wrote. "Until proven otherwise, there's no reason to think that Rouhani, who is acting on Khamenei's behalf, is ready to shut down his country's nuclear program, despite airy statements to the contrary."
Goldberg has also criticized the Obama administration for not aggressively arming the Syrian rebels, although by 2013 he had tempered his calls for intervention somewhat as rebel forces became more dominated by radical Islamists. Still, he defended the administration's bid to attack regime targets, an effort that was ultimately suspended in the face of widespread popular opposition and a timely offer by Russia to help dismantle Syria's chemical weapons. "I don't like the administration's Syria policy," he wrote in September 2013. "I wish it would work harder to remove the men who use chemical weapons, not just the weapons themselves, and I have almost no hope that the Putin-led plan will work. But Obama has managed, by threatening force, to buttress the international taboo on the use of poison gas."
Goldberg has also held out hope that the administration's reluctance to intervene in Syria could make it more willing to eventually attack Iran. "Obama's unwillingness to engage militarily in Syria may ultimately make it more likely that he will one day strike Iran's nuclear facilities, should sanctions and negotiations fail to push Iran off the nuclear path," he wrote in an October 2013 column attempting to assuage Iran hawks. "Think of it this way: If Barack Obama were today bogged down in Syria in some fashion, it seems extremely unlikely that he would possess the maneuverability, domestically or internationally, to launch strikes in yet another Muslim country. As all but the most myopic Obama critics acknowledge, the president is no pacifist when it comes to targeting Muslims he believes pose a danger to the U.S."
Track Record on Iran
Goldberg's writings on Iran, which can appear to fluctuate between urging tougher action against the country and calling for restraint, often receive considerable attention because of his success in gaining access to high-level officials in both Israel and the United States.
In early March 2012, Goldberg published a widely noted interview with President Barack Obama in which the president repeated arguments he made at the 2012 annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that his administration did not consider "containment" a sufficient approach to confront a nuclear Iran. Instead, Obama said that it was unacceptable for Iran to develop a bomb and that he would order a strike against the country's nuclear facilities if economic sanctions failed to stop the country from developing a nuclear weapon (although U.S. intelligence indicates that Iran still has not decided to weaponize its enriched uranium).
When Goldberg asked the president whether his assurances were believable, particularly in Israel and Iran, Obama stated: "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
Earlier, in the September 2010 issue of The Atlantic, Goldberg published a widely reviewed article detailing the plausibility of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities if the United States did not act first, arguing that there was a better than 50 percent chance of such an attack by early 2011.
Based on dozens of interviews with Israelis in and out of government, the article, titled "The Point of No Return," went to great pains to convey the psychology of the leadership in Israel—particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—as it debates what to do about Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Despite the overwhelmingly negative potential consequences of an Israeli attack, Goldberg argued, Israel would feel obliged to make an attempt to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities because of the perceived existential threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons arsenal, and the Israeli leadership's lack of faith in the Obama administration's claim that "all options are on the table" to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.
Characterizing hypothetical diplomatic conversations between Israel and the United States, Goldberg wrote: "In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission."
The article was favorably reviewed by some, like Fred Kaplan, who described it as the "best article" on the subject, combining "shrewd and balanced reporting … with sophisticated analysis of the tangled strategic dilemmas."
Others found Goldberg's analysis less praiseworthy.
Pointing to Goldberg's track record of penning articles that try to push the United States into Middle East wars (see "On Iraq" below), Eli Clifton of Inter Press Service commented that the article seemed "part of a campaign to push the Obama administration into authorizing a U.S. military strike." He added: "A consensus appears to be forming in neoconservative circles that the best way to force the Obama administration to launch a military attack on Iran's alleged nuclear facilities is to convince the White House that Israel is prepared to attack with or without a green-light from Washington. Of course, to make this threat work, hawks need to convince the White House and the U.S. public that the Israelis just might be foolhardy enough to attack unilaterally."
Steve Clemons of the Washington Note pointed out that none of the Israelis discussed in the article ever suggested resolving the Palestinian situation as a way of building regional support against efforts by Iran to threaten Israel. He wrote: "What is disappointing is that it seems from Goldberg's article—which I think captures correctly the prevailing mood and opinion in Jerusalem—Israeli government officials for the most part are not even thinking about this course while at the same time considering and possibly accepting other high cost collision scenarios with Iran."
Clemons also took Goldberg to task for leaving out key aspects of his widely noted conversation with UAE Ambassador Yousef Otaiba at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival, during which Otaiba said that the United Arab Emirates would support air strikes if Iran continued on its present course. Goldberg's account of this exchange in the Atlantic, wrote Clemons, "failed to mention … that Otaiba also strongly emphasized that the most important radicalizer in the region was the unresolved Palestine-Israel dispute and that the smart strategy to deal with the Iran challenge was to unwind the Israeli occupation."
Several months later, in January 2011, Goldberg criticized the Washington Times' Gary Anderson for urging the United States to join Israel in attacking Iran. Goldberg argued, "Sanctions, Stuxnet, and various other programs designed to deny Iran a bomb seem to be working for the moment, so before we launch a strike with unpredictable consequences, let's give these other methods a chance to work."
Perhaps because of sensitivity to accusations of being one-sided in his views of Middle East issues, Goldberg clearly distinguished between Israeli and U.S. interests, which hardliners like the neocons tend to conflate. He argued that while Iran's nuclear program potentially posed an "existential threat" to Israel, "for America, Iran represents a serious threat, but not one to its existence." He added, "At this point in American history, is it wise for Washington to open-up a third front (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) in the Muslim Middle East? … This [Iranian] regime will not last forever, and I worry more and more each day that we—the West—will do something inadvertent, or advertent, to slow the arrival of the coming revolution. I know the arguments on both sides of this question, and I'm convinced that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will only help strengthen the regime's stranglehold over Iran's unhappy citizens."
In other treatments of Iran, Goldberg has argued that Israel should exploit divisions among Arabs to neutralize Iran. In a 2009 Atlantic article, "How Iran Could Save the Middle East," he claimed that Israel could build on growing Sunni Muslim concern over the rise of Shia Iran to box the country in and develop alliances in the region. In the piece, Goldberg recognized that any such effort would require Israel to take hard steps toward resolving its conflict with Palestinians. However, he added: "It might be too late, of course, to forge a Sunni-Jewish alliance, though not because the two parties hate each other; hate has never stopped the formation of pragmatic alliances in the Middle East. It might be too late because the Arab enmity for Israel in the wake of last December's Israeli attacks in Gaza might make it impossible for Arab governments to be seen entering even a tacit alliance with Israel."
Goldberg's 2010 Atlantic article on Iran was not the first time his writings appeared to dovetail with efforts by hawks to promote U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. In 2002, as neoconservatives and other foreign policy hardliners were gearing up to push the United States into war with Iraq, Goldberg published an award-winning article in the New Yorker, "The Great Terror," that helped build rationales for invading the country, in part by using discredited sources—both in Iraq as well as in the George W. Bush administration—to argue that the regime of Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda.
Despite the article's severe flaws—many of its claims proved to be erroneous—it appeared to influence a number of observers. In awarding Goldberg a prize for best reporting on human rights, the Overseas Press Club (OPC) stated: "In this exposé of the crimes of the Iraqi regime, Goldberg described Saddam Hussein's horrifying gas attacks against Kurdish villages, investigated ties between Iraq and al Qaeda terrorists and explored the scope of Iraq's chemical weapons arsenal. Goldberg spent six months on this assignment, often from places that were off limits to western journalists. A former CIA director, James Woolsey, called the story 'a blockbuster.'"
The OPC neglected to note that Woolsey was one of the key neoconservative proponents for attacking Iraq.
During the lead-up to the Iraq War, Goldberg made media appearances and published several articles that criticized opponents of an invasion for being naïve about Middle East politics. He made exaggerated claims about the Hussein regime's efforts to weaponize biological agents and grossly underestimated the impact of an invasion. The effort prompted one observer to write: "In urging war on Iraq, Goldberg took highly dubious assertions—for example, that Saddam was an irrational madman in control of vast quantities of WMDs and that Iraq and Al Qaeda were deeply in bed together—and essentially asserted them as fact. From these unproven allegations, he demonstrated that an invasion of Iraq was the only rational policy."
Playing the Anti-Semitism Card
Goldberg tends to avoid directly accusing people who are critical of Israeli policies of being anti-Semitic. He prefers the term "Jew-baiting." For instance, in 2010 comments to Hudson Institute fellow Lee Smith, Goldberg said of Stephen Walt, the Harvard academic and blogger at Foreign Policy who coauthored The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy: "Walt is a throwback to the 1930s. In the '30s the isolationists rode the Jews as a hobby horse. They tried very hard to marginalize American citizens of the Jewish faith by questioning their loyalty. These guys don't even understand what ancient terror they're tapping into. What's original, what makes this period alarming, is that The Washington Post Company would give a Jew-baiter a platform."
After Smith's article, which maintained that the U.S. media was "mainstreaming hate" and profiting from anti-Semitism by publishing bloggers who are critical of Israel, was roundly lambasted by commentators on both the left and right, Goldberg apparently felt compelled to expand upon his comments. In a post on his Atlantic blog, Goldberg criticized Smith for not marshalling enough sources to support accusations of "Jew-hatred." He then proceeded to undertake a similar exercise, dredging up anti-Semitic diatribes that appeared in his email inbox after he criticized Walt and other writers for being "Jew-baiters."
He wrote on his blog: "Walt got a little bit weepy on his blog about how I'm so unfair to him, and sure enough, within hours, my e-mail inbox was filled with anti-Semitic invective, much of it referencing Walt. I get this sort of stuff all the time, and usually I don't share it with Goldblog readers, but since people like Walt prefer to deny a connection between their Jew-baiting and the anti-Semitic commenters who flock to their blogs, I thought I would post a few choice e-mails."
Commented Daniel Luban of Inter Press Service: "Goldberg resorts to one of his frequent tricks, which is quoting from the over-the-top anti-Israel email he receives to try to prove that his adversaries are all anti-Semites. (His other trick is to quote from the over-the-top Likudnik email he receives to try to prove that he's really a peace-loving liberal by comparison.)"
During the months leading up to his August 2010 Atlantic article on Iran, Goldberg's efforts to sideline opponents of military intervention appeared to pick up. Wrote M.J. Rosenberg:
"For several days, the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg has been calling Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and other critics of Bibi Netanyahu 'anti-Semites.' Nothing new about that. For Goldberg, a major AIPAC neocon, all critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semites by definition. But why is he obsessing about Walt so much now? It is because, in August, Goldberg is coming out with his big Atlantic piece calling on the United States to bomb Iran so that Israel does not have to. But Goldberg has a problem. As an American who chose to serve in the Israeli army (he was a guard at a Palestinian prison camp), he fears that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer—who accused the Likud lobby of promoting war with Iraq in their groundbreaking bestseller—will point out that Goldberg is just about the least credible advocate for war with Iran. I mean, think about it. How many Americans are so dedicated to Israel that they join its army and take its citizenship? I'll tell you. A couple of thousand since 1948."
Goldberg uses a slightly different tactic when attacking Jewish critics of Israel. Describing a panel of bloggers at a 2009 J Street conference, Goldberg wrote: "I'm telling people who are worried about the hijinks at the unofficial J Street bloggers' panel not to become overly bothered by it; it was a clownish event, and the people on the panel were marginal figures except in the rather circumscribed universe of anti-Zionists-with-Jewish parents (where they are giants)."
This claim led blogger Phillip Weiss to comment: "He's not saying anti-Zionist Jews. He's saying we had Jewish parents. He's not even calling us non-Jewish Jews. … This time we don't get to be Jews. Thus he equates Jewishness with Zionism, entirely. His dismissal presumably refers to Richard Silverstein, Jerry Haber, Sydney Levy, Max Blumenthal, myself et al. A couple of those folks are Zionists, by the way."
Goldberg himself has been charged with anti-Semitism. In January 2011, Richard Landes, author of the blog Augean Stables, accused Goldberg and other "liberal Jewish journalists" like Thomas Friedman and David Remnick of being "self-hating Jews" for their criticism of some Israeli policies, in particular regarding Jewish settlements. Responding to the accusation, Goldberg wrote, "This is sickening rhetoric. People like Landes—who conflate support for Israel with support for settlements—are creating conditions that will ultimately lead to Israel's disappearance. These types of people are not new in Jewish life. Extremists like Bar-Kochba and the Zealots have always been with us, people who would rather see Jerusalem burn than even consider compromise with those they consider evil. … The only hatred of Jews I see in this episode is [from] Richard Landes." (Landes later recanted part of his criticism.)
Publishing Track Record
According to the brief biography on his personal website: "Goldberg joined The New Yorker in 2000. Previously, he was a writer for The New York Times Magazine, covering the Middle East and Africa. He has also covered the mafia for New York Magazine, served as the New York bureau chief of the Forward and been a columnist for the Jerusalem Post. He began his career as a police reporter for the Washington Post. In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation and was appointed in 2002 to be a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C."
Goldberg is the author of the 2006 book, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew across the Middle East Divide, which details his relationship with a Palestinian that began when he served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a military police officer at a detention camp for Palestinians.
A review in the Washington Post relayed several biographical details about Goldberg's background and his relationship with Israel. "Goldberg grew up in a family of liberal Democrats and attended a socialist Zionist summer camp. Like many other young American Jews, he grew up with next to no religious tradition but with a strong sense of Jewish identity. He was potently aware of his membership in an oppressed people that, in both distant and painfully recent history, had been unable to defend itself. But Goldberg also believed in another identity—between his Jewish heritage and his humanistic values of peace and equality, which he saw as being one and the same. That sense of identity impelled Goldberg to move to Israel after college and, in 1990, to join its army. He ended up in the military police and did his mandatory army service as a guard at Ketziot, the vast, desolate prison camp that Israel set up in its southern desert to hold the Palestinian rebels of the first intifada, which broke out in 1987."
A Publishers Weekly review of the book was largely positive:
"Not a light read, this memoir of the author, an American-bred Zionist, and his 15-year relationship with a Palestinian insurgent is bound to have detractors, in part because New Yorker Washington correspondent Goldberg is painfully honest—about his dreams, limitations and anxieties. 'I wanted to... have it all,' he writes, 'my parochialism, my universalism, a clean conscience, and a friendship with my enemy.' Goldberg lived in Israel as a college student, sharpening the contradictory emotions shared by many of his American peers and eventually watching his former certainty crumble under the weight of military service at Ketziot, an Israeli prison. Grounded in his relationship with a prisoner, Goldberg's book travels from Long Island to Afghanistan as he struggles to understand Israeli-Palestinian violence. His honesty is itself high recommendation; the book is also marked by beautiful turns of phrase and a forthrightness that saves it from occasional self-importance."
Norman Finkelstein, an academic and activist that has been critical of Israel, provided a different reading of the book: "[I]t's precisely because Goldberg seems to know his subject, and knows how to convey its truth to the reader, that, depending on one's take, the cynicism of his bad faith and faux innocence or the thick-headedness of his refusal to see what's right before his eyes (probably both) not only rankles but enrages. For it must be said that this is a quite wretched book which, for all its willingness to acknowledge ugly realities about Israel's occupation, albeit realities which can no longer be concealed, nonetheless reiterates and, because of the seeming openness, revivifies the old pernicious myths and threadbare clichés sustaining the occupation, presenting them in a form less detached from reality yet processed to make them assimilable by his liberal American Jewish audience."