J.J. Goldberg Disappoints

By Daniel Luban

Former Forward editor in chief J.J. Goldberg has a fairly positive reputation among progressive Jews, and although he has never been a radical about Israel or the Middle East, neither is he a reflexive hawk or neoconservative. Hence it is particularly disappointing to read his recent hit piece on Roger Cohen in the Forward, a piece that is long on condescension and sanctimony but short on any real engagement with the issues. Goldberg’s thesis is that Cohen is cynical, or naive, or both — that his writing on Iran has been motivated fundamentally by a careerist desire to “sound provocative,” but that he is an amateur “in over his head.” It is not clear whether this analysis applies equally to anyone else fighting back against the alarmism of the “bomb Iran” crowd. Does he feel that Cohen’s anatagonists — the Abe Foxmans and Jeffrey Goldbergs of the world — are models of subtlety and expertise? Last I checked Foxman was defending East Jerusalem settlements and (Jeffrey) Goldberg was arguing that Iran is the new Amalek.

I won’t try to respond to (J.J.) Goldberg’s arguments, principally because he does not see fit to make many actual arguments as opposed to ad hominem dismissals. I would, however, just like to highlight one passage that was immediately picked up by some of the usual suspects, in which he discusses Cohen’s treatment of Obama Middle East advisor Dennis Ross, known as the administration’s foremost Iran hawk:

Ross’s role in the administration raises many questions in Cohen’s mind, but the one that comes up over and over throughout the article, “a recurrent issue with Ross, who embraced his Jewish faith after being raised in a non-religious home by a Jewish mother and a Catholic stepfather, has been whether he is too close to the American Jewish community and Israel to be an honest broker with Iran or Arabs.” In the crisis atmosphere following the Iranian election, “Can this baggage-encumbered veteran… overcome ingrained habits and sympathies?” Indeed, “Will the Iranians be prepared to meet with Ross?” — a “reasonable question given Ross’s well-known ties with the American Jewish community.”

That, in effect, is the dilemma facing American policy toward Iran at this pivotal moment: Is there too much Jewish influence? We’ve heard the question before in Hamas sermons, in Al Qaeda videos and on some left-wing blogs. Now it’s been incorporated into the nation’s newspaper of record.

Of course, Roger Cohen is far from the first person to question whether Dennis Ross is too closely associated with Israel to be an effective Middle East policymaker. It was Aaron David Miller, Ross’s former colleague on the Clinton administration peace process team, who famously claimed that the U.S. had been acting as “Israel’s lawyer” under Ross’s leadership. Another Clinton administration colleague, former ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer, published a book containing complaints from both American and Arab participants in the peace process that Ross was “biased towards Israel and not ‘an honest broker'” (as Time magazine put it).

Are Aaron David Miller and Dan Kurtzer fomenting propaganda cribbed from “Hamas sermons” and “al Qaeda videos”? Could Miller and Kurtzer be closet al Qaeda sympathizers? Goldberg is off in Commentary/ZOA territory here, and it is beneath him.

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Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.

One Comment

  1. Having been attacked in the Forward for saying that the Iraq war was instigated by the Neocons for the benefit of Israel, I certainly don’t find any of this surprising. As with all ad hominem attacks, those on Cohen simply reveal the attackers’ lack of an argument.

    I am repeatedly shocked and saddened by the tactics of people like Goldberg (I single him out only because he’s the subject here) — personal attacks, allegations of anti-semitism — to be blunt, employment of the Big Lie. Contemplate that along with the behavior of the Israeli armed forces in the occupied territories, and the Israeli government’s lust for lebensraum, and you begin to see a horrible picture: the Israelis and their supporters here are in danger of becoming that which they most (and reasonably so) fear and hate. How can behaving like fascists promote the welfare of the Jewish people?

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