Does Goldberg Quote Ahmadinejad — or Himself?

Jeffrey Goldberg, a prominent hawkish Israeli-American journalist, has written a post responding to a Reza Aslan piece on The Atlantic website.

Goldberg is indignant that Aslan suggests, based on revelations about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in WikiLeaks cables, that the boisterous president may not be as evil as many commentators in the West — particularly pundits, like Goldberg, close to the Israel lobby — make him out to be. Aslan contends that, according to this new evidence, Ahmadinejad may be more amiable to a nuclear deal and some increased freedoms for Iranians than previously thought.

Goldberg, of course, seizes on Alsan’s passage about Ahmadinejad’s oft-cited quote about ‘wiping Israel off the map.’ Aslan notes that, in the Farsi context, this phrase is not quite as incendiary as it is portrayed in the West — though Aslan admits that a more proper translation would bring little comfort to Westerners.

Ignoring Aslan’s important qualification, Goldberg lashes out. He exaggerates and gives evidence to support his view that Ahmadinejad is a “Holocaust-denying, eliminationist anti-Semitic Iranian president.” There should be ample citable examples to support such a view, but Goldberg doesn’t employ them. Instead, he gives a series of unsourced, unlinked quotes from Ahmadinejad. Some of the quotes seem to be of dubious origin.

First, Goldberg starts out with a hyperbolic interpretation of what Aslan is saying, and pillories it (Goldberg loves his straw-men). He hauls out a laundry list of Ahmadinejad’s statements that call for an end to the “Zionist regime.” But he has pulled out this exact same list twice before–with one new quote added this time around. That strikes me as a bit lazy (it’s the internet, dude, you can link back to your old posts) and a bit dishonest (you could at least acknowledge that you’ve essentially written the same column twice before).

I don’t want to defend these comments from Ahmadinejad, but there’s something here that needs to be unpacked: Calling for the end of the “Zionist regime” is calling for an end to a state that is driven by a particular ideology. This is called ‘regime change’ and people like Goldberg and his allies in the hawkish pro-Israel camp support this concept all the time.

Of course, Goldberg says this that list of pronouncements by Ahmadinejad are things that the president has “said about Israel and Jews in the last several years.” But that’s not exactly true: In the 20 examples, the word “Jew(s)” is never used; “Israel,” or some derivative, is used four times, with three of the four in either parenthesis or brackets (Goldberg, or whoever compiled this list for him some years ago, was not consistent). Instead, the quotes from Ahmadinejad that Goldberg uses refer mostly to the “Zionist regime.”

Goldberg is widely considered a liberal Zionst (as well as “one of the most influential Jewish journalists working in mainstream media”), and Zionism is, of course, an ideology. Goldberg’s fervent Zionism seems to intellectually confine him. It’s not actually so unusual for one state to call for an end to the ideological underpinnings of a hostile state– this is exactly what Goldberg and others of his ilk do from their own perspective. Those pundits, of course, want an end to the Islamic Republic. A reformed Islamic Republic, even one that might be less likely to pursue nuclear weapons or hostility towards Israel, is not good enough — they demand a secular state bereft of an official Islamic religion. That is what ‘regime change’ in the case of Iran is all about.

Back to Goldberg’s list: I am also afraid that I have to question the veracity of his quotes. In none of the three blog posts does Goldberg provide any sources. Each quote is accompanied by just a month and year. So I punched a bunch of the quotes into Google using Goldberg’s wordings. Take this item from Goldberg’s list:

July 2006: “Nations in the region will be more furious every day. It won’t take long before the wrath of the people turns into a terrible explosion that will wipe the Zionist entity off the map… The basic problem in the Islamic world is the existence of the Zionist regime, and the Islamic world and the region must mobilize to remove this problem. It is a usurper that our enemies made and imposed on the Muslim world, a regime that prevented the progress of the region’s nations, a regime that all Muslims must join hands in isolating worldwide.”

If you stick this into Google, without the date intro, you’ll get about 200 hits (not that many, relatively speaking). You might expect the top one to be a well trafficked or reputable news site — well, you’d be sort of right. The first hit is a website for Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), and the Google cache points you to a version of the site with a reprinted  Daily Caller column from August (which could easily be citing Goldberg). The second hit is Goldberg himself. Then comes the blogspots, hokey right-wing websites like EMPACT America (dedicated to the overhyped EMP threat), and the Christian Zionist pages like “The Bible Teaching Ministry of David Hocking“, “Bible Searchers”, and even some Christian Zionist blogspots!

I don’t have time to run through all the quotes, so I’ll just let that one stand, and challenge my esteemed colleague (much more esteemed than I) to give some sources for his oft-used list of quotes (even if they’re from MEMRI). If he’d like to draft a new list, I’d point him to the website for the right-leaning pro-Israel advocacy website The Israel Project. At least when they compile Ahmadinejad quotes, they’re not so lazy, and provide sources and links.

But maybe that’s why Goldberg keeps doing the same post over and over again: If you repeat something often enough, especially on the internet, people will start to think that it’s true.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.


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