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Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reacts to Glenn Greenwald and the anti-Israeli sentiment among some on the left.

Sunday, March 15, 2009
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HH: I’m going back to the Charles Freeman affair that has dominated a lot of the conversation of the week on and off here on the program, and certainly dominated the blogosphere as Ambassador Charles Freeman was first put forward for the head of the NIC, and then withdrawn after a flurry of objections to his past statements and positions. Around the edge of this, a fierce controversy dividing all sorts of usual suspects along funny lines. Joining me now to discuss the controversy is Jeffrey Goldberg who writes at The Atlantic. Jeffrey, welcome back to the program, great to have you here.

JG: Thanks very much.

HH: Give me your summary of what has happened here, and what fault lines have been exposed, if any.

JG: Well, one of the more interesting fault lines to me is that people on the left, or self-identified leftists who you would think would argue against the sort of cynical, realist posture in foreign policy, the posture that says we should just deal with whatever governments there are, and not care about human rights, that they’ll take the side of the cynical realist if that cynical realist also happens to be opposed to Israel, or to have hostile feelings or strident criticisms of Israel. It’s kind of a strange lineup, I guess you would say.

HH: A lot of the critics of the critics of Freeman have been saying, often explicitly, sometimes with just a sneer and implicitly, that Israel lobby in the United States has run this from beginning to end, whether it’s Rosen, formerly with AIPAC, or the general counsel of AIPAC. You’re among the many suspects noted, as are other people like Chuck Schumer…I mean, Glenn Greenwald called Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel and Joe Liberman Israel-centric fanatics on my program yesterday.

JG: Well, Glenn Greenwald will say anything. You know, the one way to look at it is that there’s a secret cabal of Jews in Washington who are trying to set a secret agenda for American. Another is that different American citizens who write or are legislators decide it on the merits, looking at Charles Freeman’s statements, that he wasn’t qualified or disqualified himself from this job because of the things he said. I mean, you know, yeah I know there are people who believe that there’s some vast conspiracy afoot. In terms of Steve Rosen, it’s funny you mention him, because he’s a guy I profiled rather critically three years ago in the New Yorker. He hasn’t spoken to me since he called me up to scream at me over the profile. So if it’s a cabal, it’s not working very well.

HH: In terms of your colleague, Andrew Sullivan, he accused Freeman’s critics of having dual loyalty…no, is Jeffrey, you, accusing Freeman of dual loyalty and treason now? If so, a little clarification is in order. What’s going on with Andrew? This is all kind of new to me. I mean, I have my disagreements with Sullivan, but I never put him down in the camp with…

JG: I think, you know what? I think you’re going to have to ask Andrew.

HH: All right, I will. No, actually we invited him to come on, but he once again declined. Back to Greenwald and others like, well, everyone in this debate. How many of them are simply anti-neocons? How many of them are getting close, in your worldview or your understanding, to anti-Semitism?

JG: Well, you know, I like to steer clear of the term anti-Semitism in part because it’s such a serious charge, and in part because you can be critical of Israeli policies in the American engagement with Israel as it’s currently constructed without being anti-Semitic. I think that when you sort of dive rhetorically into this swamp of searching out for conspiracies and questioning the loyalty of American citizens to America who happen to believe that Israel is an ally of America, and that it, while a flawed country, it is still a Western country with Western values that needs to be supported, and understand the difficult situation that Israel finds itself in, and understand that its enemies are also in many cases enemies of America for reasons that have nothing to do with Israel, you know, I think what we’ve seen in this episode is just, is sort of the inflammatory nature of any discussion surrounding Israel these days. You can’t really have a sane conversation and acknowledge that it’s not an enemy of America. You know, there’s this weird thing going on now in which people like Glenn Greenwald position Israel in their worldview as an enemy of the United States. And I don’t understand that.

HH: Well, what I find most interesting, Jeffrey Goldberg, is when you’ve got any position that is shared by, for example, Bill Kristol and Jonathan Chait, Jeffrey Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt, Chuck Schumer and pretty much any Republican Senator who is a friend of Israel, regardless of their other political differences, it’s hard to find a conspiracy there. It’s just bizarre.

JG: Well, you know, here’s the thing. What you do, when you want to marginalize an argument, what you do is you attack the motivations of the people who are making the argument. You don’t deal with the argument in good faith. You don’t deal with your adversary in good faith. You say well, obviously if they believe X, if they believe that Charles Freeman isn’t the best person for this job, then they are axiomatically against the national security interests of the United States. That’s what they’ve done, and that’s what’s offensive. I mean, the fact of the matter is Charles Freeman might be inappropriate for the job he was nominated for, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council. But he probably would have been a useful person to have as a kind of devil’s advocate in the National Security Council, or in the intelligence community in some way. And I think one of the many nuances of this story is that we’ve missed the role of Dennis Blair and the Obama administration in picking a guy who has some interesting qualities, but for the wrong job.

HH: Quick question, because we’ve got a minute left.

JG: Yeah.

HH: You’ve been very cautious, and I appreciate it, respect it and endorse it in refusing…

JG: Well you know, I hope to run for office one day.

HH: Yeah, but in refusing the term anti-Semitism…

JG: Yeah.

HH: But if you’ve got this deep, reflexive anti-Israeli politics built into you…

JG: Yeah.

HH: …a la Glenn or others, and we take anti-Semitism off the table, what do you attribute that to?

JG: Well, here’s…what do I attribute it to? Here’s the thing, this is the way I judge it. If you’re holding Israel to a separate and higher standard of behavior than you hold any other country in the world, then I have to question your motivations. I think that’s fair to say. I think that to some degree, Israel is seen as, in certain circles on the left, the stalking horse of Western or American imperialism, so it’s attacked as an adjunct of America. So the people who are criticizing Israel, sometimes, are people who are criticizing it precisely because it is affiliated with America, and it resembles America in some ways.

HH: Very perceptive. Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic, always a pleasure, thank you.

End of interview.

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