In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg today questioned whether President Obama truly understands “Jewish anxiety” about the Iran deal. He did so despite Obama’s clear acknowledgement of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism and unequivocal validation of the fears some Jews have about the deal.
So what sparked Goldberg to question Obama’s “understanding” of such fears? He believes the Obama administration’s advocates are “empower[ing] actual anti-Semites” by singling out AIPAC and Israel-lobby hawks for their opposition to the deal, and that Obama doesn’t see how targeting “Jewish special interests” might lead to an increase of anti-Semitism in America.
As a result, Goldberg writes, “Jewish supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to feel scapegoated” – at least, according to some people showing up in his email inbox.
I’d like to tackle both of these notions Goldberg puts forward, and as a Jewish Obama supporter, hopefully put them to rest.
Obama Doesn’t “Understand” Jewish Concerns
Early in his exploration of President Obama, Goldberg quotes the President extensively, showing that Obama clearly understands why a minority of American Jews opposed to the Iran deal might have significant anxieties:
“I take what the supreme leader says seriously. I think his ideology is steeped with anti-Semitism, and if he could, without catastrophic costs, inflict great harm on Israel, I’m confident that he would. But as I said, I think, the last time we spoke, it is possible for leaders or regimes to be cruel, bigoted, twisted in their worldviews and still make rational calculations with respect to their limits and their self-preservation.”
“The anxieties of the American Jewish community are entirely understandable. Those are amplified when there appears to be across-the-board opposition inside of Israel, not just within Likud, but among other parties. And some of that is emotional – in a legitimate way. You don’t like dealing with somebody who denies horrible things happening to your people or threatens future horrible things to your people. Some of it is based on legitimate concerns about what an economically stronger Iran could do to further enhance their support of Hezbollah.”
However, these words from Obama do not seem to convince Goldberg that the President truly understands why some Jews might be nervous about the deal. Here Goldberg explains why:
“Why does it seem to a growing number of people (I count Chuck Schumer in this group) that an administration professing – honestly, from what I can tell – to understand Jewish anxieties about the consequences of anti-Semitism in the Middle East does not appear to understand that the way some of its advocates outside government are framing the Iran-deal fight – as one between Jewish special interests, on the one hand, and the entire rest of the world, on the other – may empower actual anti-Semites not only in the Middle East, but at home as well?”
Goldberg’s logic for feeling uneasy about Obama echoes that of Elliot Abrams, who recently accused the President of promoting anti-Semitism for calling out AIPAC’s warmongering. Rather than accuse Obama of directly promoting anti-Semitism, though, Goldberg instead accuses the President of not seeing how his administration’s “advocates” are promoting anti-Semitism by calling out pro-Israel groups very publicly spending $20-40 million to kill the deal.
Goldberg’s mistake, whether made intentionally or unintentionally, is the same egregious one Abrams made when accusing Obama of anti-Semitism, which is to conflate groups like AIPAC with American Jews. See, Goldberg seems to have a problem with how the administration’s advocates are targeting “Jewish special interests.” But organizations like AIPAC are not “Jewish” lobbying groups, but rather “pro-Israel” lobbying groups. As I’ve stated previously, conflating Israel and all Jews, something Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, likes to do as a way to shield Israel from critique, is itself an anti-Semitic trope vile bigots use to attack innocent Jews for the actions of Israel. Even worse is to conflate the hawkish side of the Israel LOBBY with all Jews by calling them “Jewish special interests.”
Now, perhaps Goldberg is simply uncomfortable, as I am, by Iran-deal supporters who are calling out and solely critiquing “Jewish” interests rather than “pro-Israel” ones. However, if such were the case, one would expect Goldberg to make such distinctions clear, particularly given his deep concern about anti-Semiitism.
As it is, I wonder if Goldberg truly understands Jewish anxiety about anti-Semitism, given his seeming conflation of AIPAC and American Jews, his calling the hawkish Israel lobby “Jewish interests.”
Jews feel “scapegoated” by Obama?
Whether Goldberg feels scapegoated by the President, I cannot say. However, his citing an invisible inbox to declare that American Jewish supporters of Obama feel scapegoated by the President seems to indicate, at the very least, he sympathizes with such sentiments.
It’s a patently ridiculous notion. Why? To feel ‘scapegoated’ by Obama for his rejection of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts and warmongering is to conflate the Israel lobby and the Jewish community. Meaning: only by viewing AIPAC as representing all Jews (which it doesn’t) or the Jewish community (which it doesn’t) might one feel scapegoated by Obama.
Do I feel scapegoated, as a Jewish supporter of Obama and the Iran deal? No. Have I heard from any Jewish family members or friends supporting this deal who feel similarly? No. But that’s because most American Jews understand AIPAC for what it is: a political lobbying group currently aligned with Likud’s interests.
Does Goldberg feel scapegoated? Perhaps someone has received an email with the answer.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.