Jewish Journal

Jeffrey Goldberg: Obama won’t destroy U.S.-Israel relationship

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 13, 2008 | 12:33 pm

You’ve heard from Philip Weiss and Omri Ceren, now it’s Jeffrey Goldberg’s chance to explain what Barack Obama’s presidential victory will mean for Israel and the Jews.

Goldberg is the national correspondent for The Atlantic, the author of “Prisoners” and a veteran of the IDF. He also happens to be one of my favorite journalists.

Much maligned by the left for reporting they say pom-pommed going to war with Iraq, Goldberg has nonetheless struck a balance between progressive and neoconservative and has become a proponent for giving up Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“What Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state,” Goldberg wrote in a May op-ed for The New York Times. “Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren’t strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left. And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project.”

Goldberg’s name carries a lot more weight than Greenberg, and instead of interviewing a journalist about the presidential election, he spoke in May with Obama and John McCain. Now that the race is over, I followed up to Goldberg to see what he thought it all meant:

You interviewed both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama back in May and eventually began blogging favorably about Obama. Why did you think he was the better candidate?

I don’t think I was blogging favorably about Obama as I was defending him against ridiculous and offensive charges. If John McCain had been accused of seeking Israel’s destruction, I would have defended him against the charge as well. I actually like both men; I’ve known McCain for a long time, and wrote what I hope was taken to be a serious cover story about his worldview. I think his campaign took the low road too frequently, but I admire him personally.

Considering how poorly Obama had polled with Jews prior to October, how surprised were you to see him receive 78 percent of the Jewish vote?

I wasn’t surprised. There are two Jewish communities out there: Most American Jews are liberal. They generally speaking have warm feelings for Israel but don’t necessarily buy the notion that Israel does no wrong. Then there’s the twenty or thirty percent of American Jewry that is less assimilated, more Orthodox and more right-wing in its politics generally. This side of the divide is more organized, and therefore we heard from these sorts of people with greater frequency.

Why do you think they came around?

I think Obama had sixty to seventy percent of the Jewish vote throughout. I think he built on to his vote by choosing Joe Biden, by speaking to AIPAC, by visiting Israel, and by deploying effective surrogates. Also, Sarah Palin alienated many Jews, I think.

What about the many right-leaning Jews who still think Obama is going to disintegrate U.S.-Israel relations?

Their arguments seem built mainly on paranoia and fear. There’s nothing in Obama’s record to suggest that he’s going to destroy U.S.-Israel relations. I’m hopeful that he will help Israel find answers to its difficult problems.

You were encouraged by Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel.

I like Rahm. He’s emotionally Jewish, if you know what I mean. He’s a proud supporter of Israel, but he sees through some of the extraneous nonsense, I think. I’m mainly guessing here, but he’s not the sort of person to buy the argument that what’s best for the settlement movement is necessarily best for Israel.

The California director of the RJC is fond of saying that the Democratic Party of Joe Lieberman and Scoop Jackson is dead. Do you agree?

If it weren’t dead, Joe Lieberman would still be considered a loyal Democrat.

Two decades ago you served in the IDF and much of your career has involved reporting from and on the Middle East. What has this taught you about the complexities of the peace process?

Serving in the army, and spending so much time in the Middle East, has taught me to mistrust people who say they have the answers.

What advice would you offer Obama?

See above.

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