Jeffrey Goldberg's Problem With 'Chickens**t' Netanyahu

Do senior US officials think Bibi is "chickens**t"? Maybe. But here's why it shouldn't really matter to Israel.

Ari Soffer,

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

Immature.

If we were honest, that is the sole word which would be used to describe Jeffrey Goldberg's latest transparent hit-piece against not just Binyamin Netanyahu himself, but all Israelis who "dare" harbor the notion that sometimes Israel doesn't have to dance to America's tune.

In it, Goldberg - a key advocate of the Israel-as-an-American-vassal-state model of "pro-Israel" - begins by informing us how an unnamed but "senior" Obama administration official chose to describe the Israeli prime minister: chickens**t. 

You can almost feel Goldberg shudder with pleasure:

"Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and 'Aspergery.' (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.)" he gleefully informs us (does keeping a detailed list of the epithets hurled at one specific world leader also qualify as "Aspergery"?)

"But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a 'chickens**t.'" he continues. "I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. [That's Goldberg-talk for "let me tell you what to make of this."] From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)"

Naturally, like a vindictive little child in the playground, Goldberg then "ran this notion [i.e. that Bibi is chickens**t] by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly", and one from whom he presumably knew he would receive the "right" response to fuel his story.

Surprise surprise, he was not disappointed: "This official agreed that Netanyahu is a 'chickens**t' on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a 'coward' on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat..." 

The crux of this sophisticated and objective article comes right at the end, with Goldberg warning that as a result of the perception within the Obama administration that "Bibi is a chickens**t", "the White House will be much less interested in defending Israel from hostile resolutions at the United Nations, where Israel is regularly scapegoated. The Obama administration may be looking to make Israel pay direct costs for its settlement policies."

Such moves, he warns, could even be as extreme as a unilateral and public attempt by the US to draw the borders of a "Palestinian state" and present Israel with a fait accompli.

The "revelation" that one unnamed US official used a rude term to describe Israel's PM, and that another official responded by jumping up and down, pumping his fist and saying "yeah, yeah!" made headline news here in Israel - mostly because that kind of undiplomatic language makes for great clickbait. (As an aside, it was quite amusing to see the Hebrew media scramble to find a translation for the word "chickens**t", before unanimously settling on the somewhat liberal translation of "pahdan" - coward.)

But before we get carried away (as Mr. Goldberg would have us do), we must first ask: what are the actual implications of this story, and what is the basis for his doomsday prediction?

That there is palpable hostility between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations? Not really news, is it? And to be fair, it's hard for Jerusalem to be surprised about US officials using insulting terminology when the Defense Minister (rightly or wrongly) decides to air his views on John Kerry by labeling him "obsessive and messianic". You know what they say about people who live in glass houses...

Rather, Goldberg's somber insistence that the dreaded "crisis" in US-Israeli relations is finally upon us sounds very similar to the periodic talk of "an impending third intifada" - that is, hyperbole used either by people whose analyses of the security situation are naive, knee-jerk and hysterical; or by those with an interest in ratcheting up pressure on Israel by issuing threats in the form of "predictions."

It is into this latter camp that Goldberg firmly fits. This, of course, is the man who not-so-subtly threatened that Israel would be faced with "delegitimization on steroids" if the previous round of talks with the PA failed to pan out in accordance with Washington's wishes - by "revealing" that the threat was made by Kerry to Netanyahu. It is also the same man who orchestrated a transparent, calculated political attack on the Israeli PM, by publishing a scathing interview with President Obama while the former was still in the air on his way to Washington in March.

In essence, this latest article epitomizes the art of manufacturing news in order to create pressure on Israel, very similar to the eyebrow-raising prominence granted to announcements of new apartment buildings being built in Jerusalem, or to Jews legally purchasing homes in Arab-majority neighborhoods.

The approach of fair-minded individuals to such blatantly manufactured "news" such as this, rather than taking the bait and reacting hysterically to it (in either direction), should be to soberly deconstruct it.

Why does a man like Jeffrey Goldberg create such stories, and what is the subtext to it? What does it mean for there to be a "crisis in relations" when military and economic cooperation is still booming, and when the majority of Americans (reflected in Congress) still firmly support Israel? More fundamentally, even if there were to be a "crisis" in relations, what is Goldberg actually suggesting Israel do about it? 

Of course, as I mentioned, the motive behind such stories is to engender fear. The message here is that "America is losing patience" with naughty little Israel, and that Israel must therefore learn to toe the line better and fulfill Washington's dictates to the letter, instead of God-forbid formulating its own independent foreign policy which may sometimes conflict with that of its ally. It is part of a wider worldview held by a significant portion of assimilated American Jewry, that just as they are besotted with and have tied their very identity to the goldene medina to the extent that they cannot do without it, so the Jewish state must act similarly. Essentially, it is a projection of the exile-mentality onto the Jewish state.

In terms of why such unprofessional name-calling and personal antipathy should even be significant: again this is all part of the "what will they say?" neurosis of the Jew in exile. Relations with non-Jews should not be marked by undue hostility or servility any more than our relations with other Jews, but rather with a level head and a focus on the physical realities we are confronted with, such as shared interests and a firm grip on one's own red lines (even if the other party in the relationship doesn't really know his own). That may sound obvious (and it is), but to those riven with inferiority complexes it is asking the impossible; there is nothing more terrifying to the Goldbergs of this world than not being liked (and, incidentally, nothing more spine-tinglingly pleasurable than being accepted as "one of the guys", to the extent that "they" are willing to badmouth the leader of the Jewish state to you.)

What we are reading in his article then is essentially projection. This kind of antipathy from the non-Jewish world is the worst nightmare to someone like Goldberg, and so he naturally opts to use it as a weapon to pressure Israel into changing its policies. This is a tried-and-tested tactic of the Israeli left and of the Jewish left in the Diaspora, and as the influence of the legitimately-elected political left in Israel wanes, such illegitimate attempts to foist a concessionist agenda on Israel using means outside of the democratic process have predictably increased.

So yes, it is vindictive and petty in an almost childlike way - but Goldberg's article must be read by anyone striving to understand precisely the self-defeating neuroses a free and independent Jewish state must avoid if it is to remain as such. The Israeli government must not allow these kinds of blatantly political broadsides to influence our own legitimate, internal political discourse, which should be conducted confidently, if cautiously, and with a level-head. 

That is not to ignore the harmful impact of such personal antipathy. Of course, a professional relationship on any level is extremely difficult to maintain in the face of personal animosity between parties who are meant to be cooperating.

But if Goldberg is correct that the Obama administration is genuinely considering something as radical as throwing its most dependable ally in the Middle East under a bus because some top officials feel personally slighted, or because Bibi is not an agreeable person to work with, that is simply a reflection of how and why American foreign policy under this current administration will not, and should not, be taken seriously by anyone.





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