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Monday, May 23, 2011

Jeffrey Goldberg, the "sha, shtil!" Jew

An old joke:

Two Jews are dragged off by anti-Semites before a firing squad. The first one cries, "Stop! Stop! You're murdering an innocent man."

"Shhhhh!" hisses the second Jew. "Don't cause trouble!"


Throughout the history of the Diaspora, Jews have become almost genetically programmed to embrace the philosophy that they must meekly submit to the will of their rulers, that the worst thing to do was to call attention to themselves. Back-room politics was the preferred way to get things done, in places that Jews could exercise that prerogative. This was a very good survival tactic for a small nation that was spread out in the world.

Zionism brought with it an alternative method: defending your people from a position of pride and a knowledge that you are right.

These two methods have clashed in the past. During the Holocaust, there were many (mostly religious) Jews who tirelessly fought behind the scenes to save as many Jews as possible; there were others who fearlessly went public with their battles - much to the dismay of Jews who were raised with the idea of the Yiddish "Sha, shtil!" - "Shut up!"

The same battle occurred during the long fight to open up the Soviet Union to allowing Jews to emigrate. In that case, the loud people won. The mass rallies in Washington were noted in Moscow, and they brought the issue to the forefront in Congress and in the White House. Ultimately, the loudmouths won.

Israel finds itself still under attack by the "Sha, shtil" Jews, Jews who are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of fellow Jews acting truly independently. These Jews cannot wrap their heads around the idea of Israel proudly acting for its own best interests, or at best, acting against what they arrogantly believe are Israel's best interests from the Diaspora.

Jeffrey Goldberg's latest column shows him to be a "sha, shtil!" Jew.

Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment.
Notably, not an ounce of pride.

It wasn't the content of Netanyahu's lecture that I found so shocking -- Jews, over a few thousand years, have earned a great deal of our paranoia -- but that he chose to hector the American president, an American president who, the day before, gave Netanyahu two enormous gifts -- a denunciation of the radical Islamist terror group Hamas, and a promise to fight unilateral Palestinian efforts to seek United Nations recognition as an independent state -- in public, in the White House, in a tone that suggested he thought he was speaking to an ignoramus. Politico's Mike Allen, who writes Washington's most influential tip sheet, framed the Bibi lecture this way: "Netanyahu scolds Obama in Oval," and he goes on to quote NBC's Andrea Mitchell telling David Gregory, "I was told that even some Israeli officials, David, were uncomfortable with what they acknowledged was a lecturing tone by the prime minister. But he felt very strongly he had to say this to the world, (in) President Obama's face."
It is telling that Goldberg feels that an American president denouncing a terror group is an "enormous gift." Jews should genuflect when a president acknowledges the bleeding obvious?

Goldberg also doesn't get who Netanyahu's audience was, as alluded to by Andrea Mitchell. Netanyahu wasn't so much lecturing Obama - he actually took pains to be polite in his unscripted, un-teleprompted  speech - as much as he was using the opportunity to speak to the world. Rarely do Westerners actually get to hear the words of an Israeli leader beyond sound-bites, and here Netanyahu had an audience much larger than he ever had speaking to Wolf Blitzer. It might have been a lecture, but it was largely meant for the world.

Goldberg lists the reasons for his "sha, shtil!" discomfort:
There are a number of problems, tactical and strategic, with Netanyahu's pedantic behavior:
1) President Obama actually does understands Jewish history: he understands it well enough to know that the permanent occupation of the West Bank would be an historical anomaly;
Netanyahu did not say, or even imply, anything about a permanent occupation of the entire West Bank. This is Goldberg putting his "hawkish Likud" meme ahead of what was actually said. Netanyahu's words could have been said with very little change by Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak and still been consistent with their parties' policies.

It is also profoundly troubling that Goldberg has no feelings at all about Israel losing its holiest places because they happen to all be in what he apparently believes is Arab, Muslim land and whose Jewishness is merely an "historic anomaly."
2) Even if Obama didn't understand Jewish history, it is still off-putting for many Americans to watch their president being lectured by a foreign leader in his own house;
"Sha, shtil!" People understand, and respect, pride and the truth. Netanyahu's major point was that too much of Western Middle East policy is based on not wanting to ruffle the feathers of the Arab world and therefore avoiding saying basic truths, like the fact that Palestinian Arab "refugees" are never, ever going to "return." If Obama would have stood up and actually said that in his address, it would have been the biggest step towards real peace in recent memory.

3) The Prime Minister doesn't seem to understand what President Obama is trying to tell him: That Israel cannot maintain the occupation of the West Bank without becoming a pariah state (previous LIkud-bred prime ministers, namely Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, both understood this);
Given that this is a theme that is found ad nauseum in every liberal publication, it is absurd to think that Netanyahu doesn't understand this perspective. And, again, Goldberg is believing that "occupation" is an all-or-nothing game; he has bought the lie that somehow an independent Palestine must be along some arbitrary lines that have nothing to do with security and are themselves the real historical anomaly.  Goldberg here is engaging in the same kind of condescending rhetoric that he accuses Netanyahu of.
4) The Prime Minister desperately needs President Obama to defend Israel in the United Nations, and even more crucially, to confront Iran's nuclear program, which poses an existential threat to the Jewish state; angering him constantly doesn't seem to be an effective way to marshal the President's support;
And when, exactly, have the "sha, shtil" methods made Obama more likely to love Israel and understand her position? Whether Goldberg likes it or not, Obama has publicly moved closer to Israel's correct positions exactly because of external pressure, not from Goldberg's style of trying to privately convince him.
5) Based on the mail I've been receiving, and conversations I've been having with Jewish leaders of various ideological persuasions, there is a great worry that Netanyahu, through his behavior even more than his policies, is alienating other of Israel's friends, needlessly.
The kind of people that Goldberg is corresponding with are the kinds of people who already agree with his "sha, shtil"  mentality.

As I have pointed out previously, the supposedly moderate Mahmoud Abbas has truly insulted Obama - directly, not couched in diplomatic niceties - only a few months ago. Goldberg didn't rage against this slap in the face of his President then. Perhaps he was not even aware of the fact that the PA government officially called the US an obstacle to peace and said it cannot be an honest broker - words that make Netanyahu's look like fawning praise.

What was the penalty to Abbas for putting out this press release on his own government website? How did it affect US/Palestinian Arab relations? Where was the gnashing of teeth by Palestinian "moderates" about how Abbas crossed the line?

In short, why is Israel standing up for its principles so awful when her enemies do it routinely - and insultingly without any repercussions?

It is because Arabs never grew up with the concept of "sha, shtil!"