Word Choice Chronicles

11.25.13

Jeffrey Goldberg Gets J Street Wrong

Look, I’m going to say something shocking: I’m a J Street supporter.

I know, you didn’t see that coming. But I’ll also let you in on a secret: I don’t always agree with every single utterance that emerges from J Street’s offices, or from J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, or the Twitter accounts of its various employees. As, I presume, they do not always agree with me. People are funny that way.

And having gotten that out of the way: What is up with Jeffrey Goldberg?

As news of an interim U.S.-Iran deal broke on Saturday night, a J Street employee retweeted (from his personal account) a tweet from Zbigniew Brzezinski, which read: “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.”

Now. One could argue about the relative qualities of the two policy teams in question. One could argue with the premise that Congress is “finally becoming embarrassed” by anything. One could even argue as to whether or not Israel’s Prime Minister has tried to “dictate” U.S. policy, but given the multitudinous times that Benjamin Netanyahu has done things like a) stood before Congress and said point-blank that his country would reject stated U.S. foreign policy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; b) endorsed a Presidential candidate; c) sent a senior cabinet minister to lobby Congress against President Obama’s efforts with Iran; and d) said things like “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily”―I think we can all agree that he has certainly tried to shape American policy. I would go so far as to say that he probably wishes he could dictate policy (as I suspect many leaders wish they could do to other countries: “Trade sanctions? These are not the trade sanctions you’re looking for.”

Yet, does a single word make a difference? It certainly does. As a writer who has apologized for poor word choice and issued corrections, I am fully on board with the notion that one word can matter. Moreover, has Brzezinski often said things that make some supporters of Israel really mad? You betcha.

Here’s how Goldberg responded on Sunday morning:

“I continuously defend @jstreetdotorg's place inside the Jewish tent. But the behavior of its employees makes such defenses difficult.”

goldberg-tweet-openz
Jeffrey Goldberg

You see, the previous day, Goldberg had also referred to Brzezinski’s tweet, interpreting it thusly: “Jews run America, suggests ex-national security adviser.” That is: in saying that Israel’s Prime Minister tries “to dictate U.S. policy,” Brzezinski joined the ranks of the authors of the Elders of Zion. The J Street employee had failed to take note of Goldberg’s ruling, I suppose, and the two of them went back and forth for the space of two or three tweets on Saturday night. From their timelines, it’s hard to tell what came first―the retweeting or the arguing.

I would submit, however, that as much as one may or may not like Zbigniew Brzezinski or agree with his vocabulary choice, those 140 characters do not rise to “Jews run America.” And, furthermore, Brzezinski’s not the only one to have made a questionable vocabulary choice―because, with all due respect to Jeffrey Goldberg, I’m not so sure that any Jews, of any stripe, require his defense to remain inside “the Jewish tent.”

Did Goldberg, perhaps, mean “pro-Israel” tent? Maybe, but if so, that’s its own problem because a) occasionally agreeing with Zbigniew Brzezinski does not a priori make one anti-Israel; b) J Street is avowedly pro-Israel (notwithstanding the emails Goldberg says he’s getting from “J Street supporters”―a single hour at J Street’s recent conference would’ve cleared up any confusion he might now be having); and c) it would rather suggest that we’re stuck at the point at which being Jewish in America is determined by hewing to a certain political position on Israel, and that, my friends, is an eight-letter word that I cannot print in The Daily Beast but which is colloquially shortened to “bs.”

In the meantime, Goldberg’s anti-J Street smear has led to ongoing exchanges between him and various people (not least  Jeremy Ben-Ami, who also tweeted to former Open Zion editor Ali Gharib: “Our @jstreetdotorg staff is the greatest! That plus @jstreetu gives me hope for future re Israel, US Jewish community”) all about the Iran deal, Brzezinski, and Goldberg’s conclusion from the aforementioned unpleasant emails that “@jstreetdotorg has quite a few supporters who despise Israel.”

That may be―but surely anyone who writes for a living in the twenty-first century knows that judging an entire organization that comprises some 180,000 people (oh, and hey! A 650-strong Rabbinic Cabinet!) on the basis of emails landing in one’s inbox is, at best, a dicey business.

It’s not for nothing that Vice President/Possible Presidential Hopeful Joe Biden chose to be the keynote speaker at J Street’s conference, and that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin recently identified J Street’s “stated purpose” as “the foreign policy of the United States of America.” Unless, I don’t know, they’re Jewish conspiracy theorists, too.

But finally: even if some Jewish “J Street supporters” do, objectively, “despise Israel”―they still get to be Jews. They are still in our tent, whether we want them to be or not, because one’s Judaism is not determined by one’s political positions.

I, for instance, have no great love for either the anti-Zionist Haredi movement Neturei Karta, or the Jews who have called me a Nazi and/or Hamas apologist because I support a two-state peace (one or two of them pretty prominent representatives of the American Jewish community).

Yet―guess what? They all still get to be Jews. Funny, that.