Earlier this month, The Atlantic announced the appointment of longtime reporter Jeffrey Goldberg as its 14th editor-in-chief. As the publication’s press release noted, Goldberg has written 11 cover stories for the magazine, and interviewed an impressive array of world leaders, including President Obama, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Britain’s David Cameron, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Across the political and media spectrum, most cheered Goldberg’s appointment. As Conor Friedersdorf, an Atlantic writer who has often differed with Goldberg politically, put it, “[he] subscribes to the core values that enable the finest work we produce.” At the same time, some criticized the choice on account of Goldberg’s prior support for the Iraq war, and his perceived interventionist bent on matters of foreign policy.
And then there was the anti-Israel hub Mondoweiss, which attacked the appointment because it whitewashed the fact that Goldberg was a Jew.
This remarkable broadside came from no less than the site’s founding editor Phil Weiss, in a post entitled “‘Atlantic’ rebrands new editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, leaving Israel, Jews, and Iraq off his resume.” At first glance, the piece appears to be a critique of Goldberg on policy grounds, which is an entirely legitimate exercise when approaching a journalist’s work, especially one as prolific, influential, and opinionated as Goldberg. But seven paragraphs in, Weiss veers into entirely more disturbing territory.
“The word Jew made no appearance in the Atlantic announcement,” he complains. He then accuses The Atlantic of cleansing Goldberg’s religious background from the announcement of his professional appointment:
Here’s the cleansed resume paragraph from Atlantic media:
As background only, here is Jeff’s story in brief: raised in New York, Jeff attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he edited the Daily Pennsylvanian. Beginning his career as a crime reporter for The Washington Post, Jeff moved through The Jerusalem Post, The Forward, New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. Jeff joined The Atlantic in 2007. Across his nearly-10 years with us, Jeff has written many of our most-successful cover stories, including this year’s “The Obama Doctrine,” and has interviewed many world leaders on our behalf including King Abdullah of Jordan, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and the former British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Apparently, Weiss is under the impression that without a giant neon sign shouting “JEW,” The Atlantic‘s new editor might be confused for one of the many Episcopalian Jeffrey Goldbergs in journalism.
But more seriously, the insistence on publicly labeling individuals with their religious background in order to darkly impugn their motives and delegitimize their standing is textbook bigotry, and the classic recourse of the anti-Semite. It is the same ugly impulse that fuels the far-right fever swamp’s attempt to slur top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin as a Muslim Brotherhood conspirator. It is exactly the sort of anti-Semitism Trump mouthpiece Breitbart News stoked when it attacked a Washington Post columnist by citing her Jewish heritage. Normal people critique their political opponents on policy grounds. Racist people critique their political opponents based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
In other words, the reason The Atlantic did not mention that Goldberg is a Jew in its announcement of his appointment is the same reason it would not mention a Muslim writer’s faith in such a context: it is not a racist publication.
Mondoweiss, on the other hand, despite serving as a popular clearinghouse for anti-Israel content, has long had a checkered past when it comes to promulgating anti-Semitism. Its attack on Goldberg is a reminder that in this season of alt-right anti-Semitism, the far-left is also culpable. Anti-Jewish bigotry has always been interspersed with the site’s anti-Zionist writing and calls to boycott the Jewish state. As George Mason University professor David Bernstein put it in the Washington Post in 2015, “whatever Mondoweiss’ value as a news aggregator, it is also a hate site.” At the time, Bernstein pointed to a Phil Weiss post titled “Forgiving the Anti-Semites,” which features this remarkable section:
I remembered a conversation I’d had recently about anti-semitism with a non Jewish friend in Jerusalem. An American Protestant of the I-hate-religion variety, he asked me to explain the Israel lobby. I said that it reflected a contract the American establishment had made with Jews to drive the economy in the 1970s. We were really good at the four horses of the global economy (finance, software, education, and media), and people thought we were smarter, and maybe we were smarter; Yuri Slezkine says we are the magicians and the priests of modernity; and in exchange for that leading role, the government would support Israel. Brian Roberts runs the world’s largest media company, Chris Matthews works for him and supports Israel.
My friend bridled at the explanation. He had worked on Wall Street; he spoke of all the insider traders who were Jewish. They weren’t any smarter, they cheated, he said. I said, OK maybe we’re not smarter, but that is how I think it worked.
Noted Bernstein, “Weiss apparently thinks that there is some Elders of Zion type group, which decided whether Jews are going to be willing to use their talents to drive the global economy, or let the world economy collapse, and they agreed to do the former because the American government agreed to support Israel.” As Bernstein concludes, “There is only one audience for this sort of tripe, and it is people who dislike Jews.”
While Mondoweiss’s anti-Semitism starts from the top, it is by no means limited to its namesake. Editor-at-large Annie Robbins has publicly denied the existence of the Jewish Temples on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a classic anti-Semitic myth debunked by historians and archaeologists, and disputed even by the Islamic Waqf that controls the site.
Unsurprisingly given its content and editorial direction, Mondoweiss’s comments section teems with anti-Semites, so much so that the site’s founders felt compelled to announce a crackdown on them in 2012. But given that the overseers are themselves guilty of fomenting such hatred, little has actually changed, as Robbins’s 2013 Temple Mount comments and Weiss’s recent output demonstrate. Infamously, after white supremacist Glenn Miller shot up a Kansas Jewish community center in 2014, Robbins herself stoked a conspiracy in the site’s comments that he was an Israeli agent, before walking it back.
All of this is to say: none of this is new, and the bigoted attack on Goldberg should not surprise. Consider this column from 1999 which attempts to creepily link Jews and Judaism to the Monica Lewinsky scandal:
No one talks about Jewish support for Mr. Clinton. For one thing because denial of the obvious is now the central mode of intellectual discourse when it comes to the Lipbiter—sorry, alleged lip biter. More important, because a discussion would require an acknowledgment of Jewish power. The Establishment is now heavily Jewish, from Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin on down. There are unprecedented numbers of Jews in the White House and in Congress, Mr. Clinton’s two appointees to the Supreme Court have both been Jewish, and, out from there, Jews are among the big winners in the economic boom and are all over the Ivy League and the statusy jobs of the information age, the news media.
The Clinton scandals teem with Jewish helpers… When asked where he had first heard the name Monica Lewinsky, Mr. Blumenthal (oh, well), said that he had tapped into the Drudge Report while “I was at my parents’ house in Chicago for my young cousin’s bar mitzvah.” Monica gave the President a Yiddish book, Oy Vey, and her former lawyer, William Ginsburg, suggested that Monica wasn’t going to cooperate with Ken Starr because he and Monica and the President were all friends of Israel. Mr. Starr’s investigators asked several questions about a Passover seder attended by Clinton adviser Harold Ickes and Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon.
This 1999 piece did not appear in some fringe neo-Nazi outlet, or in a pro-Trump alt-right forum, but in the New York Observer. Its author? Phil Weiss.