Sullivan, Goldberg, and new ferment among U.S. liberals

There is some new and very real ferment on the Palestine Question these days, in the heart of the United States’ chronically very strongly pro-Zionist “liberal” political-cultural establishment.
Witness, the the increasingly sharply expressed series of arguments between the two bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom have their blogs published by the liberal-establishment magazine The Atlantic.*
Last Thursday, Sullivan published this hard-hitting post about what he described as the “kick in the balls” that Benjamin Netanyahu and his government delivered two days earlier to Vice-President Joe Biden, then on a key fence-mending visit to Israel.
Sullivan wrote,

    Joe Biden was kicked in the balls as he came to Israel with a simultaneous “fuck you” by the Israeli government announcing new settlements – 1600 houses – in East Jerusalem.

He then explored the question of whether Netanyahu had or had not known about the construction decision before it was announced. He concluded:

    I cannot read Netanyahu’s mind. But I can observe Israel’s actions. They intend to occupy and colonize the entire West Bank for ever. They may allow some parceled enclaves for Palestinians, but they will maintain a big military presence on the Eastern border of West Bank, and they will sustain this with raw military power and force. I certainly cannot see any other rationale for their actions these past few years that makes any sense at all. Many Israeli politicians now use the term “apartheid” for this future.

He also prefaced the post with the now rightly famous “postcard” set of maps showing the growth in Jewish control over the area of pre-1948 Mandate Palestine.
(Postcard map series)
Sllivan’s fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg immediately had conniptions, expressed in this blog post, Friday.
Goldberg, who has written proudly about his service in the IDF back in the 1970s, has increasingly been emerging as one of the most persistent of Israel’s attack-dogs/ defenders within the American political discourse.
Sullivan’s use of the postcard map series seemed to arouse Goldberg’s particular ire. He wrote:

    Andrew is free to publish malicious nonsense, such as the series of map[s] he published yesterday, maps which purport to show how Jews stole Palestinian land. Andrew does not tell us the source of these maps (in a magazine with standards, the source would be identified), but they were drawn to cast Jews in the most terrible light possible.
    The first map in the series of four is most egregious. It suggests that, in 1946, nearly all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was “Palestinian.” Land designated as “Jewish” in this map constitutes maybe five percent of the total. This map is ridiculous, not only because the term “Palestinian” in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs, but because there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… The intent of this propaganda map is to suggest that an Arab country called “Palestine” existed in 1946 and was driven from existence by Jewish imperialists. Not only was there no such country as “Palestine” in 1946, there has never been a country called Palestine. Before the British conquered Jerusalem, Palestine was a sub-province of the Ottoman Empire. (And after the British left, of course, Jordan and Egypt moved in to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.)

On the first point, re attribution of the map series, Sullivan pointed out in a post he blogged yesterday that he had indeed provided a source for it, at the bottom of the original post. (Sullivan also, evidently, took great pleasure in reproducing the map series in this second post, too, to make his point even more forcefully.)
But the series of allegedly historical arguments Goldberg adduced in his conniption-post are also a fascinating example of the hasbaristas’ malicious manipulations of the historical record.
First of all, his claim that “the term ‘Palestinian’ in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs.” This is simply ill-informed and wrong. The Term ‘Palestinian’, as used by everyone involved as residents or administrators in the British Mandate for Palestine, referred to all those then resident in the area of the mandate, and subjects of the Mandatory government. As anyone who has ever done even a cursory reading of the history of the Mandate era, the Palestinian Arabs used the term just as much as the Palestinian Jews (and there were a lot more of them.)
Where on earth did Goldberg get the idea that the term ‘Palestinian’ “generally” referred to the Jews, not the Arabs? Maybe from his many readings of Israeli/Zionist history, in which, it is true, the Jewish residents of pre-1948 were often referred to as “Palestinian Jews” or– when referring to them in the all-Jewish context in which many of these histories were cast– simply as “the Palestinians.” Those histories often didn’t even really refer to the local “Palestinian Arabs” very much, at all.
We can note, too, for example, that in pre-1948 years, the Israeli newspaper now known as the “Jerusalem Post” was called the “Palestine Post”.
So what we have here from Goldberg are two remarkable feats of rhetorical legerdemain. He is trying to tell us that the area’s “Arabs” didn’t use the term ‘Palestinian’. And he is trying to tell us that the Jews of the area, a large proportion of whom were recent immigrants, had almost exclusive use of it.
The first of those rhetorical tricks is all of a piece with the whole bundle of quite unsubstantiable claims to the effect that there never was anything resembling a stable Arab population in the area of British Mandate Palestine, but that any Arabs who by chance turned up there in the early 20th century had come from elsewhere, attracted, indeed, by the many “economic opportunities” the Zionist immigration offered to them (the argument of the dreadful disinformer Joan Peters), and that there had never actually been a “Palestinian people”, at all (Golda Meir’s argument.)
And the second of those rhetorical tricks is– yet again!– an act of Zionist-colonial cultural appropriation of the boldest possible kind. Here we have the arch-Zionist Jeffrey Goldber telling us that even the name “Palestinian” that the Palestinians use to identify themselves and their own people should really (for the pre-1948 period, and perhaps also for today) be used exclusively for the country’s Jews!
But let’s move on to Goldberg’s claim that,

    there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… ”

This, too, is arrant nonsense. There was a British Mandate for Palestine, just as there was a British Mandate for Iraq, a French Mandate for Syria, etc. “Palestine” was not a name made up from nowhere”, and the name of the Mandatory administration was quite specific. The coins, postage stamps, passports and ID cards issued by the Mandatory authority all quite clearly said “Palestine”.
Anyway, I’m sure you get my drift.
Fascinating that Goldberg got so riled up by the postcard map-series, eh?
But the big story here is not Goldberg and his mouth-frothing excesses. It is Sullivan, and the degree to which this important figure in the liberal-establishment elite is now willing to take Goldberg on head-on.
In his March 13 post (yesterday), Sullivan wrote:

    I will respond merely to the criticism… First, the map was not discussed except as an historical illustrative context for the way in which the Netanyahu government is intent on aggressively expanding Israeli settlement even further in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This matters because as that famous anti-Semite [btw, irony alert there ~HC], Joe Biden, said yesterday

      “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

    … [T]here was a place called Palestine (among other things) under mostly Ottoman or British rule for a very long time before Israel came into existence. Wikipedia tells us that in 1850, for example, the population of the area comprised roughly 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. In 1920, the League of Nations reported that
    Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000.
    By the end of the British mandate, and an influx of Jewish refugees and Zionists, the proportions were roughly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Jews. Jews were concentrated in urban areas along the coast but, as the first map shows, some were indeed in the West Bank, although as a tiny minority.
    This isn’t propaganda; it’s fact.
    The maps show what has happened since – in sixty years in terms of growing sovereignty and accelerating Israeli control…

This is great. To have these matters now being openly discussed within the heart of the US political-cultural establishment is new and important.

* Some people may claim that Andrew Sullivan is not a member of the U.S. liberal establishment. It is true that he is far from being a committed, knee-jerk liberal. He writes thoughtfully and thought-provokingly on a number of different subjects and is, I gather, a fairly devoted Catholic in his belief. He is also, fwiw, an out gay. But the fact that he was previously editor of The New Republic and is now a fixture at the Atlantic qualifies him, I believe, as a leading figure in the liberal establishment.

6 thoughts on “Sullivan, Goldberg, and new ferment among U.S. liberals”

  1. The Obama administration is angry because they were ‘insulted’. Think about how sick that truly is. Obama’s ‘insult’ matters more than the sufferings of the Palestinians. This is sick stuff. But sure, if it opens eyes in the administration that they have to actually yank Israel back, then good. That would do a lot to rehabilitate Obama. But don’t hold your breath. But if he did, it would be the key to a lot of possible good and real “change”.

  2. Helena – I was a subscriber to The Atlantic for many years, and while it may once have been characterized as part of “the liberal-establishment,” it certainly is no longer.
    Mortimer Zuckerman bought the magazine in 1980 and sold it in 1999 to David Bradley, owner of the National Journal Group, and self-described as “a neocon guy.”
    Bradley moved the magazine from Boston to DC, and most of the staff quit, including many of the writers I had enjoyed.
    A few writers like James Fallows still get published, but Jeffery Goldberg and Robert Kaplan appear more often.

  3. I agree with Bob Gaines and was shocked at the characterisation of The Atlantic as part of the liberal-establishment. One time yes but boy not now and not for sometime. I dropped my long time subscription awhile ago. I’ve wonder how Fallows can stomach his so-called fellow writers. Too bad it use to be a good fairly balanced magazine

  4. The Palestinian/Israeli problem is the core of the MidEast Troubles. Without a solution here, there will be no solutions anywhere in the area. Without dwelling
    on history, I will go directly to the solution.
    First, Israel pulls back to the pre-1967 borders.
    Second, Jerusalem becomes an International City and the Israeli capital is re-acknowledged as Tel-Aviv. The Palestinians name their own capital.
    Thirdly, the City-State of Jerusalem is physically defined to form many functions :
    – The city will become host to most large-scale UN functions.
    – Jerusalem will have a local security force AND a small supervising UN security force.
    – The borders will be maintained by Israel and Palestine, either in tandem or separately.
    – There will be an International airport.
    – The area will be large enough to be physically defended and observe adjacent areas.
    – The area will control the major local highland aquifers, and oversee per capita national allocations.
    – The area will allow a transnational journey by either nationality. By passing through Jerusalem, an Israeli transits N/S, and a Palestinian travels E/W. This allows Palestine to have international borders with Jordan and Egypt, but not Syria or Lebanon, respecting current treaties and civilities.
    Jerusalem will be a service, marketing, light manufacturing,and tourism zone. The UN will demand a large service economy. Each family unit will be prorated by size, then entered into a lottery for both a plot of residential land and a plot of commercial value. The allocations will be random to negate ghettos and insularity. The residential and UN infrastructure will be internationally funded and built immediately. The residents will have startup funding of some sort. The residents of Jerusalem will have ownership, equity, involvement, and potential.
    The area will be a duty/tax free area, and the allocated ownership will be dispersed to the “right to return” Palestinians, the displaced Israeli colonists,
    and all who have lost their homes for any reason attributed to the strife. ( This could include the nomadic Bedouin.) Internal agriculture (because of crowded conditions) will also be “eminent domain-ed”, the owners compensated, and they and the land are then included in the allocation.
    There will be a local autonomous elected government, perhaps patterned after an American city’s structure, with a taxing and spending power.
    The Jerusalem area should be as small as possible, hence the agricultural exclusion. The land should be locally Israeli or Palestinian owned and occupied, as much as possible. The UN will have a large campus. Land will be allocated to public use, such as future parks, libraries, and infrastructure. A commercial sector will evolve from the segmented and populist ownerships.
    The interwoven residential and commercial ownerships will not abide terrorism; neither will the UN functionaries. The key to controlling terrorism is to remove the cause and the base. This will do both. If the Israeli/Palestinian situation was settled to both their satisfactions, then the world, in full clarity, could neuter a main talking point of both Al-Queda and Iran. This would be a huge step towards World Peace.

  5. The only way I can make any sense of “the insult” to Biden is that it must have been theater, a gesture intended to allow the Obama administration to demonstrate to dimmer wits that they aren’t capitulating to the Israeli government at every turn. Kinda like Captain Renault shutting down Rick’s for gambling, but maybe that metaphor has grown tired.

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