Jeffrey Goldberg to Haaretz: 'Obama Is the Most Jewish U.S. President Ever'

Obama could be placed in the spiritual and moral mainstream of American liberal Judaism, says Goldberg - and that’s why his relationship with Netanyahu is so complicated.

Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit

Jeffrey Goldberg is one of the most influential journalists in the United States. A former writer for The New Yorker, he has been on the staff of The Atlantic since 2007 and now writes a column for Bloomberg View. Goldberg, who immigrated to Israel when he was younger and even served in the Israel Defense Forces, writes extensively about American foreign policy, especially in Israel and the Middle East.

He knows President Barack Obama, whom he has interviewed several times, as well as members of his national security team. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that he is known in Washington as the leading authority on relations between the United States, its president and its Jewish community, and the Jewish state. Just before he flies out to Israel, Goldberg explains to Haaretz readers why Obama is making the trip, and what the likely ramifications of the presidential visit are.

You know President Obama well. From his perspective − why Israel and why now?

“The president is tired of the constant criticism of the fact that he didn’t visit Israel during his first term. He’s tired of hearing the claim that he doesn’t love Israel or that he is indifferent to Israel or even that he’s hostile to Israel. So when his staff discussed his travel plans for 2013, the president himself put Israel at the top of the list. [Mitt] Romney promised that his first president trip overseas would be to Israel, so Obama is keeping Romney’s election promise.”

Tell me a little about the man himself, who so many Israelis are afraid of.

“I think what many Israelis don’t understand is that Obama, from one angle of approach, is probably the most Jewish president the United States has ever had. When he ran for Congress against an ex-Black Panther candidate, he was accused of being the candidate of the Jewish community.He has been influenced by Reform rabbis and liberal Jewish lawyers and his intellectual influences include many Jews, both people he met at Harvard and in Chicago and writers he admires. In a certain way, he could be placed in the spiritual and moral mainstream of American liberal Judaism. That’s why his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu is so complicated. Like many liberal American Jews, when he looks at Netanyahu he sees a conservative Republican and he fails to understand how a Jew can be a conservative Republican. I think he looks at Netanyahu in much the same way he contemplates Eric Cantor, the Republican ‏(and Jewish‏) house majority leader. Like many liberal-leaning Jews, he might simply not understand how a Jew could be a Republican.”

U.S. President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One on March 15th, 2013. He will fly to Israel on March 20th.Credit: AP