Q&A: The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg On Rising Antisemitism In Ohio

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016.
Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015 Los Angeles Dinner on March 2, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. [Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging]
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Ohio saw a record number of antisemitic incidents in 2020, according to a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League of Cleveland. There were 43 incidents last year, compared to 25 in 2019 – a 72 percent increase.

The report comes as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum prepares to hold its annual fundraising event Tuesday for its supporters in Cleveland. This year, because of the ongoing pandemic, it will be virtual and open to all Ohioans. The museum’s guest speaker is Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine and a frequent writer on antisemitism. He spoke with ideastream’s Amy Eddings on Morning Edition.

You wrote about foreign affairs for The Atlantic for nine years before becoming editor-in-chief and you’ve written a lot about the rise of antisemitism in Europe. Can you position this latest ADL report against international and national trends?

Well, yes, in the sense that anytime there is global anxiety, economic dislocation, technological change, political disruption, antisemitism usually emerges. Add into that the Trump years, the rise of global populism – populism has never been a friendly movement to Jews. So, you have a lot of different things that create a climate in which all forms of prejudice but also the oldest form of prejudice, antisemitism, which is now probably 2,300, 2,400 years old, can flourish.

You’re speaking at a fundraising event for the U.S. Holocaust Museum. I’d like to ask you how important the Holocaust Museum is to you, to your sense of Jewish identity.

You know, it’s interesting, I was just thinking about this. The Holocaust Museum becomes more important as time goes on because unfortunately, and this is just, you know, this is just actuarial tables speaking now, the last World War II veterans, the last Holocaust survivors, are slowly but surely fading from the scene. So, it’s even more important now that those memories and those experiences be memorialized and catalogued. And especially in an age of disinformation.

Holocaust denial has always been with us, as long as, almost as long as, the Holocaust has been with us. It becomes even more important to make vigorous attempts to educate and to illuminate and enlighten when you no longer have people among you who actually went through the thing. And so, you know, I think it’s always been an important institution. But I think its actual true importance we haven’t even fully seen yet.

In your 2006 book, “Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror,” you wrote about your experience with the Israeli Army. You were in the army, guarding Palestinian rebels in a prison camp around 1989, 1990. You wrote about trying to get to know and understand some of the people you were guarding. And you said the conversations tended toward, “You’re totally wrong.” “No, you’re totally wrong.” And it makes me think of this political situation in the United States. Does it for you?

Yeah, you’re on to something. America in the last 10, 15 years, has become more like the Middle East. More tribalized, more Balkanized, different parties and groups driven by irrational fervor.

How do we back-pedal out of this?

Ha. One of the things you do is what’s going on right now, you lower the temperature. And you try to model restraint. And you hope that your political leaders will model restraint. That’s what’s interesting about the last four years, to me. You had a set of people who spoke differently about their political enemies than people who did in previous presidencies. That’s Democratic presidencies and Republican presidencies alike, that said that our political foes are our adversaries, but they are not “traitors,” they are not “enemies of the people,” they’re not whatever language you want to use.

And so, what you have to do is put genies back into bottles, but we know that that’s not the easiest thing to do. Once people see the power of language, the power of extreme language, it’s very hard to convince somebody that they should hold back. And that’s one of the unfortunate things we learned, is that you can get away with it.

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