Roger Cohen on resurgent anti-Semitism—the semi-explanations

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IsraelSettlersShuhadaStreetFlicker[Flickr: Settlers taking a walk on Shuhada Street. Licensed under Creative Commons / Wikimedia Commons.]

Introduction by Patrice Greanville, Publisher. Crossposted with The Greanville Post.

[T]he New York Times Sunday Review (Aug. 3, 2014) just ran a typically smooth opinion piece by London-born columnist Roger Cohen (Why Americans See Israel the Way They Do) that is  almost equal parts illuminating and obfuscatory. Students of apologetics will easily recognize that this is the same Roger Cohen who in 2011 New York Times Op-Ed piece called “In Defense of Murdoch”.  In that piece Cohen applauded Murdoch with a straight face for his “no-holds-barred journalism”, elevating his image to that of a misunderstood populist, a thorn on the elites’ bottom, a titan who, overall, had been good for newspapers and “good for free societies and a more open world”.  Those who clearly see that Murdoch’s brand of polluted, reactionary, warmongering journalism has been and remains a cancer on genuine democracy everywhere, not to mention a valuable prop for imperialist agendas, may laugh at such misleading hyperbole, but many among the clueless or the perennially confused should take fair warning from such “for-the-record” perspicacity.  What’s more, I’m betting that Cohen himself does not believe this claptrap.

In any case, there’s no point in second guessing the author’s intent, the subjective being almost unfathomable. Wittingly or unwittingly, at the end of the day, as befits a man who has long defended the Zionist state, the article in question ends up a subtle apology for Israel in her latest hour of self-created need. I say subtle because the article, the work of a refined mind, includes some “balanced opinions” and good will expressions which only make it more credible and at times more dangerous to the main truth. After all, this is Roger Cohen, a master of liberal, centrist balance; a man who on occasion can act as a valuable voice of contrarian moderation, as when he reported from Iran a few years back —in the midst of yet another Neocon spasm of saber-rattling against Teheran—that the Mullahs did not represent an imminent threat to America (or, by implication Israel, which gained him some inevitable flogging in ungrateful Zionist quarters). Iran, noted Cohen, boasted a “vibrant if flawed” democracy. Considering the ambits in which he travels, it took courage to do that.

Below a simple, perhaps not too elegant analysis of Cohen’s pronouncements. My purpose here is simply to show how ostensibly fair and reasonable material—a Times’s specialty— can contain subtle bias and even outright falsifications. I imagine that those interested in how journalism can seamlessly morph into propaganda (and vice versa) in the more respectable precincts of corporate media will find the exercise worthwhile.

Incidentally, the criticisms are presented in bold, embedded in the flow of the text itself.—PG

Why Americans See Israel the Way They Do

AUTHOR: ROGER COHEN The New York Times Sunday Review Aug. 3, 2014

TO cross the Atlantic to America, as I did recently from London, is to move from one moral universe to its opposite in relation to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Fury over Palestinian civilian casualties has risen to a fever pitch in Europe, moving beyond anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism, often a flimsy distinction—“often a flimsy distinction”—the author questions or simply ignores rather disingenuously the fact that there are many solid  anti-Zionists whose fides cannot be doubted, including Orthodox Jews, direct descendants of Holocaust victims, like Norman Solomon, and leading intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, etc. Indeed, not everyone can or wishes to be an Oprah-pleasing courtier like Elie Wiesel). Attacks on Jews and synagogues are the work of a rabid fringe, but anger toward an Israel portrayed as indiscriminate in its brutality is widespread. (“Portrayed”? -this word injects doubt into the adjective “indiscriminate”, which, considering the history of this glaringly lopsided assault so far, is actually correct.) For a growing number of Europeans, not having a negative opinion of Israel is tantamount to not having a conscience. The deaths of hundreds of children in any war, as one editorial in The Guardian put it, is “a special kind of obscenity.”

In the United States, by contrast, support for Israel remains strong (although less so among the young, who are most exposed to the warring hashtags of social media). That support is overwhelming in political circles. Palestinian suffering remains near taboo in Congress. (Where the level of political prostitution is the highest and most revolting.) It is not only among American Jews, better organized and more outspoken than their whispering European counterparts, that the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. (Here RC regurgitates the Zion/Hollywood myth, not fact.) The Israeli saga — of courage and will echoes in American mythology, far beyond religious identification, be it Jewish or evangelical Christian. (Again more embellished but historically edited prose-leaving out the murders and violence, not to mention sheer highhanded illegality implicit in the creation of the modern state of Israel).

America tends toward a preference for unambiguous right and wrong — no European leader would pronounce the phrase “axis of evil” — and this third Gaza eruption in six years fits neatly enough into a Manichaean framework: A democratic Jewish state, hit by rockets, responds to Islamic terrorists. The obscenity, for most Americans, has a name. That name is Hamas.

James Lasdun, a Jewish author and poet who moved to the United States from England, has written that, “There is something uncannily adaptive about anti-Semitism: the way it can hide, unsuspected, in the most progressive minds.” (Via Lasdun, RC subtly insinuates that a fair number of those now hostile to Israel are really closet anti-Semites. They are just cunningly adapting to the new political climate. While this is undoubtedly true, the assertion smears everyone with the stain of doubt, including those who never were nor are antisemitic.) Certainly, European anti-Semitism has adapted. It used to be mainly of the nationalist right. It now finds expression among large Muslim communities (how could it not?). But the war has also suggested how the virulent anti-Israel sentiment now evident among the bien-pensant European left can create a climate that makes violent hatred of Jews permissible once again. (Which is in this case, and from the outset, Israel’s own doing, as she has by now utterly squandered the good will gained as a result of the Holocaust.),/p.

In Germany, of all places, there have been a series of demonstrations since the Gaza conflict broke out with refrains like “Israel: Nazi murderer” and “Jew, Jew, you cowardly pig, come out and fight alone” (it rhymes in German). Three men hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Wuppertal. Hitler’s name has been chanted, gassing of Jews invoked. Violent demonstrations have erupted in France. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Germany were moved to issue a statement saying “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews” have “no place in our societies.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, went further. What Germany had witnessed, he wrote, makes the “blood freeze in anybody’s veins.”  (This only proves that there are windbags and Israeli lobby-sensitive politicos on both sides of the Atlantic, not surprising in an age of abject kow-towing to Washington.)

Yes, it does. Germany, Israel’s closest ally apart from the United States, had been constrained since 1945. The moral shackles have loosened. Europe’s malevolent ghosts have not been entirely dispelled. The continent on which Jews went meekly to the slaughter reproaches the descendants of those who survived for absorbing the lesson that military might is inextricable from survival and that no attack must go unanswered, especially one from an organization bent on the annihilation of Israel.  (This is simply insidious. The “attacks” come from a Palestinian people reduced to the state of utter desperation and sub humanity by Israel’s constant encroachments, vilification, and brutal attacks. Noted journalist Jonathan Cook, summed up the situation well,

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that Israel was dragged into a war of necessity. Barack Obama echoed him: Israel had a right to defend itself from a barrage of rockets fired out of Gaza. Later the pretext became Israel’s need to destroy the “terror tunnels”.

The logic is deeply flawed. Israel is occupying and besieging Gaza, conferring on its inhabitants a right under international law to fight for their freedom. How does the oppressor, the lawbreaker have a right to self-defence? If Israel objects to being scratched and bruised, it should stop choking its victim. (See J. Cook, Eyeless In Gaza, Bold mine)


A strange transference sometimes seems to be at work, as if casting Israelis as murderers, shorn of any historical context (it is precisely the historical context, set forth impartially, that condemns Israeli actions; the actual history of Israel is not really taught in Israel, and is certainly not touched on the American media. The ordinary Israeli citizen carries as much disinformation about his nation’s origins in his head as the American about US foreign policy), somehow expiates the crime. In any case it is certain that for a quasi-pacifist Europe, the Palestinian victim plays well; the regional superpower, Israel, a militarized society through necessity, much less so. [This is pure hokum, as Israel did not need to become a militarized power. It chose that road by its policy of territorial aggrandizement and apartheid from the very beginning. It is not an accident that Israel is also the state with the most UN resolutions condemning its actions, near unanimous votes it has ignored thanks to the unswerving support of the United States, making the duo a pair of lawless states with contempt for the opinion of mankind, however badly expressed by a UNO that has been deformed and deviated from its original mission by Washington’s own attacks and perverted policies.]

Anger at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is also “a unifying element among disparate Islamic communities in Europe,” said Jonathan Eyal, a foreign policy analyst in London. Moroccans in the Netherlands, Pakistanis in Britain and Algerians in France find common cause in denouncing Israel. “Their anger is also a low-cost expression of frustration and alienation,” Eyal said.

Views of the war in the United States can feel similarly skewed, resistant to the whole picture, slanted through cultural inclination and political diktat. It is still hard to say that the killing of hundreds of Palestinian children represents a Jewish failure, whatever else it may be. It is not easy to convey the point that the open-air prison of Gaza [well said, Roger!] in which Hamas has thrived exists in part because Israel has shown a strong preference for the status quo, failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank, fatally tempted by the idea of keeping all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. (Indeed, a journalistic scandal of the first order.) The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. (Elegant way to call this abject bunch what they really are, cowardly whores to the Israeli lobby.) This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation. (It’s high time America’s foreign policy was informed in substance not just in rhetoric by some morality, instead pure cold-blooded “pragmatic” calculus anchored in power.)

Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”

I find myself dreaming of some island in the middle of the Atlantic where the blinding excesses on either side of the water are overcome and a fundamental truth is absorbed: that neither side is going away, that both have made grievous mistakes, and that the fate of Jewish and Palestinian children — united in their innocence — depends on placing the future above the past. That island will no doubt remain as illusory as peace. Meanwhile, on balance, I am pleased to have become a naturalized American.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 3, 2014, on page SR3 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Americans See Israel the Way They Do. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper |

Roger Cohen (born August 2, 1955) is a journalist and author. He is a columnist for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune. [1] He has worked as a foreign correspondent in fifteen different countries.[2]

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