Roger Cohen’s repetitive lacerations of Israel in The New York Times Opinion page have managed to lower the bar even further for responsible criticism of the Jewish state in the world’s most self-consciously uncomfortable Jewish-owned newspaper.
Cohen, a London-born Jew, is an Oxford graduate who joined the Times in 1990. As a self-described “Globalist,” he became senior editor for the International Herald Tribune before becoming a Times columnist in 2006. His conventionally Jewish assimilationist critique of Israel has included denunciations of Jewish settlements, a call for ending the Gaza blockade (which would open Israel’s Negev region to Hamas infiltration, rockets, and weapons stockpiling), and the accusation that Israel killed “hundreds of Palestinian children” in Operation Cast Lead, which led him to proclaim that he had “never previously felt so shamed by Israel’s actions.”
But Cohen, like so many other Jews who are ashamed when Israel builds new communities in its biblical homeland and defends itself against enemies sworn to its destruction, has recently launched a crusade. Two weeks ago, he castigated Prime Minister Netanyahu for his “Tired Iranian Lines” (October 4). Praising the Islamic Republic as “an island of stability,” Cohen conceded that it was an “authoritarian” – not “totalitarian” – state. But it was Netanyahu who has a “credibility issue,” rooted in the “distorted priorities” – protecting Israel from an Iranian nuclear attack – that he enunciated in his recent speech at the United Nations.
It was, Cohen alleged, a “diversionary strategy” that ignored “the real challenge to Israel”: its failure to achieve “a two-state peace” with the Palestinians and “the prolongation of a West Bank occupation that leaves Israel overseeing millions of disenfranchised Palestinians.” Netanyahu, Cohen advised, “should cut the bluster” against Iran and make the Times happy by embracing a Palestinian state.
Clearly enamored of what he wrote, Cohen repeated himself two weeks later (October 18). Conceding that Israel is “a miracle of innovation and development,” Cohen nonetheless remains apprehensive – and critical. There are “hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.” Palestinian “incitement against Israel” persists. Trust in a two-state solution has diminished on both sides. But peace can come, “with painful concessions.”
The concessions, of course, must come from Israel. “No democracy can be immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory under its control. . . . It is corrosive. A democracy needs borders.” But it also needs a Palestinian leadership that recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people and is prepared to relinquish its demand that descendants of refugees (4,950,000 based on UNRWA registration numbers) are entitled to a “right of return” that will obliterate Israel as a Jewish state.
Cohen seems shocked – genuinely shocked – that Jewish settlers “have the right to vote as if within Israel” while Palestinians are “disenfranchised subjects without rights.” But settlers are Israelis who live in territory west of the Jordan River where Jews were guaranteed the right of “close settlement” under international law ninety years ago, a right that has never been rescinded. And Palestinians are, of course, free to vote in their own elections; indeed, it is they who in 2005 elected Mahmoud Abbas as their president to the four-year term that has yet to expire. (Even Hamas does not recognize his legitimacy.)
But if Israel is to remain “a Jewish and democratic state,” Cohen writes, then “something has to give.” And it is, predictably, Israel that must give: its land and its security. “Netanyahu knows this,” Cohen concludes. Perhaps.
Nowhere in Cohen’s analysis can one find mention of the recent wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks as a possible deterrent to peace. In late September two Israeli soldiers were murdered. Then an Israeli nine-year-old was shot in the neck outside her home in the settlement of Psagot. The Facebook page of Fatah, the organization chaired by Palestinian Authority President Abbas, praised the child’s attacker as “the sharpshooter of Palestine” who had also killed one of the Israeli soldiers in Hebron. The terrorist “left a manly signature . . . as he tells the tale of those who love the homeland.”
But Roger Cohen’s incessant harping on Netanyahu, and blithe avoidance of Palestinian terrorism, fits comfortably into New York Times policy: All the news hostile to Israel that fits we print.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State, Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published by Quid Pro Books.