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May 10, 2016 7:05 am

Roger Cohen’s Respondents

avatar by Phil Cohen

NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen. Photo: Wikipedia

NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen. Photo: Wikipedia

Any regular reader of Roger Cohen’s columns knows that when the New York Times columnist writes about Israel, two things will occur. One, he will assert his great love for the Jewish state and its right to defend itself, and two, he will proceed to bash Israel on some matter in the name of his great love.

Cohen’s column on April 18 adheres to that rule. Entitled “Bernie’s Israel Heresy,” Cohen compliments presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for “opening a critical discussion” on Israel at the level of presidential politics.

In Sanders’ campaign for the New York primary, Cohen says, “Sanders struck an important blow for honest and more open debate by raising issues seldom broached in an American presidential campaign — the Palestinian houses and schools ‘decimated’ by Israeli force in Gaza, the fact that ‘there are two sides to the issue,’ the need for a balanced American role.” Cohen bypasses Sanders’ by-now well-known exaggeration of the death toll in the last Gaza war, and fails to query why those houses and schools were hit by Israeli fire in the first place.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Cohen’s articles is not the articles themselves: it’s the people who respond to them online. Although the comments do cover a wide variety of opinion, they consistently bring out the serious Israel-bashers and even straightforward antisemites. Even more interesting is the fact that while these comments are actually vetted by the Times, a surprisingly large percentage of the anti-Israel ones make fraudulent claims or otherwise misrepresent the facts. One must naturally wonder about the precise agenda of the person doing this vetting.

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Below is a small selection of the comments on Cohen’s April 18th piece, with my own reflections in italics. (I leave grammatical and spelling errors as they are.)

  1. “No more is [US government support of Israel] more evident than the kowtowing the Republican members of Congress do whenever it comes to pleasing the Israel Government.”

The Israeli government apparently controls the Republican Party? How is this even remotely possible? Or is it possible, perhaps, that some members of the GOP simply happen to agree that Israel is an ally that requires support?

  1. “I’m a baby boomer that was proud to support Israel in its founding years, but have since learned just how despicable a society it has become.”

This democratic nation, a country that has developed a strong economy, an enviable education system, has been remarkably innovative scientifically, is the gay-friendliest nation in the Middle East, gives aid to countries in time of disaster– this country merits the label “despicable?” How can a rational being even approach this?

  1. “I grew up as a firm supporter of Israel…[It has become] harder and harder to continue this unconditional support as the descendants of Holocaust victims became perpetraders …of war crimes themselves.”

The author inverts the Holocaust card, a common ploy. The victims are now the victimizers. They [the Jews, not merely Israelis, because Holocaust survivors are not only Israelis] are now the ones committing war crimes. What might these war crimes even be?

  1. “It is simply the case that American politicians…don’t want to publicly challenge the Israel lobby in the US. Sanders does have a bit more freedom in this regard, since he is Jewish and can’t be accused of being antisemitic.”

Here is rehearsed the aging canard that the Israel Lobby, i.e., AIPAC, controls American politics. Candidates for high office live in fear of challenging Israel because the Israel Lobby’s “gonna get ‘em.” In this view, those Israelis now not only control the GOP, they control everyone.

  1. “Not all of us agree to sending billions of tax dollars of yearly aid to Israel in order to annihilate the indigenous people of Palestine.”

The indigenous people of Palestine? Arabs only? Are not Jews also indigenous to the region? As for annihilating the indigenous peoples, presumably Arabs, what in the world is this person talking about?

  1. “The mother of all terrorism in the World is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There was no ISIS, Boco Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, or even Hamas before the invention of Israel.”

All the problems in the Middle East are Israel’s fault because they came into being after Israel. Very logical; you may as well argue that the internet, the sports drink Gatorade, and Madonna were all Israel’s responsibility, because they came into existence after Israel. Even more strangely, this fellow ascribes to Israel responsibility for terrorist groups that are fiercely dedicated to extinguishing Israel.

All of this is fairly run-of-the-mill anti-Israelism and antisemitism. We’ve heard it before; alas, we’ll hear it long into the future. I surely hope that Roger Cohen himself does not welcome these comments.

But more importantly, again, is The New York Times itself.

It’s the Times that has created and maintains a system that allows this particular form of vitriol to pollute cyberspace. I completely understand the nature of free speech, and the importance of open commentary. And yet surely something has gone wrong when the once respectable “Newspaper of Record,” still one of the most highly regarded newspapers in the world, actively permits factually incorrect, hate-filled commentary to fill the pages of its writers.

Just imagine that someone were writing about matters of concern to African-Americans. It’s inconceivable that the Times would permit commentators to fill the page with straightforward racist fabrications and hate.

And yet against Jews it seems permissible.

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