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January 21, 2018 9:15 pm

Roger Cohen’s Shame

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Roger Cohen. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A distinguishing trait of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, as it was for his predecessor Anthony Lewis, is Jewish shame. Lewis frequently lamented that Israel, by settling its biblical homeland after the Six-Day War, would have dismayed his idol Louis D. Brandeis. But Cohen is his own moral exemplar.

A visit to Hebron, burial site of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs where King David reigned before relocating his throne to Jerusalem, recently stirred Cohen’s outrage (January 20). There he discovered the “corrupting” consequences of “overwhelming power” and “the biological metaphors of classic racism” among the several hundred Jews who inhabit their ancient city (none of whom he gave any indication of meeting). For Cohen, Hebron exemplifies “the terrible logic of an occupation driven in part by a fanatical settler movement abetted by the state of Israel.”

Guided by a founder of Breaking the Silence, a marginal left-wing anti-settlement advocacy group of disillusioned Israeli soldiers, Cohen’s exploration of Hebron was confined to the dilapidated former commercial center of the old city, “now a stretch of apocalyptic real estate” where “garbage accumulates” and “mingling is obliterated” — also known as the Jewish Quarter.

Except for one Israeli soldier, who is “clearly uncomfortable with his mission, enforcing segregation,” Cohen reports no contact with any of its seven hundred Jewish residents. There is no mention of the Palestinian rioting and terrorism in 1929 that murdered scores of Hebron Jews and yeshiva students, destroying the centuries-old Jewish community. Nor did he visit the ancient Jewish cemetery where many of them are buried or Beit Hadassah, once a medical clinic that served Jews and Arabs alike and now is home to a dozen Jewish families. Cohen is oblivious to the 16th-century Avraham Avinu synagogue, destroyed in 1929 and beautifully restored after the Six-Day War. Nor does he report a visit to the towering Machpelah shrine, built during the reign of King Herod to mark the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people.

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To be sure, Hebron is layered with competing Jewish and Moslem religious claims, historical memories — and retaliatory violence. Some might even trace them as far back as the biblical rivalry between Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael. In Cohen’s myopic view, however, Hebron history begins with “the occupation of the West Bank” — known to Hebron Jews as “the return to biblical Judea and Samaria” following the Six-Day War. He embraces his guide’s perception of the Jewish community as nothing more than an “offense against Palestinian independence,” with settlers “a vehicle of this strategic aim.”

What may be even more astonishing in Cohen’s narrative than his diatribe against Hebron Jews is his obliviousness to the reality of the city of Hebron. Its Palestinian sector, which no Jew may enter (Cohen is silent about his exclusion), is home to 215,000 Arabs who inhabit the thriving commercial hub of the West Bank. It features multi-story shipping malls, two universities and — as a Google photo reveals — modern commercial and residential buildings. The suffering of Hebron Arabs is nowhere in sight.

To be sure, Cohen’s diatribe against Hebron Jews is merely one piece in his mosaic of discontent with Israel. Back in December his focus was the other ancient (and current) capital of Israel. President Trump’s “rash recognition” of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which Cohen labeled an “ultimate-deal fantasy,” stirred his ire. Relying on left-wing Ha’aretz columnist Tom Segev for his condemnation of the coalescence of “strong nationalism and strong religion,” Cohen lamented Israel’s “shift from upstart to colonialist power,” exemplified by its “messianic push to settle the West Bank.” The deplorable result is “an ethno-religious Jewish state.” In Cohen’s narrative of decline, “the Israel hoped for by Ben-Gurion has lost itself, corrupted by overreach” — specifically, in the “occupied territories” (which happen to constitute the biblical homeland of the Jewish people). Israel’s government, Cohen laments, “is my shame.”

In an appropriate postscript (January 21), Cohen again rails at President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His primary source is a Tel Aviv University lecturer in Yiddish literature who claims that it “destroyed hope,” rewards “right-wing nationalists” and is “disastrous.” Like Howard Jacobson’s Finkler, Roger Cohen is an “ashamed Jew,” whose defining characteristic is criticism of the Jewish state.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel” (2009).

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  • abbushuki

    Cohen speaks for the NYT board of editors. So if you don’t like Cohen……

  • markscotto

    I stopped reading Cohen after his dishonest article ten years ago in which he interviewed Iranian Jews without mentioning that his translator was a government monitor. Naturally, all the Iranian Jews he interviewed were happy with the iranian government.

  • Keith James

    with the Likud, Israel has plenty to be ashamed of…thanks Roger!…..

  • abbushuki

    There is good reason the NYT employs him. He represents the opinions of their anti semitic editorial board. With a name like Cohen, he even provides them with a fig leaf against the charges of racism. One cannot fault a snake for biting. It’s what they do.
    Same with Cohen. Hating Israel is his forte.

  • Minny

    Why let him come into Israel? Time for border control.
    Those who hate Jews, Israel or love BDS and desire Israel’s destruction should be kept out. Simple to understand. Hopefully , one day, we will have a true right wing leader in Israel who will take control and stop pandering to terrorists and antisemites.

  • When Israel violates the underlying statements by Ben Gurion. -The Jewish people pay the price of terror and violence and the deteriorating safety and security of the citizens of Israel.
    “No Jew has the right to yield the rights of the Jewish People in Israel.
    No Jew has the authority to do so.
    No Jewish body has the authority to do so.
    Not even the entire Jewish People alive today has the right to yield any part of Israel.
    It is the right of the Jewish People over the generations, a right that under
    no conditions can be cancelled.
    Even if Jews during a specific period proclaim they are relinquishing this right, they have neither the power nor the authority to deny it to future generations.
    No concession of this type is binding or obligates the Jewish People. Our right to the country – the entire country – exists as an eternal right, and we shall not yield this historic right until its full and complete redemption is realized.”
    Ben Gurion at the 1937 Zionist Convention in Basel, Switzerland
    The Jewish people war of survival was not won when Hitler lost. It continues to this day, against enemies with far more effective tools of mass murder at their disposal. Plus we are easy to find now.
    YJ Draiman

  • Dante Benedetti

    cohen is a loathsome, disgusting, swine who can be relied upon to support or excuse antagonists of the Jews, as, for example Iran, and to condemn the Jews and Israel. he has a job as a pundit for that reason and that reason, alone. his work in not distinguished for its brilliance or erudition or its style or its wit. cohen has none of that to offer. perhaps, that is why he is so reliably tolerant of and friendly to the enemies of the Jews. (I do, however, disagree with those who say that he is a repulsive reptile. repulsive, yes. reptile, no…not really, not totally, anyway.)

  • Efram Paul

    Back during the period of the second Temple, many Kohanim were Saducees, and more than one Kohan Gadol was dragged out of the holy of holies because he was not worthy. Well, obviously this Cohen is channeling those ancestors.

  • kushintuchis

    What an a*hole Cohen is

  • zvi gross

    What a creep this Cohen is!!! Must be a real disappointment to his birth mother and father!!!

  • Alex Schlesinger

    In the animal world the birds don’t dirt in their own nest. Not even the ugliest of them would do that, like for instant, the vultures. Would be nice if we could expect from Cohen such a ” high ” standard.

  • Reb_Yaakov

    Does Mr. Cohen have a religion?

  • LtcHoward

    I do not understand why Jerold Auerbach is so kind to Roger Cohen. To put it bluntly , Cohen is an exemplar of the New York Times desire to demonize the Israeli Jews and to divide the American Jews. Any criticism which does not emphasize that Cohen is a ruthless, lying bastard is giving Cohen undo kindness.

  • jackweb

    He is part of the problem, sleeping with the enemy.