JERUSALEM — Newspaper columns can be reassuring or disappointing, but few are packed with as many deceptive, inaccurate or irrelevant comments as the one by Roger Cohen that appeared a week ago in the Feb. 14 issue of the International Herald Tribune.
Cohen’s absurd text was inspired by a newly published book by Peter Beinart, a fellow journalist, entitled, “The Crisis of Zionism.” It is based on the belief that contemporary Israel is a “Jewish power” and therefore must behave accordingly, i.e. be magnanimous toward the “millions of Palestinians” who not only lack citizenship, but also suffer “all the humiliations of an occupied people.”
Beinart evidently convinced Cohen that Israel, which is defined in the Herald Tribune column as “the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state,” has no reason to act like the region’s underdog constantly threatened by the neighboring Arab and/or Muslim states.
This thesis implicitly dismisses the justifiable concern in Jerusalem that the Islamic Republic of Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear arms and would use them to destroy Israel.
The fact that Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khameini, recently called for Israel to be wiped off the map evidently has not given Cohen sufficient reason to reconsider Beinart’s assessment or revise his own conclusions.
Instead, Cohen backs Beinart’s demand that Israel should “invert the treacherous victimhood trope.” He contends that Israel is militarily strong, economically successful and has the United States as “its unwavering ally.”
It is not at all clear how he can be so sure that Israel indeed does have nuclear arms. This never has been confirmed by Israel or by any authoritative international body.
No independent observers ever have visited the nuclear reactor at Dimona in the Negev desert and therefore no one in that category can attest to the site’s alleged function as a nuclear arsenal. Israel’s official position is that it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear arms to the Middle East and lets it suffice at that.
Still, Cohen insists that Israel no longer has any right or reason to project “victimhood.”
Inveighing against a pre-emptive strike by means of which Israel presumably would try to prevent Iran from inflicting a second Holocaust on the Jewish people, he writes: “The greatest danger by far to Israel is that it will squander the opportunities of power or overreach militarily [Iran] through excess of victimhood, rather than that any imaginable coalition of its enemies will deliver a crippling blow.”
Although Jewish tradition may not necessarily serve as the primary basis of Israel’s ultimate decision, it does recommend that anyone in danger of being killed should rise up and kill the potential killer first. In that sense, the Jewish state cannot ignore public threats by Iran’s leaders that it will be destroyed. This means that if necessary, Israel will act alone to prevent this genocidal notion from being fulfilled.
Cohen believes unrealistically that the dangers that Israel faced in the past no longer exist. “Such prescriptions worked for an embattled little Israel and a generation of Holocaust survivors (as if most Israelis were in the latter category between 1948 and 1967, which they absolutely were not — j.b.); they fall short today.”
The extent to which he commiserates with the Palestinians is amazing. Like Beinart, who contends that Israel puts the onus exclusively on them for the lack of headway toward peace, Cohen asserts, “Blaming Palestinians — for disunity, for grandstanding, for seeking not the 1967 lines but Israel’s disappearance — is easy enough, although increasingly an exercise in misrepresentation of the major shifts under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Here Cohen attributes profound political influence to Fayyad. In fact, the Palestinian prime minister (who may be nearing the end of his current status) is not affiliated with any of the West Bank or Gaza Strip’s political parties and confines his official activity to economic matters only.
It also is doubtful that Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister’s father, according to Beinart, views the Arabs of Palestine as “semi-barbaric,” a judgment endorsed by Cohen. Nor is he correct in ascribing such an attitude to the fact that the Netanyahus — father and son — because they are disciples of the brilliant founder of the Zionist-Revisionist movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. To the contrary, Jabotinsky advocated co-existence of Jews and Arabs in a democratic Zionist state.
The fact that Cohen berates the younger Netanyahu for calling the West Bank “Judea and Samaria” betrays ignorance of Palestine’s geography. Use of that definition does not constitute endorsement of those areas’ annexation to the post-1948 State of Israel. It is based on the biblical account in which the land of Israel (Eretz-Yisrael) consisted (and still consists) of two sectors that bore those names respectively.
It might be unfair to associate Cohen’s column to the fact that its dateline is London rather than Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but surely if he would have composed it during or immediately after a prolonged stay in modern day Israel he probably might not have been taken in by Beinart’s unjustified and unwarranted criticism.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)