Friday, June 12, 2009

Roger Cohen

I've enjoyed Roger Cohen's recent columns recently largely because of his blunt talk regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Via Dana Goldstein, this is a relatively fair account of Cohen by someone who doesn't agree with his stance on the conflict. But it ends in a disappointing manner:

It would seem from his writings and conversation that he believes that when it comes to the Mideast conflict, it is Israeli hearts that have hardened and that the government in Jerusalem is trying to ignore terrible things. He is welcome to his beliefs, of course, but Roger Cohen should be wary of conflating one tragedy with another.

Call it lack of balance or fairness, but to cite only one party to blame for the Israeli-Arab conflict is to deny history and reality, and to weaken one’s credibility beyond logic or truth.

Reading Cohen lately — the anger, blame and one-sidedness of his argument — one wonders whose heart, indeed, has grown brutal.

It's very annoying that someone is open to criticism if they write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without apportioning blame fairly and evenly between both sides in every column. There exists a legion of prominent pundits in the American media and blogosphere who pen columns excoriating the Palestinians and praising Israel for their heroism in restraint (when they're not busy calling for less restraint when bombing Gaza) and in those columns you will not find a single example of anything Israel has done wrong in its entire existence (except perhaps operating with more restraint than necessary when bombing Gaza.) But if Cohen writes a column whose aim is to-fairly, if sternly-point out Israel's own hard-headedness, ignorance and yes, brutality, in dealing with the Palestinians, then it is Cohen whose heart has "grown brutal." Such a viewpoint is only further evidence of the victimology that either creeps into or is completely plain in the writings of Isreal hawks. Without a doubt the Israelis, descendants of the six million Jews murdered in Nazi Germany and surrounded by millions of people who'd rather they not even exist, are entitled to a measure of paranoia and defensiveness about the world. But it's foolishness to deny that Israel is the dominant power in the Middle East, and that in response to a truly existential threat it is capable of killing millions with its nuclear weapons. And its plain foolishness to deny that while many Israelis live in comfort, Palestinians in Gaza live in one of the most wretched corners of the Earth, largely because Israel has deliberately placed a stranglehold on Gaza (a stranglehold Israel hawks don't deny but rather justify.) It's really not that strange to say that a country can be operating both in its legitimate self-defense, and with unnecessary harshness and brutality. Cohen's argument is one-sided because he feels it is his purpose to attempt to get Israelis to face these facts, rather than offer wishy-washy columns that start with a recitation of everything the Palestinians have done wrong. He's not trying to be fair, and he shouldn't.

UPDATE Via Glenn Greenwald, here's an example of the typically hawkish puditry on Israel from the American right:

Last week, Charles Krauthammer accused President Obama of treating every country in the world so well -- except for one, the one for which Krauthammer bears great love and affection and with which he was taught from childhood to identify:

President Obama repeatedly insists that American foreign policy be conducted with modesty and humility. Above all, there will be no more "dictating" to other countries. . . . An admirable sentiment. It applies to everyone -- Iran, Russia, Cuba, Syria, even Venezuela. Except Israel. Israel is ordered to freeze all settlement activity.

The U.S. transfers tens of billions of dollars to Israel -- more than any other country in the world. We demand that no country in the Middle East have nuclear weapons -- except Israel. We fuel Israel's wars with weapons transfers, ensure it is the most militarily powerful country in its region, and loyally protect it from U.N. sanctions using our veto power. It's virtually impossible to imagine one country that is more favorably treated by another than the various forms of largesse Israel receives from the U.S. But no matter. In Krauthammer's eyes, the opposite is true: the U.S. treats every country fairly except Israel. That's the country that, to him, is singled out for unfavorable treatment by the U.S. Israel is the victim of unfair treatment at the hands of Obama.

But Cohen is being unfair if he writes, as he did in this column in December:

I am fiercely attached to Israel’s security. Everything depends, however, on how that security is viewed. Israel can continue humiliating the Palestinians, flaunting its power with a bully’s braggadocio. It will survive that way — and be desperately corroded from within. Neither domination nor demography favors Israel over time.

I think it would behoove the editors of the Jewish Week, and Israel hawks everywhere, to consider who has done more damage to the Israeli cause. Is it pundits like Cohen, with his acknowledgment of nuance but also his stern admonitions that Israel must change its ways or be doomed? Or is it Krauthammer, with his wildly hyperbolic statements that are demonstrably untrue, and his bland assurances that the only solution to the conflict is ever more violence?


Nat-Wu said...

Good point. Even if he is being one-sided, it's not nearly equal to the pile of columns that are one-sided in favor of Israel. Stories that are even-handed in pointing out the flaws of both nations are foolish when one nation has the power to decide the existence of another.

adam said...

Yeah, I mean, pundits openly critize George Mitchell and President Obama too for being "too fair." WTF?