For a long time now I’ve refrained from fisking New York Times’ articles and opinion pieces about Israel because they are either so anti-Israel, or so ignorant as to be irrelevant and even self-defeating in that they just provoke the opposite reaction to that which they intended in the average Israeli; and in any event no fisking by a minor blogger like myself will make the slightest dent in their smug self-importance.
However today’s op-ed by Roger Cohen irritated me because of the extreme ignorance he displays about a subject in which he ought to be expert. In his doom-laden Jeremiad, Roger Cohen, like so many left-liberal American Jews, seeks to save Israel from its wicked self as he wonders “What will Israel become?“.
He starts off by mentioning the political unease currently reigning in Israel, a not inaccurate description though he perhaps overdoes it as he mentions that:
Israelis are questioning their nation and its future with a particular insistence.
Cohen then interviews the Left’s favourite novelist, the extreme leftist Amos Oz whose views are entirely predictable. Oz bewails the fact that there is no “Two State Solution” while ignoring the fact that such a solution would likely spell the end of Israel. Without any basis in fact he asserts that the choices are stark: a Two State Solution or a Messianic dictatorship in Israel, without any third way. He brings no proof for such an outlandish prediction:
The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship, probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and suppressing its Jewish opponents.”
Oz’s unsubstantiated prediction is likely based on his absolute aversion to anything that is even tenuously linked to the Right, as Ben-Dror Yemini wrote back in May:
Oz has eyes and he refuses to see. He has ears and he finds it difficult to hear.
It doesn’t matter what the Palestinians do. Amos Oz will always condemn the Israelis.
Returning to the NYT article, Roger Cohen brings up the diplomatic onslaught on Israel via the European Union and the UN in their symbolic recognition of a Palestinian state, as well as the latest terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and mentioning the unfinished business of Hamas in Gaza in order to prove Netanyahu’s fading popularity. He then quotes another famous Israeli Leftist, if not as extreme as Amos Oz:
“We wake up every morning to some new threat he has found,” said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist. “We have grown tired of it.”
It sounds as if Avineri doesn’t believe the threats that are facing Israel actually exist; that they are just a figment of Netanyahu’s imagination.
But never fear! A saviour is at hand!
This fatigue will, however, translate into change only if a challenger looks viable. Until recently nobody has. But in the space of a few weeks something has shifted. The leader of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, has been ushered from unelectable nerd to plausible patriot. Polls show him neck and neck with the incumbent. Through an alliance forged this month with Tzipi Livni, the recently dismissed justice minister and longtime negotiator with the Palestinians, the Labor leader created a sense of possibility for the center left. A post-Bibi Israel no longer seems a fantasy.
“This cannot go on,” Herzog, a mild-mannered man working on manifesting his inner steel, told me. “There is a deep inherent worry as to the future and well-being of our country. Netanyahu has been leading us to a dead end, to an abyss.” Summing up his convictions, Herzog declared, “We are the Zionist camp. They are the extreme camp.”
This is pure electioneering of course. The Likud and right-wing camp claim the exact same thing about the other side. Cohen then waxes eloquent about the Zionist credentials of Labour’s Yitzchak Herzog and the opportunist Tzippi Livni while ignoring the equally renowned Zionist legacy of Binyamin Netanyahu’s father Ben-Zion Netanyahu even as he admits that both parties stand for similar democratic principles.
Here we get to the nub of the election. A battle has been engaged for Israel’s soul. The country’s founding charter of 1948 declared that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” This is the embodiment of the Zionism of Herzog and Livni. They are both descendants of important figures in Israel’s creation — Chaim Herzog, a former president of Labor sympathies, and Eitan Livni, a former commander of the rightist Irgun militia. For all their differences Labor and Likud, left and right, did not differ on the essential democratic freedoms for all its citizens, Jew and Arab, that Israel should seek to uphold. The new Herzog-Livni alliance looks like an eloquent reaffirmation of that idea.
Cohen obviously cannot ignore the “Jewish State bill” but uses some really ugly language when writing about it:
This virulent, Jews-first thinking led recently to a bill known as the nationality law that would rescind Arabic’s status as an official language — and proved a catalyst to the breakup of Netanyahu’s government.
Cohen thus displays his bias as he does not explain why “Jews-first thinking” is virulent in a Jewish country. Does America not put American citizens first? Or the British for British citizens? Why should Israel be expected to be different and why is it illegitimate for it to seek preference for its own nationals?
Danny Danon, a former deputy defense minister who is challenging Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, told me his long-term vision for the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria as he calls it, “is to have sovereignty over the majority of the land with the minimum amount of Palestinians.” The two-state idea, Danon said, “is finished, and most Israelis understand that.”
But Danon’s assertions aside, Cohen gives them short shrift and harks back to his old security blanket, the disastrous Two State Solution. He seems to think that such a solution is written int Israel’s founding documents wohen nothing could be further from the truth:
In fact the two-state idea is alive but ever more tenuous. It is compatible with an Israel true to its founding principles. It is incompatible with an Israel bent on Jewish supremacy and annexation of all or most of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
I wish Israel were as “bent on annexation” as Cohen fears. The fact is that if Israel’s leaders were that way inclined, Judea and Samaria would have been annexed and declared an inseparable part of Israel long ago, maybe as far back as 1967.
Beyond this baseless assertion, to call Israel’s security needs, or even its national requirements “Jewish supremacy” speaks to the worst antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories that one can find in the international media.
It can be resurrected, because there is no plausible alternative,
But of course there is a plausible alternative, possibly even several. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett has come up with an entire plausible suggestion,- annexing Area C and giving the Palestinians autonomy – and the only reason it hasn’t worked is because no one has tried it yet.
despite the fact that almost a half-century of dominion over another people has produced ever greater damage, distrust and division. It can be buried only at the expense of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, for no democracy can indefinitely control the lives of millions of disenfranchised people — and that is what many Palestinians are.
Again, Bennett proposes giving Palestinians the vote. In any case, as he says, the Palestinians are not disenfranchised, and if they are, it is only by their own leadership. The Palestinians are presently citizens of their own region and should be able to vote in their own elections. The fact that Mahmoud Abbas is in year 10 of a 4 year term is no fault of Israel’s.
Cohen mysteriously now moves to Gaza, which has no bearing on the Israeli elections and seems unconnected to the first part of his article. In this section he allows his emotions to run riot. He pens a paean of praise and sympathy for the poor residents of Gaza – but I note that he spares not one iota, not one letter, for the poor citizens of Israel’s south who have lived under constant Hamas bombardment for years and whose children are at least as traumatized by the rocket-fire and the constant need to run for shelter.
A child of 9 in Gaza has memories of three wars in six years. The child may stand in the remains of the Shejaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, gazing at tangles of iron rods, mountains of stone, jagged outcrops of masonry, and air thick with dust. The child may wonder what force it is that wrought such destruction, so repetitively, and why. It is safe to say that the adult this Palestinian child will one day become does not bode well for Israel. The child has no need for indoctrination in hatred.
I was there the other day, in the rubble. Children stood around. I chatted with the Harara family, whose houses were flattened during the 50-day war with Israel that began this summer. Every day Mustafa Harara, 47, comes to gaze at the cratered vestige of his house. He asks where else he should go. It took him 26 years to build. It took five minutes for Israel to demolish it. The reason is unclear. He is no Hamas militant. His electricity business, located in the same area, was also destroyed.
Note that Cohen does not mention the cause of the war in the summer – the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, and then the massive rocket onslaught onto Israel. There is similarly not one mention of Hamas rocket launches from civilian areas which were the probable cause of this house being destroyed. These rocket launches, each one a war crime, were all thoroughly documented by the IDF and submitted to the UN.
The Egyptian border is closed. Movement through the Israeli border amounts to a minimal trickle.
Cohen is outright lying. Movement of people through the border is in no way a trickle – and if it were, why should enemy civilians be allowed to move in and out of their target’s country? As for movement of goods through the Israeli border, hundreds of trucks and thousands of tons of food and aid move weekly through the border. Here is COGAT‘s report from 14th December 2014:
A total of 1320 people crossed through the
372 trucks carrying 11,287 tons of goods
This is besides the electricity and water that Israel provides – for free! – to Gaza. And not even a word of thanks let alone payment.
Israeli surveillance balloons hover in airspace controlled by Israel. The 140-square-mile area is little better than an open-air prison. As incubators for violent extremism go, it is hard to imagine a more effective setting than Gaza.
What a disgusting, bigoted and ignorant assertion! I’m sure the benighted people of Peshawar in Pakistan, or Sinjar in Iraq or the ISIS -ruled territories in the Middle East would love to live in a “prison” like that, where water, electricity, food and arms are all provided for free. So they cannot leave as they wish? They should address their jailors- Hamas, not Israel. They should also turn their eyes towards Egypt who also has a border with Gaza.
Cohen continues with a portrait of the Gazans misery under Hamas and their dislike of Abbas. If he is capable of accurately depicting this reality, why does he feel the need to cast Israel in such a negative and even slanderous light?
Cohen then interviews Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar which is a welcome change in that the reader gets to see the raw hatred of the Hamas leadership:
FROM his home I went to see a hard-line Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar. He lambasted Abbas — “he is living on stories” — and told me to forget about a two-state compromise at or near the 1967 lines. “Israel will be eliminated because it is a foreign body that does not belong to our area, or history or religion,” he said. Referring to Israeli Jews, he continued, “Why should they come from Ethiopia, or Poland, or America? There are six million in Palestine, O.K., take them. America is very wide. You can make a new district for the Jews.”
Zahar, with his hatred, is almost 70. Abbas will be 80 in March. Many Palestinians in their 20s and 30s whom I spoke to in Gaza are sick of sterile threats, incompetence and the cycle of war.
Cohen now returns to his old buddy Amos Oz, who draws the completely wrong conclusions about the conflict.
“There is no such thing as a happy compromise,” Amos Oz told me. “Israelis and Palestinians cannot become one happy family because they are not one, not happy and not family either. They are two unhappy families who must divide a small house into even smaller apartments.” The first step, he said, is to “sign peace with clenched teeth, and after signing the contract, start working slowly on a gradual emotional de-escalation on both sides.”
Where does Oz get the idea that Israel has a partner with whom to sign a peace treaty, teeth clenched or not? There has been no sign of peace from the Palestinians, whether from Mahmoud Abbas or Mahmoud Zahar or anyone else in between. How can one make peace with a party determined to destroy you?
Cohen now returns to saving Israel’s soul once again:
Israel is a remarkable and vibrant democratic society that is facing an impasse. It must decide whether to tough it out on a nationalist road that must lead eventually to annexation of at least wide areas of the West Bank, or whether to return to the ideals of the Zionists who accepted the 1947 United Nations partition of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab (the Arabs did not accept the division and embarked on the first of several losing wars aimed at destroying Israel).
Cohen misses the point here. True, the Zionists accepted partition, but the Arabs rejected it and thus changed the rules of the game. Nearly 70 years have gone by and facts on the ground have changed irreversibly. The Arabs cannot now expect to turn the clock back and get a redo on their original rejection.
Actually the Arabs do want a redo. They want the same vote, the same rejection, and they want another go at destroying Israel, this time with different results. This is what Einstein called “a definition of insanity”. The world would be insane to allow it, but it seems that the clock might yet be turned back, at least at the UN.
And finally, the doom and gloom moment of the elections reappears:
This election constitutes a pivotal moment. Herzog told me, “We are not willing to accept that mothers and fathers on the other side don’t want peace. They also want it, and I understand that they have a lack of hope just like here.” He smiled, as a thought occurred to him. “You know, I would be very happy to visit my mother’s birthplace in Egypt as prime minister.”
The Left’s problem is that they live in a delusion. They think that the other side thinks as we do, as liberal Western people do, when the facts are clear for all to see: the Palestinian Arabs want the destruction of Israel and are quite blatant about this fact.
The Left think the conflict is solvable and it is Israel’s fault for it not having been solved until now. If only we had given up land and … oops! we gave up land and all we got in exchange was more wars, death and destruction.
The Left also believes it is up to Israel and Israel alone to solve it. How? Again, by giving up land, territory that is either vital for our security or part of our national heritage.
They ignore every sign and every instance of the failure of these methods.
As I mentioned above, Einstein famously defined “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results“. Roger Cohen should take note.