Roger Cohen calls for Israeli self-scrutiny in his New York Times op-ed today, bemoaning the “moral dilemma of the modern Israeli condition.” It’s tough, he says, because the “terrorists” in Gaza forced them to take action and now Israel has the blood of 500 children on its hands.
Although Cohen calls for Israelis to take a hard look at their own share in this summer’s massacre, he makes no attempt to scrutinize Israeli spin—the claims that Israel was acting in self-defense, that Hamas is “bent on the destruction of Israel” and that “Palestinians have made a profession of failure.” He takes all these self-serving catchphrases as established facts.
It seems that Cohen’s call for self-scrutiny has not inspired him to review the evidence that refutes each of these claims. He has apparently never read Larry Derfner’s analysis of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked the war this summer, nor research showing that Israel is a serial breaker of ceasefires, nor anything about Hamas’ willingness to accept the 1967 borders, nor any of the numerous reports (see here and here) showing that Israel deliberately undermines Palestinian efforts to develop their economy and hang onto their resources.
Cohen is explicit in naming the sins of Israel’s enemies, but he is vague when it comes to stating just where Israel has gone wrong. He manages to say that the problem is “the denial of…humanity to the stranger,” adding, “When that goes so does essential self-interrogation.”
But even here Cohen can’t say that this is an Israeli problem. Instead, he states that this denial is “the terrible thing about the Holy Land today.” Is he implying that this is a problem for both sides? This is never made clear.
And who is “the stranger”? In Cohen’s view, it is the indigenous Palestinian, the steward of the land over many centuries, who is now a stranger in the Holy Land. “Palestinians have joined the ‘community of expulsion,’” he writes, a term that once defined the Jews, and so Jews must obey the biblical admonition to “treat the stranger as yourself for ‘you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”
This raises a question for knowledgeable readers. Is Cohen acknowledging the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948, when Jewish forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians and sent them into exile to make way for the State of Israel? He gives us no clue, avoiding details and staying within safer boundaries—the abstract concept of a “community of expulsion.”
Cohen claims that the failure to see the humanity of the other has come about “as mingling has died” and “separation has bred denial and contempt.” The lack of a causative agent is telling here. It is Israel that has built the separation barrier, created distinct legal systems for Jews and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, adopted laws enforcing separation and cut off Gaza by land and sea, but Cohen can’t bring himself to address these facts. He prefers a vague statement bemoaning a state of affairs without apparent cause.
The result of all this is a tortured expression of denial, self-justification, regret and handwringing in place of actual self-scrutiny. Cohen buys into Israel’s self-serving claims and excuses, but the deaths of 500 children are impossible to deny. The knowledge of this remains in his sight, but, he says, he still believes in Israel through it all.