On it’s face, Richard Cohen’s most recent op-ed for the WaPo looks like a self-hating anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli screed. It’s not really, although it’s inartfully written (very), and some of the conclusions he draws aren’t necessarily correct. I thought, therefore, that I’d give the article a polite fisking to try to tease out the truth behind what he says, and the correct conclusions I think he ought to have drawn:
The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.
[A little known piece of Jewish history is that, in the 1880s, when Jews were beginning to agitate for a homeland, they weren’t necessarily focused exclusively on the Biblical homeland. There were noises about going to Uganda or buying parts of Canada. In retrospect, each of those might have been a better decision in terms of safety and stability. Ultimately, though, the Jews, opted to go back to their historical home — a home in which many Jews still lived with the latters’ ties going back to the Roman era.
[The original Zionist settlers did not steal the land. They got grants from the British and they bought the land from Arab potentates headquarted in Istanbul and in European capitals. From the beginning, though, there was a virulent strain of Arab nationalism that was hostile to the Jews, as well as the problem of the anti-Semitism that is part and parcel of Islam. In addition, the same land magnates who sold land to the early settlers were quite worried that the Democratic principles those settlers brought with them to the Holy Land would infect the normally placid, slave-like fellahin who provided the magnates’ wealth. They therefore stirred up any latent hatred in the fellahin to ensure their loyalty to their distant Arab overlords — and to make sure that, while the overlords sold the land out from under the fellahin, it would be the Jewish buyer, and not the Arab seller, who felt the peasants’ wrath.
[Considering all these factors, which were obvious from the 1880s onward, there was a certain hubris in the Jewish commitment to that particular bit of real estate. Having said that, do I believe Israel is illegitimate or a mistake? Absolutely not. I believe that the Jews bought, were given and fought for this piece of land, that it was recognized by the world at large (both the League of Nations and thed UN), and that they have a 100% right to it. I also believe that, by investing themselves in this geography for religious and historical reasons, they bought themselves a lot of predictable trouble. By the way, if you’re going to castigate Jews for their investment in Israel, it’s time to give most of the U.S. back to the Native Americans (we took it from them); the British (we won it in war); the Spanish (war again and purchase); and the French (purchase). We got our nation in precisely the same way.]
This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel’s. The underlying, subterranean hatred of the Jewish state in the Islamic world just keeps bubbling to the surface. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab countries may condemn Hezbollah, but I doubt the proverbial man in their street shares that view.
[Although inartfully phrased, I think Cohen is saying that there’s no surprise that, just as the Muslims hated Israel in the 1880s, and just as Muslim leaders used Israel as a scapegoat to steer credulous Muslim peasants from focusing too much on the leaders’ own abuses, Muslims still hate Jews and their leaders still use Israel to distract attention from their ineptitude, cruelty and corruption.]
There is no point in condemning Hezbollah. Zealots are not amenable to reason. And there’s not much point, either, in condemning Hamas. It is a fetid, anti-Semitic outfit whose organizing principle is hatred of Israel. There is, though, a point in cautioning Israel to exercise restraint — not for the sake of its enemies but for itself. Whatever happens, Israel must not use its military might to win back what it has already chosen to lose: the buffer zone in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip itself.
[Here’s where I part ways with Cohen, and where I think his introduction, although it has a certain historical accuracy, has nothing to do with his ultimate argument. He seems to be saying that Hamas and Hezbollah can’t be condemned for hate because they’re hate-filled, and that Israel should just concede that hate and give up. If Cohen is saying that, he’s basically saying this particular strain of Muslims is comprised of subhuman animals who are incapable of higher thought and emotion. They’re Orcs. If that’s the case, Israel should be destroying them entirely, rather than exercising that damned restraint that keeps being bandied about. The fact that Israel, entirely legally, chose a tough row to hoe doesn’t mean she should lie on her back and give up her belly to pure evil.]
Hard-line critics of Ariel Sharon, the now-comatose Israeli leader who initiated the pullout from Gaza, always said this would happen: Gaza would become a terrorist haven. They said that the moderate Palestinian Authority would not be able to control the militants and that Gaza would be used to fire rockets into Israel and to launch terrorist raids. This is precisely what has happened.
[And its precisely what I predicted, but I put a more positive spin on it. Gaza was already a fetid stinkhole, but Israel had no leverage with it because it was, technically, a part of Israel. By withdrawing unilaterally, Israel deliberately created a nation state, where people could elect leaders, and Israel could deal with those leaders as it would any other hostile nation. I’m sure that Sharon knew that there was a good chance that the people would elect terrorists as their leaders, but Sharon also knew that, for the first time, he’d have a legitimate enemy against which to wage warfare. Gaza is no longer a beleaguered territory; it’s a state among states that has to suffer the consequences of its actions. And as the recent muted reaction from world and Arab leaders demonstrates, Sharon was right.]
It is also true, as some critics warned, that Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon was seen by its enemies — and claimed by Hezbollah — as a defeat for the mighty Jewish state. Hezbollah took credit for this, as well it should. Its persistent attacks bled Israel. In the end, Israel got out and the United Nations promised it a secure border. The Lebanese army would see to that. (And the check is in the mail.)
[It’s true. Everytime Israel let world opinion push her around, and conceded something, she didn’t get the peace the world promised. Instead, the Arabs viewed her as weak, and circled like jackals. I don’t blame the Arabs for this. I blame Israel for acting like the kid at high school who does stupid things in a futile effort to become popular.]
All that the critics warned has come true. But worse than what is happening now would be a retaking of those territories. That would put Israel smack back to where it was, subjugating a restless, angry population and having the world look on as it committed the inevitable sins of an occupying power. The smart choice is to pull back to defensible — but hardly impervious — borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank — and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else. This will take some time, and in the meantime terrorism and rocket attacks will continue.
[Considering that Cohen has just said Israel showed weakness by pulling back, making her more of a target then ever, he sounds exceptionally stupid here urging her to pull back yet again. It is true that Israel needs to figure out her end goal. Right now, her end goal isn’t entirely clear. Of course, getting her soldiers back is a short term and immediate goal but, beyond that, what? Maybe she just wants to keep Hezbollah weak.
[I was talking to DQ a little while ago and he said he just doesn’t see the point in Israel’s current war, because you can’t defeat terrorists. They’re not a nation, they’re a hydra-headed monster. My response was that, if that’s the case, I may as well go out and buy my burka now. My thinking (and DQ agreed) is that, while we may never win this war, we can’t afford to lose it. Better an indefinite stalemate than to lose to the Islamists. That may be Israel’s thinking too. She can’t win, but she can’t afford to let the other side win. Victory for Israel may simply lie in denying victory to her enemies — and an initiative such as this one certainly throws her enemies (and ours) back for a while.]
In his forthcoming book, “The War of the World,” the admirably readable British historian Niall Ferguson devotes considerable space to the horrific history of the Jews in 19th- and 20th-century Europe. Never mind the Holocaust. In 1905 there were pogroms in 660 different places in Russia, and more than 800 Jews were killed — all this in a period of less than two weeks. This was the reality of life for many of Europe’s Jews.
Little wonder so many of them emigrated to the United States, Canada, Argentina or South Africa. Little wonder others embraced the dream of Zionism and went to Palestine, first a colony of Turkey and later of Britain. They were in effect running for their lives. Most of those who remained — 97.5 percent of Poland’s Jews, for instance — were murdered in the Holocaust.
[All true, but what’s Cohen’s point? All I’d say is that Jews have always known life is dangerous, but that shouldn’t prevent a nation from doing the right thing — which in this case, is a legal return to a historic homeland, to which they gained the right through gift, purchase, and victories in defensive wars.]
Another gifted British historian, Tony Judt, wraps up his recent book “Postwar” with an epilogue on how the sine qua non of the modern civilized state is recognition of the Holocaust. Much of the Islamic world, notably Iran under its Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stands outside that circle, refusing to make even a little space for the Jews of Europe and, later, those from the Islamic world. They see Israel not as a mistake but as a crime. Until they change their view, the longest war of the 20th century will persist deep into the 21st. It is best for Israel to hunker down.
[I agree with everything but Cohen’s last sentence. Under the circumstances, it is best for Israel to fight evil with every fibre of her being. And I think the same holds true for America, which should be at Israel’s back in this battle just as Israel has, for 60 years, been at the forefront in the latest battle of Islam’s centuries’ old war against the west.]
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, the Captain has also taken the time to examine the fallacies underlying Richard Cohen’s article. He does a good job focusing attention on all the legal hoops Israel jumped through to establish a legitimate modern claim to the land, to march in harmony with her historic relationship to that same land.