In case you thought all silliness from the Western commentariat had been concentrated in the past few days on the Mumbai massacres, Roger Cohen goes out of his way to prove you wrong. He’s written a silly column on an imaginary message that outgoing Israeli Prime minister, Ehud Olmert, should (in Cohen’s world, at least) send incoming U.S. President Barack Obama. That message is:
The United States has been wrong to write Israel a blank check every year; wrong to turn a blind eye to the settlements in the West Bank; wrong not to be more explicit about the need to divide Jerusalem; wrong to equip us with weaponry so sophisticated we now believe military might is the answer to all our problems; and wrong in not helping us reach out to Syria. Your prospective secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said during the campaign that “The United States stands with Israel, now and forever.” Well, that’s not good enough. You need to stand against us sometimes so we can avoid the curse of eternal militarism.
What Cohen wants from the new administration is obvious– more pressure on Israel. He defends this demand by presenting his pro-Israel credentials (or at least what he considers to be pro-Israel credentials):
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.
There is little evidence that Israel is being “desperately corroded from within.” By all standards, Israeli civil society is doing very well–vibrant, pugnacious, self-critical, pluralistic. The only moral corrosion one can attest to is that of Roger Cohen and his colleagues, who confuse a resilient will to survive with militarism. Any doubt? Cohen quotes Olmert:
“We could contend with any of our enemies or against all our enemies combined and win,” Olmert said. “The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we’d have to pay a painful price. And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? ‘Let’s talk’.”
The truly shocking aspect of this article is not that Cohen has Israeli security at heart and thinks that it can best be achieved by pressuring Israel into more concessions. The thing is that, like Olmert, Cohen apparently believes that because Israel will inevitably win all wars, its national security is actually not at stake. But the question Olmert should have asked–the question one should always ask–is ‘”What if Israel were to lose? Even just once?” Once the answer to that question is formulated in detail, one begins to realize that Israel is not such a bully, that militarism is not its most distinctive trait, and that the risks Cohen would want Israel to take are not things a friend should ask of a friend. They are terms of surrender–the one thing Israel has never agreed to do and that people like Cohen continue to fault it for.