Commentary Magazine


Not Merely Wrong, but Unprofessional

Every time you think the New York Times cannot sink any lower, you open the paper and find something else that leaves you wondering about the lack of editorial judgment at the Grey Lady.

Today’s Op-Ed page is, on the surface, clear evidence of the paper’s editorial agenda with regard to the Islamist regime in Iran. Of the three pieces on the page, two are devoted to the cause of appeasing Iran.

One is by Ali Reza Eshraghi, an Iranian “journalist” currently playing the role of “visiting scholar” at Berkeley’s School of Journalism. His article puts forward a thesis that must be considered original if unpersuasive: that Mahmoud Ahmadinjad is a true moderate and that the Obama administration must seize the opportunity to negotiate with him now lest he be replaced by someone more hard-line. One shudders to think what someone less moderate than Ahmadinejad would sound like. Would he advocate denial of the Holocaust? Threaten to wipe Israel off the map? Launch an all-out push for nuclear capability? Fund Hezbollah and Hamas? Oh right, that was Ahmadinejad–the moderate.

The idea that we should ignore all that and focus instead on a few throwaway lines about wanting to talk to Obama is comical. But it is good propaganda for Tehran and so it’s understandable that an Iranian who wants to go home after his sojourn in Berkeley would write something like that. Eshraghi makes one point worth considering:  Ahmadinejad is legitimate mouthpiece for his country’s ayatollahs. That’s something that those who dismiss Ahmadinejad’s rantings as insignificant should remember.

But far worse than that piece was the column alongside it penned by Times columnist Roger Cohen, which was a 700-word love poem to the Islamist regime. Writing from Esfahan, Iran, Cohen parades his own identity as a Jew to try and prove that all that Holocaust denial, religious oppression, and threats to annihilate Israel that we’ve been hearing about aren’t worth our concern.

Interviewing one of the Jews who have remained in Iran (most have long since fled to Israel or to Europe or North America), he asks the fellow whether “he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling.” The answer comes as no surprise. Of course, he says he doesn’t. What person living under that kind of regime would feel free to speak openly about the way Jews are treated?

Whitewashing one of the most noxious regimes on the planet isn’t easy, but Cohen is up to the task. He claims there is a “mystery” hanging over those Jews who haven’t left:

It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran.

This is probably one of the most embarrassing passages I’ve ever read in this newspaper. For a veteran journalist to assume that the kid-glove treatment he is given by authorities who wish for him to write nicely about them is representative, is the sort of thing even cub reporters don’t usually fall for. Moreover, nowhere in his paean to the lives of Reilly being lived by Iranian Jews does he wonder why there are so many fewer of them nowadays, or whether they are cowed by the massive incitement against Jews that goes on in their country.

Of course, Cohen doesn’t give a hang about Iranian Jews. His real target is the state of Israel which is rightly worried about the “annihilationist” rhetoric of a country that may soon possess nuclear weapons. His other targets are American Jews, whom he claims are misrepresenting Iran in order to promote a more aggressive policy toward Tehran because they, too, are worried that a failure to stop it from acquiring nukes will lead to genocide. To quell those fears, all Cohen can do is write nonsense about a powerless and fearful community that cannot speak for itself.

To find an analogy to Cohen’s article, one need only go back to similar interviews with Soviet Jews who were forced to play the quislings for their Communist oppressors. Or maybe, even go back a few decades earlier to see some coverage of German Jews who hoped they would be left alone if only foreigners didn’t focus so much on the beastliness of the Nazis.

Forget about the foolishness of the pro-appeasement arguments. Cohen’s slimy apologia for Iran– and his willingness to offer up himself and Iranian Jews as beards for Ahmadinejad’s regime — is beneath contempt. Roger Cohen’s views about Israel and its American friends have twisted his view of reality in Iran. But this isn’t merely wrong. With this article, we must now say that his conduct is simply unprofessional.

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