I don’t normally urge people to read institutional responses to journalistic articles, but in the case of Roger Cohen — which both Max and I have covered — I’ll make an exception. The reason? It’s a great response and I know the author, Dr. Eran Lerman — former senior Israeli intelligence officer, and the Director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee. When it comes to foreign relations, Lerman is one of the most knowledgeable Israelis alive. He rarely bothers picking a fight with a foolish column. His choosing to make an exception for Cohen’s columns speaks volumes. It means Lerman thinks Cohen’s naïve (or malicious; take your pick) arguments pose a threat that should be dealt with promptly.
To this effect, he wrote a column titled “Should Roger Cohen Have a Conversation with my Daughter?” and published it on the AJC‘s site. Below are a couple of paragraphs:
I wish I could tell [my 17 year old daughter] that Mr. Cohen, a knowledgeable man, has recently been to Iran and is now in possession of a mature understanding-which all of us here, hysterical children that we are, sorely lack-of the mullahs’ real (and relatively benign) intentions. Even better, I would have loved to let him come over for dinner and have a go at soothing her fears, which are deep and real, and shared by many in Israel, young and old alike, who are not playing strategic games; they are simply frightened. But somehow, reading his recent spate of essays, I am not sure he is up to the task. Neither am I.
[ . . .]
They don’t really hate Jews, do they? Cohen left Tehran with a positive impression about the lives of Jews under the present Iranian regime. (Luckily for the mullahs, he did not ask too many questions about Baha’is, gays, or women’s rights activists.) To write as he did about the perspectives of those among Iran’s Jews who chose to stay when the majority left is in itself a hidden problem, and apparently he was confronted on this issue by the strong community of formerly Iranian Jews now in the Los Angeles. area. But beyond that, it should have been obvious to him that, as a Jew, he was being used to promote Iran’s alleged distinction between “good” Jews (anti-Zionists) and the bad or even false Jews of the “unnatural regime occupying Palestine.” This is not a new trick. Arab states used it in the 1940s, coercing local Jews to march with anti-Zionist banners. Observing this practice, our great poet of that period, Natan Alterman, wryly commented-in rhyme that I cannot hope to reproduce-that nothing proves the absolute necessity of Jewish freedom, in a sovereign state, more than these forced displays of servility.
The article is not long and I recommend reading it in full.