For the particularly cynical, monomaniacal critics of Israel and global Jewry, there are myriad ways to hijack the humble, introspective liturgy of the High Holidays to produce a sanctimonious ego-boosting tirade in order to make your column deadline with enough time left over to pat yourself on the back afterwards. If you’re Roger Cohen of the New York Times, there’s the added challenge of making sure to also mangle your history and dishonor the victims of genocide so your readers will get the column they’ve come to expect from you. And readers, Cohen’s post-High Holidays column does not disappoint.
Cohen begins by explaining that as he sat in a Reform shul in London over the High Holidays, he couldn’t help but notice that the rabbis were not using the pulpit to bash Israel. No matter–he has a pulpit in the New York Times, so he could do it himself. On the topic of Palestinian children killed in Hamas’s recent war with Israel in Gaza, Cohen offers this:
However framed, the death of a single child to an Israeli bullet seems to betoken some failure in the longed-for Jewish state, to say nothing of several hundred. The slaughter elsewhere in the Middle East cannot be an alibi for Jews to avoid this self-scrutiny.
One straw man up, one straw man disposed of. And in particularly accusatory fashion as well: as if Israeli self-scrutiny needs Cohen’s prodding, and as if any defense of its actions is properly labeled an “alibi,” thereby affirming the criminal nature of Israeli self-defense. Cohen then swings again:
Throughout the Diaspora, the millennia of being strangers in strange lands, Jews’ restless search in the scriptures for the ethics contained in sacred words formed a transmission belt of Judaism. For as long as the shared humanity of the other is perceived and felt, such questioning is unavoidable. The terrible thing about the Holy Land today is the denial of this humanity to the stranger. When that goes, so does essential self-interrogation. As mingling has died, separation has bred denial and contempt.
This is a classic tactic of the left: whatever the Palestinians are obviously guilty of–in this case, dehumanizing the Jews–the Jews too must be guilty of, because otherwise there would be no moral or intellectual basis for Cohen’s worldview, which assumes Israel’s guilt.
And it’s especially rich of Cohen to throw the “separation” in Israel’s face. In fact, Israeli policy is, as we saw this past week, to encourage Jews and Arabs to live side by side in shared peace and prosperity. The view of the left, the Obama administration, and the editorial board of the newspaper that employs Roger Cohen is that ethnic segregation–and in some places, like Givat Hamatos, racial segregation–must be enforced. Cohen’s segregationist employers might be a better target for his ire, though that would require a level of intellectual honesty Cohen is not prepared to demonstrate.
Cohen then goes on to speculate that perhaps the rabbis did want to use the pulpit to denigrate Israel but were afraid to incur the wrath of the Jews who keep such rabbis “muzzled,” in the words of a colleague of Cohen quoted in the column.
But then Cohen finally gets to the point. After referencing a passage from Stefan Zweig that refers to the Jews as the one and only “community of expulsion,” Cohen updates it to make clear the Jews are now the oppressors, the ones who expel:
Two phrases leapt out: “community of expulsion,” and “driven out of lands but without a land to go to.” The second embodied the necessity of the Jewish state of Israel. But it was inconceivable, at least to me, without awareness of the first. Palestinians have joined the ever-recurring “community of expulsion.” The words of Leviticus are worth repeating for any Jew in or concerned by Israel today: Treat the stranger as yourself, for “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
What Cohen is saying here, implicitly, is that the Palestinian narrative of the “nakba” is correct. But with an especially offensive twist: that the Jews expelled the Palestinians in much the same way the Jews themselves have been expelled from countries for thousands of years.
It should go without saying, but apparently it does not, that for Cohen to sit in a synagogue in Europe and decide that the Palestinians are the victims of what Europe did to the Jews is not run-of-the-mill historical ignorance: it’s malicious falsehood and it’s repulsive. But it’s also nonsensical to equate the pre-Israel Jews “without a land to go to” with the Palestinians in Gaza (or the West Bank, for that matter). In fact, the Palestinians are sitting on land that they govern, and for which Israel has offered recognition of Palestinian statehood and practically begged them to accept it.
The Palestinians are not a people without a land, and they don’t have to be a people without a state. But the Palestinians would have to accept their statehood and all the responsibilities that come along with it. They’ve thus far chosen not to, and no amount of slandering of the Jewish people on the High Holidays is going to change that.