Roger Cohen, in the New York Times, writes a pretty good review of Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews: Belonging: 1492-1900. He describes how the Jewish people ping ponged from seemingly secure lives to persecution throughout the world.
But in the end, Cohen feels compelled to add two paragraphs to the time beyond 1900, and shows yet again how Israel is held to standards that are far beyond any other nation.
Not even Herzl, however, could have foreseen the industrialized mass murder of the Holocaust, the unspoken shadow that hovers over these pages. Nor could he have imagined the fulfillment in 1948, with the foundation of the modern state of Israel, of his dream. Nor how the Zionism he described in Basel as a “moral, humanitarian movement” would be prodded over time toward messianic nationalism by the violent, still unresolved confrontation with the Arabs of Palestine; nor how the Jewish exercise of power, rather than Jewish subjection to its cruel whim, would test the very ethics that bound Jews to their formless, faceless God during the millenniums of tribulation in the diaspora.
In the end the price of Jewish statehood has been heavy: the exile of another people, the Palestinians. More than a half-century of occupation of the West Bank has corroded Israeli democracy. This was not inevitable and is still not irreparable. No doubt, these themes will be prominent in Schama’s next volume. At a time of facile anti-Zionism spilling sometimes into outright anti-Semitism, Schama has made an eloquent and a far-reaching case for why Jews needed a small piece of earth they could call home.
Was there a hint of Jewish messianic nationalism when the Arabs of Palestine started attacking Jews in the 19th century and through the 1920s and 1930s? And is the current Israeli government really being influenced by messianic nationalism? Of course not – only the people who hate Israel to begin with make up that canard, and Cohen sucks it all up.
Moreover, Cohen has the astonishing ability not to recognize in today’s Arab “anti-Zionism” the parallel mentality as traditional European antisemitism described by Schama. Arabs didn’t care when they were under non-Arab rule of the Ottomans – but the idea of Jewish leaders is what prompted them – and still prompts them – to violence. That isn’t the Jews’ fault – it is simple antisemitism.
Cohen’s blindness cannot be accidental. He immerses himself in the anti-Israel narrative rather than actually looking at the facts and the history.
Then comes the ethical tests of Jewish exercise of power. for some reason, only Jews have such ethical issues that test their very right to exist. Does anyone say that US control over territories where people cannot vote for president corrodes American democracy? Is anyone demanding Native Americans be given, say, South Carolina so they can exercise their rights of self determination? Is how they were treated a couple of orders of magnitude worse than how Palestinians have been treated?
And that’s just the US. Every Western European country is guilty of immorality that far exceeds the worst that one can ever blame Israel for even assuming Arab lies as truth. Yet only Israel is singled out by Western, often Jewish pundits, who are so wracked with guilt over Israel’s insistence on control over some historic Jewish lands whose legal status is hardly obviously “Palestinian.”
Even that last sentence, where Cohen tries to show his support for Israel’s existence, is ambiguous. Jews needed a small piece of earth – but don’t any more?
Cohen’s moralizing on behalf of the Jewish state is condescending, misdirected, biased and mostly false. Israel doesn’t want “occupation” and has offered many times since 1967 to end it. Each time – each and every time – the answer was no. That simple, irrefutable fact is kryptonite to self-righteous jerks like Cohen who want to repent on behalf of Israel for not committing national suicide in the name of “peace.”
Cohen will not place any blame on Palestinians (except for pro-forma denunciations of suicide bombings and the like, pretending that they are not supported by the majority.)
Only Israel is expected to live up to standards of ethics that are so high, they are unethical – because they would result in the deaths and ethnic cleansing of more people than the status quo, as long as Palestinians refuse to compromise.
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