Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jews in Whispers - Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen of the New York Times has written a column that I actually mostly agree with, on "Jews in a Whisper," on the contrast between the forthright acknowledgement of Jewish identity in the United States with the half-embarrassed standpoint of (some) Jews in Britain. Nonetheless, he still has one irritating paragraph that strikes me as irrelevant to his argument.

His paragraph:
The lesson is clear: Jews, with their history, cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people. They must be vociferous in their insistence that continued colonization of Palestinians in the West Bank will increase Israel’s isolation and ultimately its vulnerability.

That — not fanning Islamophobia — is the task before diaspora Jews. To speak up in Britain also means confronting the lingering, voice-lowering anti-Semitism.
Cohen seems to saying here that the way to get rid of some forms of antisemitism in western countries is to oppose the settlements, and the Israeli occupation, in the West Bank.  Does Roger really think that opposing the settlements in the West Bank is a way to get rid of antisemitism in western countries? He's ascribing a rationality to antisemitism that simply isn't there. If Israel didn't have settlements in the West Bank, I suspect antisemites would find plenty of other reasons to hate Jews.

I also oppose the settlements (most of them) as an obstacle to peace, but I don't say so with the goal of  opposing antisemitism, or for that matter opposing anti-Muslim prejudice. It's something worth doing for its own sake, rather than worrying about what antisemites think - for the sake of the future of Israel.

In my opinion, the way to oppose antisemitism is simply to speak out against it forthrightly whenever it appears in any of its forms: if it's the supposedly genteel antisemitism that he's writing about in Britain, to call it out and say it's not funny. (And how genteel is it in fact? Such genteel antisemitism existed before WWII - was it a contributing factor in the lack of sufficient welcome to Jewish refugees from Hitler, and the White Paper that cut off Jewish immigration to Palestine?). It seems to me that the anti-Zionist antisemitism that has taken up residence among some of the British intellectuals (see the UCU - University and College Union and its attempts to forward the academic boycott of Israel) needs to be opposed by forthrightly calling it what it is, and refusing to back down in the face of the pathetic attempts to deny that it's antisemitic.


  1. Dear Rebecca,

    I could not agree more with the gist of what you say. Bravo!!!

    Where I do not agree fully with you concerns your view - not an unusual one, of course, and my view is well known to you - that settling the land is an obstacle to peace. My view is that there is no peace in the offing to obstruct. Nor is one likely to be in the offing anytime soon - or, likely, even in our lifetimes.

    That is not, however, an endorsement of settlements - a project I do not support. Rather, it is a statement of a reality that I think makes the settlement issue trivial and unworthy of substantial concern - although were there really a remote possibility of peace, you would be entirely correct.

    Given the actual probabilities of peace, I think that it is important not to give any solace to the Antisemitic Israel haters. They are not half right. They are entirely wrong. And, given the, at this point, obviousness of the fact that there is no even remote possibility of a settlement, adding any hint that anything that the bigots say might have any hint of truth to it is, to me, a political/strategic mistake.

    But, overall, I do agree with you - and, were Israel not, in fact, engaged in a war of survival that concerns its presence on any territory, I might join you regarding the settlements.

    N. Friedman

  2. I think Jeffrey Goldberg said something to the effect of "we must fight the settlements as if there was no anti-Semitism, and fight anti-Semitism as if there were no settlements."

    The fronts are obviously connected, but on a second-order level: The settlements aren't really the cause of anti-Semitism, nor vice versa, but anti-Semitism does weaken the political will for removing the settlements, and the presence of the settlements saps the resources of Israel and other Jewish institutions which could be better served fighting against anti-Semitism.

  3. David,

    It is a matter of degrees and priorities. The main priority is to survive in what has always been a dangerous environment but which has become an impossibly dangerous environment.

    Consider what happens when - and it is when - Egypt either renounces the peace treaty with Israel or silently renders it a dead letter. That, quite obviously, would mean the end of any negotiations that involve Israel ceding land; after all, only a fool would fail to note that treaties, in such an event, would mean nothing if the results of the treaties amount to one side pocketing land and the other side not receiving anything in return.

    That, to me, is far more important than whether Israel builds settlements on land which, except in fantasy land, Israel will not be in a position to cede, if it ever really was.

    Moreover, this is not a great moral issue, in my view. The mixing of peoples is the norm of history and is going on all over the world, in the past and now - condemned nearly nowhere other than in Israel. So, to me, the issue here is one of respecting the basic rights of all involved - including Jews. The problem with settlements is a political one, an economic one and a diplomatic one. Those factors all make it foolish for Israel to build settlements, at least on land it will cede. On other land - e.g. land along the Green line which all involved know would, in a settlement, be part of Israel, it is an irrelevancy, the focus on which by Jews helps the Antisemites.

    N. Friedman