I’m at a loss to understand a whole constellation of things here. Why Richard Cohen would write this column the way he did, what his email box must be like, how much he’ll regret writing it, etc etc.
The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.
Me: Now, I’m actually more open to the argument that Israel’s founding was a “mistake” than some of my angry emailing readers may suspect. I don’t think it was a mistake mind you (depending, of course, on what you mean by a mistake). And while it may a form of heresy in some circles to suggest Israel’s founding was an error, it’s not my gig to go after Jewish or Zionist heretics.
But the point is Cohen makes no argument here. He simply asserts that Israel’s existence is a “mistake,” leaving that open to a very wide number of interpretations. Mistakes, after all, often imply the need for “correction.” Hamas, Hezbollah et al. believe they are in the correction business. Indeed, what is particularly offensive is that he seems to understand that the word “mistake” means “wrong” in this context. There are, of course, “happy mistakes.” But it’s impossible to conclude he has any such thing in mind. He writes toward the end:
Another gifted British historian, Tony Judt, wraps up his recent book “Postwar” with an epilogue on how the sine qua non of the modern civilized state is recognition of the Holocaust. Much of the Islamic world, notably Iran under its Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stands outside that circle, refusing to make even a little space for the Jews of Europe and, later, those from the Islamic world. They see Israel not as a mistake but as a crime. Until they change their view, the longest war of the 20th century will persist deep into the 21st. It is best for Israel to hunker down.
Me again: In effect Cohen is meeting the Israel-destructionists half-way. “Don’t call it a crime,” he’s saying. “Just call it a mistake, for that’s what it is.” Imagine how an anti-Israel Arab or Iranian would respond to this. “‘Crime’, ‘mistake’…tomay-to, toh-mahto…the point’s the same, it shouldn’t be there.”
Indeed, Cohen seems to be grounding the entire case for Israel’s existence on the fact that the Jews of Europe had to go somewhere, and they were “mistaken” to pick an Arab neighborhood as a destination. If only those European Jews had all gone to Shaker Heights! This is a really ill-chosen line of reasoning in a column that keeps referring to the authority of historians. It’s hardly as if Jews haven’t been living there for a long time. And it’s hardly as if they have a weak historical claim to the land. Cohen surely knows this. But, it seems for the sake of being provocative, he chooses to lend weight to the argument that Israel is nothing more than a foreign intrusion. After all, he closes by saying that the only way for non-Jewish Middle-Easterners to accept Israel’s existence is for them to accept the moral implications of the Holocaust. But that’s absurd. Plenty of Arab “moderates” accept the fact that the Holocaust happened and that it was terrible. Their response is to say, “So give them land in Germany.” Cohen’s position doesn’t seem to be much different.