Israel: Is It Good for the Jews?

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

Cohen, a jour­nal­ist for The Wash­ing­ton Post, has writ­ten a chal­leng­ing book which is part mem­oir, part his­to­ry, but more an expla­na­tion for a col­umn he wrote in 2006 where­in he stat­ed: The great­est mis­take Israel could make at the moment is to for­get that Israel itself is a mis­take […] the idea of cre­at­ing a nation of Euro­pean Jews in an area of Arab Mus­lims […] has pro­duced a cen­tu­ry of war and ter­ror­ism of the sort we are see­ing now.” The col­umn brought many vitu­per­a­tive respons­es includ­ing an essay released by the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee enti­tled Pro­gres­sive Jew­ish Thought and the New Anti-Semi­tism.” The book under review is a response to the 2006 col­umn as well as Cohen’s under­stand­ing of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Jew­ish history. 

Although Cohen’s work is a tes­ti­mo­ny to his love of Israel and the Jew­ish peo­ple, he nev­er­the­less does not back down from his ear­li­er remarks. Cohen writes: 

The mis­take’ of my long-ago col­umn is becom­ing more and more appar­ent. Israel has lost the sym­pa­thy of the West […] In some sense, they are the world’s most inept colo­nial­ists, too respect­ful of the native peo­ples, too con­cerned with their own self-image, too hung up on the moral oblig­a­tions of Judaism, too intent on not being the anti- Semit­ic stereo­type of lore […] They shunned any offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy to ratio­nal­ize eco­nom­ic exploita­tion — noth­ing like South Africa’s apartheid.” 

Else­where, Cohen argues that the Mid­dle East will con­tin­ue to reject Israel not only because Israel is West­ern in ori­gin and non- Mus­lim but above all because it is Jew­ish. Cohen makes a plau­si­ble argu­ment that Arab geno­ci­dal anti-Semi­tism is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Nazi attempt to anni­hi­late the Jews. He traces this geno­ci­dal fer­vor toward the Jews to Haj Amin al-Hus­sei­ni, the Mufti of Pales­tine who joined the Nazis’ war against the Jews and promised to do to the Yishuv what Hitler was doing to the Jews in Europe. 

Cohen argues that it does not mat­ter if the cre­ation of Israel con­sti­tut­ed colo­nial­ism, nor if the ear­ly Zion­ists pro­ceed­ed as if there were no Pales­tini­ans in Pales­tine, any more than whether the Indi­ans of Man­hat­tan were rooked by Peter Min­uet.” What does mat­ter is how to pro­ceed, because the Arab coun­tries of the Mid­dle East do not real­is­ti­cal­ly fear that they will be wiped off the map by Israel. The same is not true the oth­er way around. Cohen asks, what if the West Bank or any num­ber of sur­round­ing states are sup­plied with weapons of mass destruc­tion and ruled by lead­ers deter­mined to wipe out Israel? Soon­er or lat­er, Cohen laments, will Israel run out of miracles? 

The author con­cludes by argu­ing that Israel is a nation like any oth­er nation: It sins. It is some­times wrong. It accu­mu­lat­ed land and space in vile yet ordi­nary ways.” Cohen notes that Israel did noth­ing that oth­er nations have not done, yet Israel’s right to exist is con­stant­ly chal­lenged. Israel,” states Cohen, is not evil. It is mere­ly human.” 

Cohen has writ­ten a con­tro­ver­sial yet thought­ful book that deserves a wide read­ing audi­ence among those con­cerned about the future of Israel.

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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