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.