“Israel is a Mistake” – Is Mistaken

Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen asserts in his July 18 commentary “Hunker Down With History” that “Israel itself is a mistake.” Historical ignorance and an appeasement mentality underlie such an assertion.

Cohen’s lead paragraph reads:

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.


Israel is not the embodiment of “the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians).” Rather, Israel embodies the return of the Jews, an indigenous people, to their ancestral homeland, in which some Jews always resided;

Approximately one-third of Israel’s Jewish population are non-European Jews , including those who immigrated from throughout the Middle East, as well as from Ethiopia and India. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews who led the Zionist movement and the late 19th, early 20th century resettlement of Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel – envisioned a state for all Jews.

It was not “the idea of creating a nation of Jews” that produced anti-Israeli warfare and terrorism. It has been Arab-Islamic intolerance of equality and sovereignty for non-Arabs and/or for non-Muslims, and even for Muslims who do not share their particular interpretation of Islam, in the Middle East and beyond, that causes the Arab conflict with Israel. This supremacist attitude also causes periodic violence against and routine social suppression of Christian Arabs, Druze, Copts, Berbers and many other minorities. It fuels Shi’ite versus Sunni violence like that in Iraq, Persian Iranian manipulation and subversion of Arab affairs, hostility to the non-Muslim “Crusader” or Christian West, and – during times of fundamentalist Islamic fervor like the present – dreams of revenge against and conquest of non-Muslim people and lands.

Cohen does not understand that similar intolerance motivated the terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, who assassinated Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1981, who overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979, who blow up hotels from Egypt to Indonesia, and trains from Madrid to London. Hezbollah’s Iranian patrons refer to Israel as “the small Satan.” The United States is “the great Satan.” Does such hostility make the West, make America a “mistake”?

Failure to connect the dots

The columnist observes that Hezbollah “did not exist 30 years ago” and that Iran “was once a tacit ally of Israel’s.” A little understanding is a dangerous thing. Hezbollah didn’t exist, but the Muslim Brotherhood, from which most Islamic terrorist groups spring, did. It began in Egypt in the 1920s, a reaction against Western influence in the Arab-Islamic world, including what it decried as America’s lax moral and social standards. Will Cohen eventually agree to Islamic law here to erase the “mistake” of individual freedom?

Cohen warns Israel against “subjugating a restless, angry population” in south Lebanon or the West Bank and “having the world look on as it committed the inevitable sins of an occupying power.” Israel’s first responsibility is to survive and protect its citizens. The world will look on each state through the filter of its own perceived interest. To the extent “the world” focuses on Jews, this might discomfit Cohen, but it should not subvert Israeli policy. In any case, its own failures mean the Arab-Islamic world would have “restless, angry populations” had Jews and a Jewish state never existed.

The columnist advises Israel “to pull back to defensible – put hardly impervious – borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank – and waiting and hoping that history will get distracted and move on to something else. This will take some time, and in the meantime terrorism and rocket attacks will continue.” Such fatuousness accords with neither Jewish nor military history. One cannot imagine Cohen giving such advice to Washington, D.C.-area police or the Pentagon if rockets were falling on his neighborhood.

Until fanatics like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stopping calling for Israel’s destruction, Cohen recommends “it is best for Israel to hunker down.” Hunker down and wait for Crusaders, the Inquisition, the Black Hundreds, the Gestapo, Nasser or Saddam? Cohen doesn’t just stare history in the face and blink, he pulls the covers over his head.

Moral failure

If seemingly unrelenting Arab-Islamic hostility convinces Cohen that “Israel is a mistake,” then would Cohen’s response to pervasive European antisemitism in the 1930s have been that it was a force of nature to be submitted to? Given that many people in early America thought blacks inferior, should the slaves not have been freed? Since kings and aristocrats insisted for centuries that they ruled by divine right, and society organized itself accordingly, would Cohen have counseled acquiescence?

No mistake, but great success

Cohen, who in the past has taken on antisemites like those in the Nation of Islam, seems not to understand Israel at all. Not a “mistake,” Israel is perhaps the most successful of the scores of post-colonial, post-World War II states. It is, among other things:

* A true democracy , with independent courts, free press, independent political parties and equal rights for all citizens, including women and non-Jewish minorities – unlike any of the 21 Arab states;

* A world leader, despite its population of just over six million, in scientific research and development, home to breakthroughs in areas from agriculture to medicine, high technology innovations including cell phone development and cancer detection and treatment, and military innovations such as the precision targeting system that helped the United States hit Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq;

* A model of a successful multi-cultural society, not only with Jews from scores of countries, speaking dozens of languages, but also of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and non-Jewish citizens and resident aliens from around the world.

With Tony Judt & Ahmadinejad, Dreaming of a World Without Israel

The columnist cites the “gifted British historian Tony Judt ….” Judt is a vocal post- or anti-Zionist advocate of a “one-state solution” in which Israel abandons its Jewish character in favor of a “bi-national” Palestine of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip – the Palestine Liberation Organization’s old propaganda slogan of a “democratic, secular Palestine,” Except that when the Arabs outnumber the Jews in such a state, it would be unlikely to remain either democratic or secular. And if the Jews aren’t expelled or worse, they would likely become second-cla ss citizens walking on eggshells, as they have been in every Arab or Muslim country they have resided in.

Cohen simply cannot comprehend that Israel was not to be just a refuge for Jews fleeing oppression, but the center of a Jewish people reborn and flourishing. And, despite the war waged against it, so it has become. Without this “mistake,” the Jewish people, in demographic decline elsewhere, would face a tenuous future. Last October, Ahmadinejad asked the world to consider “A Future Without the United States and Israel.” Such a future is the logical conclusion of a column whose premise is that “Israel is a mistake.”

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