Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Response to Ben Cohen's "Inconvenient Truth"

Long time HP blogger Ben Cohen, who usually writes about a wide variety of topics, has recently penned an article titled, "The Inconvenient Truth About Israel." This is the Huffington Post, of course, so we know that this "inconvenient truth" is definitely going to be negative, but I didn't expect just how extreme it would be. According to Mr. Cohen, the "inconvenient truth" is that Israel has no right to exist. Let's get started and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Mr. Cohen starts with a poisoning of the well against Israel and a contribution to the pseudohistory of the flotilla raid by complaining that the US government hasn't done enough to "criticize Israel for its ruthless killing of aid workers off the coast of Gaza." Leaving out the fact that the people who died were far from aid workers and the exchange of violence was far from "ruthless" is only a sign that Mr. Cohen really isn't committed to sharing the truth about the topic he is discussing, but only of pushing his point of view. Which is ironic because he complains that the fact that the US government has been lax in pushing Israel "highlights a fundamental problem with the way in which the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in America is portrayed." Go on...
"The premise upon which the debate is based on is fundamentally flawed, and in some cases overtly racist. The American media and the intellectual classes operate within the logic that Israel is the victim of Arab aggression and is simply defending itself from hostile neighbors --the Muslim countries are anti-Semitic and hell bent on the destruction of Israel and cannot ever be negotiated with. Israel, the story goes, is a democracy and an ally of the United States, and therefore justified in anything it does to protect itself."
Now personally I am not familiar with the intricacies of the media or "the intellectual classes," but I certainly do not see this "premise" in the news outlets that I am reading. And I certainly don't see it in the Huffington Post! That being said, I see Mr. Cohen as setting up a strawman argument combined with a distortion: Is Mr. Cohen denying that Israel has hostile neighbors that have attacked it with the intention of destroying it in the past? Is he denying that there are people who still want to destroy Israel? Is he denying that anti-Semitism is a huge problem in the Muslim world? And is he denying that Israel is a democracy and an ally?

What Mr. Cohen seems to be doing is complaining about this "narrative," which I think is a legitimate concern. Obviously the news media should be reporting both sides of the story, which of course includes the Israeli side as well. But in the process of complaining about this narrative Mr. Cohen also seems to be implying that certain facts of the situation (listed above) only exist in the narrative and not in reality. This is very much a Palsbara way of arguing: That aspects of this conflict are only talked about because "Zionists are paranoid" and "think that the whole world is out to get them." Somehow I don't think Mr. Cohen would appreciate it if his opponents said that "Israeli oppression" is only a fairy tale made up to justify Palestinian terrorism.

Now that he has set up his strawman, Mr. Cohen finally takes us to his "inconvenient truth," which according to him will completely destroy all the Zionist narratives that have taken over US society.
"The truth is that the creation of the Jewish state was based on the theft of land from an indigenous people. While Jews would prefer to believe that their country is a 'miracle in the desert,' for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, it is an everlasting nightmare."
By saying that the creation of Israel is "based on the theft of land" Mr. Cohen is making a direct attack on Israel's right to exist. It's the oldest Palestinian argument and Mr. Cohen is repeating it perfectly: Israel exists on "Palestinian land" and therefore it should not exist, and nothing will ever satisfy the Palestinians and their supporters except its destruction. Pay close attention to his words: "their country" is "an everlasting nightmare" It is not the occupation he has a problem with, it is not Israel's policies, it is the fact that Israel exists. Every other country (including his own: the USA) has been based on 'theft' from somebody, including all of the Arab countries. Mr. Cohen is singling out Israel in this way for an attack on the Jewish peoples' rights, and because he is singling out the Jews he is being (intentionally or otherwise) anti-Semitic. If he would like to prove me wrong and also say that the USA's existence is "an everlasting nightmare" for the Native Americans, I invite him to do so. Then Mr. Cohen jumps into some revisionist history in which he attempts to justify the Arab nations' genocidal war against Israel:
"The pro-Israel narrative continues with its portrayal of Arab aggression, noting the wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973 as proof that the country was under perpetual attack. While it is true that the Arab nations attacked Israel after it declared itself a nation in 1948, it must be remembered that if Mexican immigrants declared a state of Mexico in Arizona, it is unlikely the U.S government would not see it as an act of aggression and take immediate military action."
First of all, I consider it ironic that he made this comparison so soon after this last paragraph. He references the U.S.-Mexico relationship and bases his point on the fact that Arizona is part of the U.S. Perhaps he wasn't paying attention during his history classes in middle school because otherwise he would know that parts of America was, in fact, stolen from the Mexicans. And you don't see the Mexicans firing rockets over the border and refusing to negotiate until they get "their land" back. Nor do you see pundits like Mr. Cohen proclaiming that the US is a state built upon theft and therefore has no right to exist. One standard for the Jews, one standard for everyone else.

Second, this comparison is again based upon a complete misunderstanding of the history and the regional politics. Even a layman student of history would know that the lands on which Israel was created had been handed over to the UN to decide what would happen to it. This does not equivocate to some mythical "Arab" country that had its lands stolen, and Mr. Cohen is intentionally deceiving his audience by portraying history that way. Which is again ironic: Here Mr. Cohen is complaining that the Israeli narrative is "racist" yet here he echoing the flawed Arab narrative and claiming it as the truth.

Finally, notice his choice of words: "The portrayal of Arab aggression." There is no actual aggression on the part of the Arab countries, the Israelis are just imagining things. Just ignore all the things the Arab leaders have said that disproves Mr. Cohen's narrative, and just trust him to tell you the truth. Make sure you ignore the history books as well, and pretend that the Israelis wouldn't have been massacred by the hundreds of thousands if they had lost. Maybe then you can convince yourself that the Arabs were just "defending their land." Let's continue...
"The wars in 1967 and 1973 were started by Egypt and Syria, not the Palestinians, and the Israelis used it as an excuse to annex more Palestinian land (Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank), an act illegal under international law. The Palestinians, as always, suffered the consequences of competing empires."
I like the way Mr. Cohen ignores that the PLO (the self-styled representations of the Palestinians) were quite happy to fight alongside Egypt and Syria. He still relies on the myth of Palestinian land, and though it is nothing new, it's important because he bases his accusation of Israel as a criminal state on it.

It's also funny how he ignores the fact that the above territories that he cites were all occupied by Egypt, Syria and Jordan before 1967. It's even funnier that he says the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula are "Palestinian land." WTF? Not even the Palestinians themselves say this. Not that I blame Mr. Cohen for being confused: The Palestinians themselves often change what is and is not considered to be "their land." This one sentence proves that Mr. Cohen has no understanding of or commitment to the facts of this situation. What does this tell us about the kind of journalistic standards that are present on the Huffington Post?

What's the very best, though, is the contradiction here: One paragraph up, Mr. Cohen claims that Israel cites these three wars for their "portrayal" of Arab aggression that isn't real. Yet Mr. Cohen here not only acknowledges that these two wars were "started by Egypt and Syria," but does not even attempt to justify their actions, as many other anti-Israel pundits do. He simply ignores it and moves on to attacking Israel for something else. Thank you for admitting that in 1967 and 1973 there was true, unjustified Arab aggression Mr. Cohen. I guess denying that is too much even for you.
"The continued occupation of the Palestinian people and the relentless expansion of the Israeli state is a text book definition of colonization. The Palestinians have a right to resist this occupation, and the onus is on Israel to stop it so that peace talks can resume."
Here's the "colonization" argument, the darling of the Left, but anyway notice how again Mr. Cohen ignores the sections of history he doesn't like. I'm sure it will be quite a surprise for him to look at an atlas and find that Sinai is no longer part of Israel and neither is Gaza. I'm sure he will be surprised even further into read history and find that Israel withdrew from the West Bank during the Oslo Accords until suicide bombers forced them to come back. But don't let facts stop you from accusing Israel of "relentless expansion," though Mr. Cohen. Your own narrative is too important to let reality get in the way.

Of course, here he is justifying "resistance," though in the next paragraph he makes it clear "terrorism" is never justified. That is a small comfort considering the Palestinian supporters make it clear the only difference between "a terrorist" and "a freedom fighter" is point of view. And of course, it is only Israel who is responsible for working toward peace. Until Israel gives the Palestinians everything they want the Palestinians are more than justified in killing anyone who gets in their way. It is exactly this kind of Palestine-right, Israel-wrong thinking that has perpetuated this conflict for so long. Again it's ironic because Mr. Cohen was complaining at the start of the article that other people are too enamored with the pro-Israel side.
"But to continue the ridiculous story that Israel is the victim prevents serious dialogue from happening and destroys any real chance of peace....
While Israel will never disappear, it can and must live in harmony with its neighbors. If it continues to ignore its own history and the pain and suffering it has inflicted on a largely defenseless people, it will continue to be the target of terrorism and hate."
Yep, according to Mr. Cohen this is not a two-sided conflict in which both sides should be listened to. He thinks that the Israeli point of view is a "ridiculous story" while his point of view is perfect. He pays no attention to the Palestinian (and Arab) insistence that they are the victims and therefore justified in doing anything they want, and he also ignores their own history and the pain and suffering they have inflicted on others.

He portrays the Palestinians are "largely defenseless," when less than ten years ago the Palestinians killed over a thousand Israelis and continue to fire rockets at truly defenseless towns. He pretends that is simply Israel's obstinateness that causes "the terrorism and hate" that comes its way, which is unbelievable since he himself claimed in his first paragraph that it was Israel's existence on "stolen land" that was the problem and the root cause of the conflict. A classic case of blaming the victim: Until that woman acknowledges that it is her revealing clothing that causes men to sexually harass her and change her ways, she will continue to suffer harassment. What does he want: Israel to apologize for existing? Does America need to do that? Do the Palestinians?

In the end, Mr. Cohen tries to portray himself as a strong and bold crusader against an oppressive pro-Israel narrative that permeates American society. All he does, though, is use the same old arguments to pursue the same old cause: Blame Israel for the conflict until they do exactly what you want. Mr. Cohen isn't ending the debate, he's just yelling into the same maelstrom that exists in every corner of the Internet. The only thing that makes him distinctive is his blatant attack on Israel's right to exist, which is exactly the kind of extremism that I was talking about in my letter to the HP last week. Only Israel is slandered this way on the HP, and so on the HP it is only Israel that experiences such extreme levels of hatred. Why are they surprised?

1 comment:

  1. This kind of attack on Israel used to be reserved for Stormfront and the Islamist websites on the Internet but now its spread to mainstream websites like the HP, conferring a certain degree of respectability upon such a genocidal proposition. What we are really talking about here, when we get beyond the theoretical niceties, is killing million of Jews in cold blood in order to destroy the Jewish State. That should be regarded as anti-Semitic incitement. But I guess because a Jew For A Second Holocaust is in favor of it, that makes it kosher. This sick and deep Jew hatred is a sign of the time in which we live today.