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  • "Kesher" means "connection" in Hebrew. The banner image is the mosaic floor of a 6th c. synagogue in Jericho, showing a menorah flanked by a shofar and lulav; the inscription reads "Shalom Al Yisrael." (This synagogue was destroyed by Arab vandals a few years ago. The condition of the mosaic floor is unknown.)
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July 25, 2006

Israel is a mistake, but has the right to defend itself

Richard Cohen sort of walks back his "Israel is a mistake" column of last week (which I fisked here). I'm not going to address here his conflicting advice to "hunker down" yet "strike back." My concern is his continued misunderstanding of Israel's legitimacy.

Readers of my recent column on the Middle East can accuse me of many things, but not a lack of realism. I know Israel's imperfections, but I also exalt and admire its achievements. . . .

Israel is, as I have often said, unfortunately located, gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood. But the world is full of dislocated peoples, and we ourselves live in a country where the Indians were pushed out of the way so that -- oh, what irony! -- the owners of slaves could spread liberty and democracy from sea to shining sea. As for Europe, who today cries for the Greeks of Anatolia or the Germans of Bohemia?

Cohen's formulation is a variation on a lukewarm defense of Israel which you will see if you spend any time in forums where Israel is discussed: "Israel's creation is problematic, but it's there now, so we have to accept it, and it has the right to defend itself because all these other colonialist invaders did the same thing and we don't want to be hypocrites."

This isn't good enough.

Cohen still implies that Israel is not native to the neighborhood ("unfortunately located," "gentrifying"), and then names other displaced peoples, reinforcing the implication that Israel is the interloper, the displacer. An accurate summation would briefly acknowledge all the displacement that has gone on: The Romans and Muslims ethnically cleansing Jews from Judea, modern Israel pushing out Palestinian Arabs, Arab nations pushing out Jews who had lived there since before Islam was invented, Arabs pushing each other out, the 3000 year history of Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Arab nations created at the same time as the modern state of Israel . . . .

Cohen still erases this history and paints Israel as a (admirable Westernized democratic) foreigner who has to be tolerated (as a foreigner), rather than as a native who has the same right to its homeland as other natives. It is true that some of these national aspirations conflict with each other, and everyone can't have all of what they want. But there can be no honest and just compromise as long as one of the parties is constantly delegitimized and its history rewritten to suit the other parties' agendas.

The characterization of Israel as a foreigner also reinforces its perceived role as the tip of the American spear. Israel is a Western-style democracy in the region, but it's a native one, which bases its national character on its 3000 year old values (even though they are not perfectly honored at all times).

But one can also use the "gentrifying" metaphor to paint Israel as "local kid who makes good" and then returns to his old neighborhood to help make it better, albeit with the support of outsiders who want the neighborhood cleaned up for everyone's benefit. Some in the neighborhood would be pleased, and many would be suspicious, resentful, protective of their own power, and legitimately concerned that cherished traditions would be indiscriminately thrown in the trash along with the bad. But that metaphor would reflect the facts, and it would undercut some of the propaganda the Arab nations rely on to keep Israel on the defensive.

Cohen's latest column does its small part to perpetuate cliches which contribute to lack of honest discourse on the conflict.

Judith | 07/25/06 at 03:37 PM | Categories: - Antisemitism watch

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Smoke rises from Khiam village after being hit by Israeli air strikes, in southern Lebanon. July 25, 2006 12:00 PDT Frequent updates. Scroll. Previous coverage @ right. Links to Lebanese and Israeli bloggers covering the conflict are @ Truth... [Read More]

Tracked on July 25, 2006 06:51 PM


It's also worth mentioning that it's not secret the Romans renamed Israel into Palestine in order to weaken the region's Jewish identity. The gift that keeps on giving.

Shimmy | July 25, 2006 04:34 PM

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