Justifications for Israel’s founding: transformation of Richard Cohen

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When I came to the US back in 1983, Richard Cohen (The Washington Post columnist) was considered one of the most liberal voices on the subject of Israel. He used to be a rare liberal who was willing to express criticisms of Israel. He was never courageous as was Marcy McGrory, but he was quite consistent in his criticisms of Israel. In fact, I remember when critics of Israel used to invite Cohen to college campuses to share his views on the brutality of Israeli occupation.

I never was a fan of Cohen. His tone is annoyingly arrogant in his columns, and he relished expressing his disdain for black youth. He once wrote in defense of jewelry stores’ exclusion of young black men. There were protests against the paper and he only became insensitive over time. Furthermore, Cohen is an example of the type of columnists favored by The Washington Post: conservative democrats who have no problems with socio-economic inequality, and who are enthusiastic for American wars overseas. They also have to be ardent anti-communists, but that is obvious in all writings in the US press – before and even after the Cold War.

But Cohen got in trouble in recent years. In 2006, he wrote that the creation of Israel had been a “mistake.” He was widely criticized by Zionists and has been trying ever since to win back a place at the Zionist tables of the US. He shifted his tone and arguments about the Middle East, while his racist views continue to offend readers. He even observed recently that black slaves seemed rather content.

Cohen has a new book out. It is titled, “Israel: Is it Good for the Jews?” What is astonishing about the book, first, is its title. The morality or immorality, the ethical or unethical value of the Israeli project is debated in the US without any regard to its primary victims. It is entirely debated on the merits of its usefulness to Jews, and only to Jews. It is like analyzing the the morality of dropping the nuclear bomb by the US from the standpoint of the pilots, and whether the stress of the undertaking was too painful.

That is the outlook of Cohen in the book. The Palestinians are not to be bothered with. In fact, the book itself does not deal much with Israel but is focused more on the plight of Jewry in Europe, and of the history of anti-Semitism. Unwittingly, Cohen reveals the major paradox for Zionist argument: the justification for the creation of the state of Israel is based on history, events, tragedies, wars inflicted by a people who have nothing to do with the Palestinian people. In other words, the Zionist argument (assuming it does not proceed from the axioms of divine gift to one religious group over others) is based on the notion that because the Jewish people suffered – and the suffering is real – at the hands of Europeans, the Palestinian people have to be forced to pay a price for the crime of others. As to why that is, we are never told. That is a missing link in Zionist argument. But Cohen added another argument, that the Palestinian people deserve to be displaced because the Indians and Pakistanis engaged in “exchanges of populations.”

The Palestinians in Zionist discourse and rhetoric, as in this book, are not a people with national aspirations. They are instead a people who are part of a larger group (be that group Arabs or Muslims or Asians) and the larger group should take care of them and absorb them because the Palestinians were chosen to pay a price for European crimes against Jews (and for some Zionists, the Palestinians are to be grateful for this dubious honor of a choice).

More than a century after the advent of the Zionist project, Zionists continue to find excuses and justifications not only for Israel’s creation but also for its pattern of war crimes and massacres. And what is amusing about Zionist (il)logic, is that the argument changes course over time: the creation of Israel is presented as a response to European crimes, while the pattern of Israeli war crimes and massacres is presented either as a right earned due to victimhood at the hands of European Nazis, or as a response to Arab or Muslim Nazis of the day (from Nasser to Arafat to Hamas and Iranian leaders).

Cohen is trying in this book to recover from the attacks he suffered when he called Israel’s creation a “mistake.” In this book, he seems to be saying that he, not Israel, made a mistake. He wants Zionists to forgive him.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.


Good article, however, I think you should reconsider your criticism of Mr. Cohen's book. As a critic of Israel and an American myself, I am quite sure that the best means to undermine support for Israel among Americans is to focus on how it damages world Jewry, rather than its crimes toward the Palestinians.

As fucked up as that sounds, many supporters of Israel in America are under the false impression that all Palestinians are terrorists and that Israeli's are moderate democrats (small D). If authors can Cohen can convince Americans and American Jews that Israel is bad for their interests, it will be more impactful than just another book crying the Palestinian plight.

It's idiotic to attack a book for this omission.

the angry arab has forgotten to include the 800000 jews who fled arab countries when talking about population exchanges.the only country that has kept its jewish population is iran.the other non arab country in the region.

And if it handed been for the foundation of the State of Israel, they'd very likely still be living in those countries today.

Israel has destroyed so many things, not least Jewish society in the Middle East.

Usual Zionist (colonialist) rubbish
1) Jews lived in the ME for 1000 years much safer than in Europe - before Zionist colonization enterprise
2) Zionists by hook and by crook made ME Jews to leave their homelands and come to colonized Palestine to be cannon fodder for Zionist colonization
3) Some ME Jews claim now that they are NOR 'refugees" but proud Zionists
4) After the end of Zionism all Jews who are not from Palestine could return to their own homelands.

usual Jew-hating (delusional) garbage
1. Jews were considered dhimmi at best or forced to flee or convert in almost every ME society. In Yemen and most other countries, they had to ride donkeys, not horses (so that they would not be above Muslims on donkeys or walking) and wear distinctive clothing and pay high Jew taxes. there were organized riots and curbs on trade and living quarters. Even Maimoun, physician to Saladin, was restricted.
2. Jews were attacked in pro Nazi riots in Bagdad in 1941. It was incited by Nazi agents with enthusiastic participation by masses. Jews were subject to pogroms in Morocco, Cairo, Yemen and around ME, decades before 1948 and even before first Jews immigrated from Europe. Jews were attacked for a blood libel (which you most likely believe in) in 1840s Damascus.
3. ME Jews were absolutely refugees, forced to leave behind their possessions and come to Israel as paupers. They are now some of the most enthusiastic Zionists and proudest Jews. Their Arabic language skills and their ability to understand ME is what makes them such good intelligence analysts and agents.
4. Sorry, but Israel is going to stay Israel. while the ME degenerates into warring clans and medieval warlordism, they win Nobel Prizes, launch satellites, and shoot down Syrian jets that stray 100 yards into its territory.
You are a liar and delusional, like so many others. No worries. i am sure your mom made you a nice lunch. Go eat and have a nice day!

I know such "critics of Israel" very well. They are usually even more stupid than the open apologists for Zionist colonization - because they kid themselves that Zionism could be nicer and less repugnant. As if any colonization is not by definition the countless crime.

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