I get a circle-the-wagons feeling from Israel's defenders in Washington. Thomas Friedman's column the other day was unhinged, lumping Oliver Stone with the British Prime Minister, and not acknowledging what has changed world opinion, the slaughter of civilians and denial of human rights to Palestinians for decades. Richard Cohen, who wanted to sing Hatikvah when he read Walt and Mearsheimer's book, is equally unbalanced in The Washington Post.
The piece is about two English writers viewing the Arab world: an unsigned review in the Economist of a biography of Islamic fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb and a book called The Arabs by Eugene Rogan of Oxford. Cohen says both scant Qutb's anti-Semitism. "Can it be that a mere 65 years after the fires of Auschwitz were banked, anti-Semitism has been relegated to a trivial, personal matter, like a preference for blondes -- something not worth mentioning?"
Cohen jumps to anti-Semitism throughout the Arab world, and anti-Zionism. Is it true, as Cohen states, that racism against Palestinians inside Israel doesn't approach the invective against Jews in the Arab world? I don't know, and I don't know that it matters; both must be condemned. More important, which is the applied prejudice? Palestinians must wait at checkpoints and cannot go to the beach, 1.5 million of them live in an open-air prison camp, their villages are wiped from the map. Cohen ignores this while imagining a second holocaust perpetrated by Arabs. This is an important column because it demonstrates what motivates so many American Zionists, emotion, fear of being wiped out. Is it rational? And important too because it demonstrates that Cohen, who once acknowledged that Partition was a "mistake," and Friedman are reduced to the essential job description of the Israel lobby, to defend by any means fair or foul. Cohen:
Critics of Israel frequently accuse it of racism in its treatment of Palestinians. Sometimes, the charge is apt. But there is nothing in the Israeli media or popular culture that even approaches what is openly, and with official sanction, said in the Arab world about Jews. The message is an echo of Nazi racism, and the prescription, stated or merely implied, is the same.
The Economist and Rogan are insufficient in themselves to constitute a movement. Yet I cannot quite suppress the feeling that the need to demonize Israel is so great that the immense moral failings of some of its enemies have to be swept under the carpet. As Jacob Weisberg pointed out recently in Slate, the "boycott Israel" movement is oddly unbalanced -- so much fury directed at Israel, so little at countries like China or Venezuela. Can it be that the French philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch was prescient when he suggested years ago that anti-Zionism "gives us the permission and even the right and even the duty to be anti-Semitic in the name of democracy"? The line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, a demarcation I have always acknowledged, is becoming increasingly blurred.