I take Roger Cohen seriously and so I’ve read a lot of his columns over the years, bought his book on the Balkans and read it. I leaped at the chance to debate the peace process with him in Qatar four years ago, and helped arrange his moderation of a debate over Israel with two congressmen in 2011.
But just a few months ago I learned something important about him. He’s a liberal Zionist. “I am one,” he said in confessing his “deep despondency” over Israel’s failure to end the occupation.
Shouldn’t I have known that before? I wondered. I regard Zionism as a core attachment, an intellectual/emotional/spiritual commitment that can be deeply binding. Back when Cohen was advocating the war in Iraq, for instance: Was his concern for Israel’s security part of his thinking?
I had the same feeling about Peter Beinart. He wrote a whole book about the need to liberate Iraq. The Good Fight: Why Liberals –and Only Liberals–Can Win the War On Terror and Make America Great Again. It doesn’t mention Israel once, per the index, and at the start, Beinart says he supported the war because it would
“help open a democratic third way in the Middle East between secular autocrats and their theocratic opponents–a third way that offered the best long-term hope for protecting the United States.”
Was that a sincere statement? We now know that Beinart cares deeply and passionately about Israel. He thinks about Israel almost as much as I do. He runs Open Zion, he has published a book called The Crisis of Zionism, he puts the Israeli flag on his boy’s wall, and he has published important pieces in the New York Review of Books on the failure of Jewish organizations in their support of Israel. So was he concerned about Israel when he was pushing the Iraq war? I think he was; and that he should have told his readers that.
Ian Lustick is someone else who’s declared lately. He wrote that he was once “spectacularly hopeful” about Zionism and it’s with “profound sadness” that he confronts the failure of the two-state solution. Lustick is an honest man and a realist, but I wish I’d known before now that he had such a profound attachment to the Zionist dream when I was reading all his excellent pieces.
Lustick himself pointed out in Philadelphia the other day that writers and scholars are moved by passions, and have the duty to advance arguments that transcend those passions. Good point.
But I like to know about those passions.
I always felt that Ethan Bronner, the former Jerusalem bureau chief of the Times who had a son in the Israeli army, was a Zionist, but he never said so openly, and this created justifiable outrage in my community. In Philadelphia the other day, Max Blumenthal critiqued the claimed “objectivity” of the New York Times. He said that the present bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, is married to an artist, Gary Rudoren, who’s “deeply immersed in Jewish Israeli society,” and she gets translation services from Myra Noveck, who works in the Times bureau, has two children in the Israeli army and is the wife of liberal Zionist Gershom Gorenberg. Blumenthal said:
“The idea that these people are objective is completely absurd to me but they’re operating under the veneer of objectivity when I’m completely out in the open with [my] quotidian beliefs… in a multicultural society where everyone has a fair shot regardless of ethnicity.”
I wonder about Rudoren. She comes out of the mainstream Jewish community, and I have found her to be culturally-bound, but is she a Zionist? She declined to answer that question a year back and then tweeted, “the only ist I use to describe self is journalist.” But I don’t think she’s being forthcoming. Rudoren also wrote proudly that she and her husband combined their last names because she refused to adopt a principle of the “patriarchy.” Surely that makes her a feminist.
I like to know those things about writers. I think they’re important. It’s something I admire about Eric Alterman and Jeffrey Goldberg, they’ve always been out front about their Zionism. As I’ve been out front about my opposition to Zionism.
Cohen, Lustick, and Beinart’s confessions are good. I want more journalists who write about the Middle East to declare on this question, in an acknowledgment of the public’s right to know. Zionism is a core component of the American Jewish relationship to Israel. It is a nationalist ideology involving religious identity, tribal concerns, and belief in the insecurity of Jews in the west. We all need to debate its premises and principles, Jews and non-Jews alike. It would help if those who subscribe to it told us so.