The theme of Roger Cohen’s recent memoir of his cosmopolitan family was that Jews are insecure in the west and therefore Jewish sovereignty is a just and necessary answer.
He restates these ideas emphatically in a review of Simon Schama’s book, The Story of the Jews, which the New York Times Book Review aptly titles “Millenniums of Tribulation.” The story of the Jews is never-ending persecution and expulsion, and assimilation won’t save us either.
At the end, Cohen acknowledges that Palestinians have had to be exiled to make room for the Jewish state, and it hasn’t been any fun for them since. But– anti-Zionism is sometimes anti-Semitism.
In the end the price of Jewish statehood has been heavy: the exile of another people, the Palestinians. More than a half-century of occupation of the West Bank has corroded Israeli democracy. This was not inevitable and is still not irreparable. No doubt, these themes will be prominent in Schama’s next volume. At a time of facile anti-Zionism spilling sometimes into outright anti-Semitism, Schama has made an eloquent and a far-reaching case for why Jews needed a small piece of earth they could call home.
This argument is unconvincing. As Donald Johnson writes:
Cohen is being a chickenshit at best. To be fair he acknowledges that currently Israel is not behaving well, but he claims Zionism didn’t have to be this way and then says that anti-Zionism can be antisemitism. The real question is, given the actual history, was it possible for Zionism not to be anti-Palestinian racism? The burden of proof is on Cohen. I am even willing to say it could have been innocent, if they had never had any intent of forcing or inducing Palestinians to leave in order to have a state with the “ correct” demographic composition. But once that little notion of demographic composition enters into it, the Nakba is inevitable– in which 750,000 Palestinians are exiled from their homes and never allowed to return, let alone compensated for their losses.
I’d challenge Cohen on his description of the Jewish condition. As he relates it:
The book begins around the time of the Spanish Inquisition and ends with the Dreyfus case, a 400-year round trip back to the same Jewish question. Theodor Herzl finally answers that question with his Zionist vision of a “home that is destined to be a safe haven for the Jewish people.” The homeland, for Herzl, whose pamphlet “The Jewish State” was published in 1896, was needed because it had proved “useless” for Jews to be “loyal patriots.” Only in their own state would they not be potential pariahs.
It is difficult to read the 800 pages of “Belonging” and not reach the same conclusion. No Jewish patriot, rich or poor, was secure….
To think otherwise was indeed useless, an exercise in delusion. Expulsion, imprisonment or worse lurked — a constant threat.
My challenge to Cohen is simple. Roger, you’re a man of the world. You’ve led a privileged life on two continents at this point, North American and Europe, and by marriage and ancestry you know a lot about South Africa and South America. Tell me: how much prejudice/abuse/persecution have you experienced in your personal arc? Do you have any responsibility to reshape your ideas of Jewish insecurity based on our privileged lives (I include myself here, born in the same year). My anti-Zionism is not facile. It’s based on what I’ve actually observed of life, my own and Palestinians, not what I’ve read in books. P.S. You and I are friendly. But I’ve issued a similar challenge to you on other occasions; and you always ignore it.
By the way, speaking of throwaway lines in the mainstream press, New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum mentions Israel in a piece on the best ten TV shows of 2017.
Also, I’ve only seen half of “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Maybe on purpose? I suspect that I’ve been unhealthily avoiding being informed on “Twin Peaks” in order to duck out on having a clear opinion, like with Israel, or fracking.
That’s a defense of cowardice. She is saying, The pro-Israel side is vicious; Israel can’t be defended. Writes Annie Robbins: “Chances are, she won’t lift too many eyebrows with a negative review of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return.’ And the chance it would damage her career, not likely. She says about her list this year, ‘They’re mostly shows that took big risks.’ … Maybe 2018 will be her year to come out.”