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After disturbing tour of Hebron, Roger Cohen takes a step away from Zionism

on 13 Comments

Yesterday in the New York Times, Roger Cohen published a column from Hebron titled “Holy City of Sterile Streets” that lots of people are talking about, and which I see as distancing the columnist from Zionism: 1, It states bluntly that the Israeli goal of sterilizing Hebron streets by emptying them of Palestinians is reminiscent of anti-semitic rhetoric and actions; 2, It says the occupation has never ended and it is being done in the name of the Jews and is getting worse every time he sees it; 3, It urges people to put the disputed claims of the past behind them and look to the future.

The last message is a memo to Cohen himself. He has repeatedly cited the Jewish history of persecution to justify the existence of a “Jewish state” he chooses not to live in but to defend. That justification gets a lot slimmer in this piece. The Jewish history of persecution turns out to produce Jewish monsters. And Cohen surely recognizes that it is cruel to revisit such a place and only see the conditions get worse, and mouth liberal Zionist pieties as an answer.

Some excerpts. First, the endless occupation and the anti-Semitism echo:

The occupation of the West Bank is a half-century old. That’s a long time. Jews did not go to the Holy Land to deploy for another people the biological metaphors of classic racism that accompanied their persecution over centuries. But the exercise of overwhelming power is corrupting, to the point that “sterile” streets, presumably freed of disease-ridden natives, enter the lexicon.

Next, in this passage Cohen identifies the occupation as inherently “Jewish” in Zionist eyes, and rejects that strategy as oppressive.

[Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence] remembers a mission statement on a wall: “To protect and defend the inhabitants of the Jewish community of Hebron.” He was ordered to fire a grenade machine gun into a heavily populated Palestinian residential area. He saw a Palestinian medical clinic destroyed. Doubts grew.

“It’s not defense, or prevention. It’s offense against Palestinian independence. That is the mission,” Shaul says. “The view is that between the river and the sea there is room for one state only, so it better be us.” Inevitably, the settlers, however extreme, become a vehicle of this strategic aim.

Here is the part where Cohen urges everyone to escape their nationalist narratives and look ahead:

To settlers, this is the first Jewish city in the biblical hills of Judea. To the Palestinian majority, this is their centuries-old home under relentless Israeli military occupation.

Like every Israeli-Palestinian argument, this one has no resolution. Other than to say the past is gone and what matters is the future.

Ever backward the violence spirals

Given the neverending fact of occupation that Cohen documents, there is only one way forward for American Jews: to get out of the back seat and remind Israelis of the political conditions under which we live in this country, and urge them as a model: One person one vote, equal rights for minorities, separation of church and state. I.e., abandon this idea of a Jewish people and Jewish national home for which we must hold the breathing tube.

I repeat that there is something cruel about a journalist visiting a Jim Crow town twice in 14 years (2004, 2018) and noting that it’s only gotten worse, something any activist could have told him, while continuing to defend Israel. You either bear witness or you don’t. Experiencing Hebron helped to transform me (when I went with Yehuda Shaul in 2006) and many others, and caused us to support BDS. Also, it would have been nice if Cohen had quoted a Palestinian. No, he has to quote the Hodding Carter character, the good white person in the south. That’s not good enough.

H/t Scott Roth, Robert Herbst, and Priscilla Read. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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13 Responses

  1. Donald on January 21, 2018, 1:36 pm

    I was half depressed and half amused by the racist bozos in the comment section, particularly the ones who shed crocodile tears and then out all the blame for the situation on the Arabs and/ or Palestinians.

  2. Mooser on January 21, 2018, 3:18 pm

    “I repeat that there is something cruel about a journalist visiting a Jim Crow town twice in 14 years (2004, 2018) and noting that it’s only gotten worse, something any activist could have told him, while continuing to defend Israel.”

    It gets harder and harder to tell the crackers from the matzohs

  3. pabelmont on January 21, 2018, 8:34 pm

    Psychologically, I dare say that any person brainwashed to belief in an ideology — as Zionism is — will find it hard to let reality creep in which will disturb that belief, to say nothing of disturbing the place within the society of believers of which that person has been a member.

    If Cohen is not as “pure” a believer in human rights as some MW readers would wish, he may still be a good deal too disenchanted with Zionism for the societies (at NYT for example) of true believers of which he has been a part which will be aghast at his expressions of mild dismay at Zionism and its fruits. Shaking loose that society of true believers is likely to be a slow and arduous business, especially as most of them will probably not visit such a wonderful example of the horrors of Zionism as Hebron is.

    Unlike Chicken Little, who believed that the sky was falling because, so she thought, a piece of it had fallen on her head, most Zionists are unlikely to believe that a proof of the nastiness of Zionism has fallen on their heads because they keep their heads out of the way of such evidence. Much easier, really, to believe what Bibi and AIPAC say. Or, I suppose, Fox News.

    But there might be hope. Israel allows Zionists to visit, even if it excludes BDSers. Maybe if some of those visiting ZIonists can get away from their minders long enough to see a bit of Palestine (O dear,, don’t go there, it’s too dangerous, and why would you want to see those flea-infested peasants/bomb-infested terrorists anyway?!), they’ll have the scales fall away from their eyes too.

    Crackers and Matzohs notwithstanding.

  4. eljay on January 21, 2018, 9:45 pm

    … Jews did not go to the Holy Land to deploy for another people the biological metaphors of classic racism that accompanied their persecution over centuries. …

    Hard to tell, but it sounds as though Mr. Cohen might be suggesting that Jewish supremacists did not covet Palestine, did not wish to colonize it and did not wish to establish in as much as possible of it a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel primarily of and for Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews. Except they did; and he knows they did; and, because he’s a Zionist, he’s OK with it (some minor hand-wringing notwithstanding).

    • Misterioso on January 22, 2018, 11:13 am


      “Hard to tell, but it sounds as though Mr. Cohen might be suggesting that Jewish supremacists did not covet Palestine,…”

      Well said!!

      For the record:
      In 1891, Jewish philosopher Ahad Ha’am (nee, Asher Ginsberg) , wrote: “They [the foreign Jewish settlers] treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, unscrupulously deprive them of their rights, insult them without cause, and even boast of such deeds; and none opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.” (Ha’am, Ahad, by Am Sheideweg, Berlin 1923, vol.1, p.107; quoted by Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p. 24)

      Ha’am concluded that this aggressive behaviour on the part of Jews stemmed from anger “…towards those who remind them that there is still another people in the land of Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.” (Hans Kohn, Zionism Reconsidered, Michael Selzer, ed. London: 1970, p. 195; quoted by Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians…, p. 7)

      Theodor Herzl’s diaries not only confirm that his objective was the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine, but that it would be an expansionist state. In the year of his death he described its borders as being “…in the north the mountains facing Cappadocia [Turkey], in the south, the Suez Canal [Egypt] in the east, the Euphrates [Iraq].” (Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries, 11 p. 711)

      In true 19th century colonialist fashion, Herzl contended that his “Jewish state” would protect Europe and its superior culture from the uncivilized East. “We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” (Theodor Herzl, Judenstaat, The Jewish State, 1896, p. 26)

      Even more revealing as to how Herzl intended to deal with Palestinians is the “Charter for Zionist Colonization of Palestine and Syria” which he drafted sometime between the summer of 1901 and early 1902. (Much to his disappointment, however, he was denied the opportunity to present it to the Ottoman Sultanate.) Article Vl of the charter called for Istanbul to grant the Zionists, in the form of the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC), “complete autonomy, guaranteed by the Ottoman Empire” while Article III gave them in effect, the right to deport the native population to other areas of the empire. Article 111 “[pertained] to the Palestinian and other Arab owners and inhabitants of the three categories of land to be purchased/owned by the JOLC – the large and small private landholdings, the Sultan’s state domain, and the land for which there is no title.”

      In 1905, while delivering a talk in Manchester, Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and fervent Zionist, observed that Palestine was “already twice as thickly populated as the United States…. [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population….” (Zangwill, Speeches, p. 210, quoted by Nur Masalah , Expulsion of the Palestinians…., 1992, p. 10)

      In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians “should be gradually transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919, quoted by Masalha, Expulsion…, p.14)

      In 1920, Zangwill proposed in The Voice of Jerusalem, that there should be an “‘Arab exodus’…based on ‘race redistribution’ or a ‘trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony,’ which he advocated as ‘literally the only way out of the difficulty of creating a Jewish State in Palestine.’” He continued: “We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction….To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.” (Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, p. 103, quoted by Masalha, EOTP pp. 13- 14)

      Other Zionist leaders saw the future Jewish state in Palestine not only free of Arabs, but the first step towards the creation of a much larger country. In 1918, Ben-Gurion described the future borders of the Jewish state as: “to the north, the Litani River; to the northeast, the Wadi’Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into the Sinai at least up to Wadi al-`Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan.” (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, pp. 34-34; cited by Masalah, Expulsion…, p. 87)

      In 1930 (when Jews privately owned only about four per cent of Palestine), Arthur Ruppin, a pivotal figure in political Zionism wrote that displacement of Arab farmers was inevitable because “land is the most necessary thing for our establishing roots in Palestine. Since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands in Palestine, we are bound in each case of the purchase of land and its settlement to remove the peasants who cultivated the land so far, both owners of the land and tenants.” (Rashid Khalidi, in Blaming the Victims)

      • CigarGod on January 22, 2018, 11:31 am

        Damning evidence.
        One reason so many books, documents, diaries, etc. go missing from achives.

      • Jane Porter on January 22, 2018, 3:20 pm

        Thank you Misterioso for your historical researches and informations.
        Here is one document from an important actor of the Trek of the Boers in S.A
        who certainly inspired Zangwill for his speech:

      • RoHa on January 22, 2018, 5:39 pm

        Oh, hush. You know perfectly well that we are supposed to pretend that the Zionists meant no harm, and that all was sunshine and lollipops until 1929. It’s the evil anti-Semitic Arabs who are at fault. That’s the approved line. Stick to it.

      • on January 22, 2018, 8:42 pm

        Great compilation – thank you Misterioso

  5. iResistDe4iAm on January 22, 2018, 8:39 am

    It seems that Roger Cohen’s recurring pangs of pseudo-epiphany are just a way to clear his liberal Zionist conscience (conflicted by endless complications).

  6. nelle on January 22, 2018, 11:30 am

    I first visited Hebron in 1980 after its mayor was exiled to Jordan by Israel. At that time there were few settlers. Now, nearly 40 years later, it has come to the criminal pass where it now stands. In 2004 I visited Hebron and saw nets suspended over Palestinian stores with garbage thrown down by settlers. This is the most vile racism, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s against the Jews and Ku Klux Klan America’s against African-Americans. I don’t know if we have a chance to exterminate the fascist settlers – and many agree that Israel is now a fascist country. It is hopeful that young Jews are turning against Zionism, a relic of my generation’s days.

  7. James Canning on January 22, 2018, 1:03 pm

    Bravo, Roger Cohen, for calling attention to the grotesque illegal Jewish settlement in Hebron.

  8. on January 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

    Hebron seems to be the place that can break the Zionist spell – all that’s needed now is to get the zio-zombies to visit.

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