David Rothkopf

If only Israel would get over that darned Holocaust. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Roger Cohen’s piece called "Israel, Iran and Fear" in the Sunday New York Times contained just enough truth to very likely distract some readers from the two deep and dangerous misunderstandings on which it is based. The piece essentially argued at the outset that Israel should get over the Holocaust in the way that Germany ...

Roger Cohen’s piece called "Israel, Iran and Fear" in the Sunday New York Times contained just enough truth to very likely distract some readers from the two deep and dangerous misunderstandings on which it is based.

The piece essentially argued at the outset that Israel should get over the Holocaust in the way that Germany has. The misconception here, of course, is failing to recognize that getting over the Holocaust was as essential to Germany’s survival as never forgetting it has been to Israel’s. Germany could not move forward into being the vibrant democracy Cohen praised it for being unless it did what was necessary to accept responsibility for its bestial heritage and then able to compartmentalize that, effectively putting it in a museum to be viewed periodically, to be acknowledged, but also to be quarantined off from daily life. An Israel that dropped its guard and accepted the promises of its neighbors at face value (or, as paradoxically implicitly suggested by Cohen, dismissed the threats of its neighbors as bombast) could very well have long ago ceased to exist. 

Cohen believes Israel needs to stop "overstating" the threats around it, which he asserts are linked to never having gotten over the Holocaust, and for my money, undermines his credibility further by quoting Jimmy Carter to support his argument. Cohen suggests, as does Carter, that Israel’s policies are too driven by unjustified fear of enemies that it easily outclasses in might. His implication is that if they did get over this fear, they would not act so harshly against their enemies and adopt policies that only inflame the situation. Further, if they got "over" the Holocaust (and the millennia of constant and brutal persecution that preceded it) perhaps they would not be so easily able or inclined to justify getting overly tough with their enemies.

The notable element of truth in Cohen’s analysis is that the perpetuating the policy of building settlements on Palestinian land actually only inflames the situation. The policy needs to stop and Israel does need to move assertively forward toward a two-state solution for the reasons he states and that have been widely accepted worldwide.  

However, his second major misconception (and Carter’s) is of course, that somehow Israel is safer than it depicts, that the threat of its destruction is overstated by Israelis to serve political purposes. This is just patent nonsense.  Sure, Israel has a powerful military. But that army has already proven to be an ineffective defense against asymmetric warfare: It may win battles but for over twenty years it has regularly lost ground for Israel politically while failing to reduce the threat from its enemies.  Secondly, those enemies are the ones continuously calling for the destruction of Israel — the Iranians and the extremist mullahs throughout the region are not doing it just to prop up the Israeli PR machine. 

Third, as we move toward an era in the region in which there will be more nuclear weapons and materials scattered about we need realize that only one or two well placed devices (they can be delivered in VWs if missiles are unavailable) would have a devastating, perhaps permanently shattering impact on Israeli society. 

There is one more thing that weakens Cohen’s argument. He asserts Israel is strong in part because of the "cast-iron security guarantee" of the U.S. First, I find this kind of disingenuous given the regular efforts that Cohen makes to undercut that "guarantee by lobbying for a different U.S. stance on that front. But secondly, I think this point is overstated precisely because I think U.S. support for Israel is about to go through a measurable weakening. Part of this is due to the growing popularity of views like those of Cohen’s regarding the U.S. having been too slavishly supportive of Israel in the past. Part of this is due to the odiousness of some of the approaches taken by the Israelis-either in Gaza or with regard to settlements. And part of this is due to the missteps of some supporters of Israel in Washington. 

Notably on this front, see the CQ article, "Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC" by Jeff Stein.  If the piece is true, the degree to which some of Israel’s most extreme supporters in Washington went to win favor for their views may well be their own undoing, not just legally or professionally but in terms of the debate about the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

So, let’s see what we’ve got: Weaker backing from the U.S. Likely nukes in Iran and other countries in the region. Eroding political support worldwide.  Continuing calls from neighbors for its destruction. A demographic timebomb at its heart. Sure, now I see why Israel should relax and "get over" its fears for its own survival.

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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