Cohen Doesn’t Get Middle East
OpinionLetters to the Editor

Cohen Doesn’t Get Middle East

Readers respond to a column by local Jewish Voice for Peace leader Ilise Cohen.

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj, Jordan
Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj, Jordan

Thank you for including the guest column by Ilise Cohen (“Past, Present and Future Tents”) in your March 10 issue. I say this not out of agreement with her viewpoint, but rather strenuous disagreement with it.

As I understand it, her interpretation of the Israeli-Arab (including Palestinian) political situation is an interpretation of a Rorschach drawing that reveals far more about her outlook than it does about the realities of the political situation that she is attempting to describe.

Cohen is missing a significant amount of context. For example, in May 1948, in full adherence to established political protocols of the time, Israel issued its Declaration of Independence. In the Arab world, this date became known as Nakba Day, or Day of the Catastrophe. That sentiment still holds.

Jews in numerous Middle Eastern countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen, to name a few) were persecuted and had their property confiscated, for which they never received compensation.

Fast-forward to today, and some of the textbooks used in Palestinian schools are filled with hatred of Jews, Israel and Zionism. Where’s the justice in that?

The net result of the above dynamic is that there is a major existential difference between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. There is no Palestinian leader now in power who will recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation.

Israel has repeatedly sought a responsible Palestinian negotiating partner. The Palestinians have repeatedly counteroffered with nonstarter preconditions to negotiations.

As a result, there are 22 Arab countries, but there cannot be a single Jewish country. Until this issue is resolved, all other issues (including alleged Palestinian justice) are secondary. Said another way, if the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as an independent state, it is reasonable to expect progress on a range of subsequent issues.

Furthermore, Cohen’s approach, like that of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is to conflate several issues (Black Lives Matter, Palestinian justice, Jews of color, borders and walls) that create confusion instead of the resolution of primary issues.

A former U.S. president from the state of Georgia and several subsequent presidents and their respective secretaries of state have been down this path and consistently reached a dead end. Maybe it’s not such a good approach after all.

In addition, even the co-founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has admitted that Israel’s acquiescence to BDS demands would not end his opposition to Israel.

For those interested in Palestinian justice, perhaps a better target of their rage would be to demand that the Palestinian Authority hold elections. Consider that the PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, ended his elected term in January 2009, yet he remains in power eight years later. Where’s the justice in that?

Cohen complains of being marginalized. Her arguments are based on an incomplete understanding of the history of the region, an inability to distinguish between primary and secondary issues, and a dedication to solutions (like BDS) that do not produce satisfactory results, especially for Israel.

So here’s a thank-you to the editors of the AJT for providing an opportunity to read and dissect a viewpoint that does not enjoy widespread support in the Jewish community, either now or likely in the future.

— Richard Lapin, Dunwoody

JVP Is Anti-Israel

Ilise Cohen claims that Jewish Atlanta does not allow sufficient space for Jewish Voice for Peace yet hides the fact it actively promotes boycott, divestment and sanctions and wants to be part of the “big tent” only to advance an anti-Israel agenda. A cursory examination of its website and activities reveals that its primary goal is a Palestinian state replacing Israel.

JVP is very active in spreading the gospel of Palestinian refugeehood but ignores the issue of the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, let alone that both refugee issues were the consequence of wars initiated by the Arab world.

While giving lip service to Mizrahi Jewry, Cohen seems happy to forget their difficult history under Arab and Ottoman rule. Israelis of Middle Eastern origin are overwhelmingly supportive of a vigorous Israeli self-defense, and I have not met one who would want to return to the dhimmi status endured by their grandparents in much of the Middle East.

I have worked for a long time with an Israeli mathematician of Turkish descent who would give a very different view from Cohen’s.

It is curious that JVP protests Israel, the freest state in the Middle East, but can find no fault with the authoritarian regimes in every one of Israel’s neighbors. It blames all on the “occupation” yet is blind to the fact that this “occupation” would have long since ended if Palestinian leaders were prepared to end the conflict.

It is one thing to hand over vitally strategic land, conquered in a war of survival, to those prepared to accept your existence. It is another to hand it to Palestinian leaders who make it clear that every inch gained will be used for further hostilities.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a misnomer. It would more aptly be called “Jewish Voice for Palestine” or “Jewish Voice Against Israel.”

— Doron Lubinsky, Sandy Springs

Arab Responsibility Ignored

It seems the only group that has no place in Ilise Cohen’s tent comprises Jews who believe that Jews have the right to live on land of historic and religious significance to them, land that Israel liberated from an illegal occupier (Jordan) in a war of self-defense, land from which Jews had been ethnically cleansed during 19 years of Jordanian occupation.

It further seems that Cohen cannot bring herself to accept that the real persecutors of the Palestinian “refugees” (overwhelmingly descendants of Arabs who fled an Arab-initiated war against Israel decades ago) are the Palestinian leaders and the leaders of the broader Muslim world who incite the Palestinians to “violently resist the occupation” while the leaders themselves reject Israeli proposals for the establishment of a Palestinian state, one after another.

Unfortunately, this moral blindness has repercussions well beyond Israel. The world’s failure to condemn terrorist attacks on Israel has emboldened jihadists to strike in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Seeing Palestinians trapped in refugee limbo has led refugees from current conflicts to risk dangerous crossings into Europe from fear of suffering the same fate.

When will Ilise Cohen and Jewish Voice for Peace call for an end to the anti-Jewish invective that spews from mosques, schoolrooms and media outlets? When will they call on Muslims to stop persecuting Christians? When will they demand that Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims stop killing each other?

When will Cohen and Jewish Voice for Peace realize that Palestinians do not have a right of return to Israel? It’s true that some of their forebears who fled in 1948 (to ease the work of Arab armies in annihilating the Jews) had been told, by the leaders of the Arab armies, that the job would be accomplished quickly, after which they could return. But that promise did not obligate the Jews to allow themselves to be slaughtered.

Justice for the Palestinian “refugees” must mean that they can become citizens in a viable Palestinian state (or any other Muslim state that will rescind its laws barring Palestinians from citizenship and economic opportunity). Israel would be happy to cooperate in improving the economy of any Muslim state willing to live peaceably beside the nation-state of the Jews.

Toby F. Block, Atlanta

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