Israel at 60: Interview with Mitchell Cohen


While its faced its fair share of knee jerk reactions, unpleasantnesses, accusations of ethnocentrism, and other semiorrhea, Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary last month.  I just came across an interview with Dissent editor Mitchell Cohen from last month. Cohen touches on a number of interesting questions and issues. There are some particularly interesting exchanges:

Daniel Buarque: You point out in your article, “Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn’t Learn” (check it out, a fine article-SO), that Israel’s legitimacy is often questioned in the world because of conflicts in the Middle East and because of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians. Should the rest of the world celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Israeli independence? Why?

Mitchell Cohen: One of the points I tried to make is that Israel is subjected to double standards, especially on the left. Saying that gives me no joy: I identify with the left so my criticism comes from within the left. I celebrate the birth of the state of Israel because it represented the success of a national liberation movement. Here you have a people, the Jews, who had been persecuted for centuries, who had been the internal “Other” of the West. Their suffering culminated in the Nazi slaughter. From its origins in the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement was pessimistic about the future of the Jews in the West and in Russia. Many liberals and leftists told them that they were too “particularist” and should put all their faith in universalizing political movements—communism or liberalism, for examples—but nobody can look back at the last century and say that the Zionists were wrong in seeing that emergency was at hand and that what might be called political Esperanto was wrong. Continue reading

Integral Cosmopolitanism, Not Good


Continuing with the discussion between Mitchell Cohen and Andy Arato (see here) about the Left, the conflict in the Middle East and the Turin Book Fair, Cohen has written an interesting response to Arato’s accusation that supporters of Israel risk ethnocentrism. Cohen’s article, “Against Integral Cosmopolitanism,” begins with an analogy:

I delayed responding to Andy Arato in the hope that Tariq Ramadan and Tariq Ali might clarify some issues by demanding a boycott of the Olympics to protest the killings in Tibet, a poor land occupied brutally since 1951. Alas, I cannot report that Ramadan has called on members of the Arab League or Iran to act against Beijing, which is also a chief patron of Sudan’s genocidal government. Ali does not seem to be urging intellectuals to action on China comparable to his (and Ramadan’s) campaign to deny Israel honors at European book fairs. Perhaps sport must just go on, as did the Olympics in 1972 after the Israeli team was massacred. I’d like to know if they think that it was right for the games to go on then and why; and I’d like to know if Andy Arato thinks that it is no longer the right time for the Olympics to take place in Beijing as he thought it is “not the right time” to honor Israel in Turin and Paris. He says “it just so happens” that Israel occupies certain places. But it didn’t just so happen and that was why I said that definitions of states and laws must be contextualized. It has to do with the political impact of historical memory too, and so I do not quite understand how Arato can refer to an “aggressive Israeli war” of 1967 yet declare that it doesn’t matter who was at “fault.” I’d still like to know: What would you do if three states in a legal state of war with you mobilize their militaries? And one of them demands removal of the international buffer force that had prevented war for a decade. And the UN complies and your second largest port is blockaded. What do you do? Explain an ideal speech situation to a populist-nationalist dictator (Nasser) or an overtly fascist party (the Ba’ath in Damascus)? Wait until international law secures universal values?

The analogy is fairly clear and for the most part I think its quite effective. Why isn’t it fair game to demand the same human rights standards for other countries that we set for Israel, in this case, China? Once again, the question becomes why is it that Israel in particular is such a concern and has to meet standards demanded by the Left? Why is Israel under such a microscope? Why protest Israel–a democracy– but not other horrifically repressive regimes at work that Mikhail has been chronicling here for a while now? Why such a double standard? Unfortunately, the short answer may just be, as Cohen suggests, antisemitism.  Moreover, this passage points  to another issue lurking around in these exchanges, the issue of  universal rights, whether the Rights of Man and/or Revolution, or cosmopolitanism. Continue reading

Antisemitism and “the Left”


I was re-reading Mitchell Cohen’s article “Antisemitism and the Left that doesn’t Learn” in Dissent this morning and thought I’d post an interesting passage. When I first read this I thought that Cohen might be overstating his case, but now I’m not so sure. Anyway, here is the excerpt:

A FEW YEARS ago I sought to outline commonalities between anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist discourses in a scholarly journal. It is worth reproducing. Here are major motifs that inform classical anti-Semitism:

1) Insinuations: Jews do not and cannot fit properly into our society. There is something foreign, not to mention sinister about them.

2) Complaints: They are so particularistic, those Jews, so preoccupied with their “own.” Why are they so clannish and anachronistic when we need a world of solidarity and love? Really, they make themselves into a “problem.” If the so-called “Jewish problem” is singular in some way, it is their own doing and usually covered up by special pleading.

3) Remonstrations: Those Jews, they always carp that they are victims. In fact, they have vast power, especially financial power. Their power is everywhere, even if it is not very visible. They exercise it manipulatively, behind the scenes. (But look, there are even a few of them, guilty-hearted perhaps, who will admit it all this to you).

4) Recriminations: Look at their misdeeds, all done while they cry that they are victims. These ranged through the ages from the murder of God to the ritual slaughter of children to selling military secrets to the enemy to war-profiteering, to being capitalists or middlemen or landlords or moneylenders exploiting the poor. And they always, oh-so-cleverly, mislead you. Continue reading