However, in a recent article published by Al-Jazeera, human rights activist Stanley L. Cohen wrote that “BDS is a War Israel can’t win.” In your dreams Mr. Cohen, in your wildest, most fantastical dreams, and let’s begin by analyzing his statement as well as the news outlet that reported it.
Anyone who’s followed Al-Jazeera news for a while knows exactly what they stand for. They purport to be a just and unbiased news organization, presenting all sides of a debate, and aligning themselves with the motto “The opinion and the other opinion.” There are also many prominent American government figureheads who’ve lauded Al-Jazeera as real news even though they are funded by the Qatari government, with extra help from their emir. Just as a side here, the Qatari government is a central actor in funding Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the emir has praised Lebanese Hezbollah for its 2006 combat with Israel and the takeover of Lebanon. The Qatari government also supports the Syrian and Iranian regimes and they don’t have a parliament or democracy, none of which seem to matter to their devoted followers, especially anti-Israel activists.
I don’t know anything about Cohen other than his views from articles I’ve read, and photos of him draped in an Arab keffiyeh. It’s one thing to love and appreciate another culture, but I’m not sure what is behind is anger and invective when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With respect to his latest article, Cohen has not disappointed by employing one of Al-Jazeera’s favorite journalistic devices—cognitive anchoring. He sets the tone by branding Israel as a rogue nation with blatant disregard to international law, and especially towards the Palestinians. He writes that Israel is the Palestinians’ greatest “existential problem,” and they live under constant “brutal and de-humanising occupation of this enlightened state.”
You find that the likes of Cohen are never original, all of their ideas are borrowed from others who have already had a go at us, and as hard as they try to paint their cause as devoid of old prejudices, they fail miserably because the very premise of their battle against Israel is flawed to the core. Their argument is filled with half-truths and lies that it’s become quite apparent why they employ such tactics. It’s also amusing to see what else they may come up with next. They lie through their teeth in order to paint a new narrative and gain support from hordes of ignorant newcomers to the conflict (as we’ve seen in university campuses across America) or intellectuals who are nothing other than anti-Semites slowly coming out of their shells as this hatred becomes the new, modern mantra for anyone who pretends to care about humanity.
“Existential problem,” is a term Cohen’s borrowed from Jewish history, and one that’s always been employed to describe our plight in a world that actively fought to destroy us prior to 1948, when we were a scattered nation, and it still applies today because Israel has not had a moment’s peace since the day it was established. Anger towards Israel and Jews is universal; our critics come from neighboring and distant Muslim countries as well as the West since Jews worldwide are swept under this politics of hate. Israel and Jews and Zionism are always crisscrossed and interlaced. When Israel defends itself, sometimes Palestinians die, and apart from being accused of Palestinian genocide Jews in Paris, England, and Timbuktu are somehow blamed for controlling America and the world’s economy.
Like so many before him, Cohen resorts to debasing and belittling the credibility of anyone who dares align themselves with Israel. It’s so typical that it’s boring already and his use of “national righteousness” to emphasize the absurdity of Jews standing up for their rights, oh boy, what a hoot. He refers to anyone who supports Israel as “engaging in self-pity and worse, a kind of perverse humble-brag.” The more you read this article you gather that this guy has deep-seated issues that have nothing to do with his interest in the Palestinian cause. You can’t call this hatred old-fashioned any longer, it’s always around, lurking in the dark, but it’s become more prominent with the advent of “peaceful” groups such as BDS, Code Pink, and J Street to name a few.
So, do the Palestinians have an existential problem that’s brought on by Israel’s treatment of them? No, they don’t. Though, they do have problems, plenty, and life is miserable in the independent state of Gaza with their freely elected government of Hamas. But according to Cohen, their problems stem from Israel and they continue to suffer because of “failed international peace efforts.” He makes sure to put quotation marks around “peace,” to help emphasize a poor interpretation of peace and an obvious disregard for the process. He says this even though Israel does have peace with some of its neighbors, and a brief glance at a history book will reveal the outcome of so many of the peace efforts that were discussed throughout the decades.
These take us all the way back to the days of Haj Amin al-Husseini—prior to the establishment of Israel. But Cohen doesn’t think it’s important to discuss any detailed history, or put context to his half-truths, or explain the failings of any Arab leaders either.
We know that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was a huge effort by Israel to normalize relations in the region. It’s what Gazans had wanted all along, and this move meant the removal of all Jews from the region, thus turning Gaza into a Jew-free zone to an extent that even the Nazis never managed to accomplish. But this move has never received the prominence that it deserves in the annals of world politics.
Unfortunately, Gazans concentrated on destruction rather than development and advancement of their economy and society. They could have benefited greatly by using the infrastructure that Israel left behind. Instead, they smashed every shard of Jewish existence in the region similar to what Arabs have been doing for centuries—destroying evidence of Jewish life and building right on top of it, doing their utmost to rewrite the history of the region—by writing the Jews out of it. Photos of Gazan youth dressed in military gear, holding kalashnikovs and vowing jihad against Israel emerge routinely. The adjectives to describe a parent who plants such hate and teaches their child to kill escape me right now. Is it a wonder that terrorist attacks against Israel persist?
Equally worrying is the silence from our vocal humanitarian camp, unless they actually condone such behavior, which isn’t hard to believe if one’s familiar with some of their remarks in the past. Cohen blames Israel for every single obstacle standing in their way for a free and prosperous life. He doesn’t explain the wall around Gaza as a desperate attempt to contain those terrorist attacks. You won’t find Cohen discussing the intricate history of Gaza, Egypt’s involvement and the lack of involvement by surrounding “caring” Arab states for their Muslim brothers.
His tirade against Israel is an all-encompassing affair, so much so that he even talks of Orthodox religious control of Jews in Israel making life practically unbearable, and how the rabbinate routinely sends people to jail for marrying outside the law. What’s he talking about? The way he describes Israeli law and its treatment of civilians whether Arab, Jewish, or Palestinian has you believe that shari’a law reigns in Israel. He muddles the truth, distorts facts; it’s absolutely criminal, but this is precisely what crooked people do. They’ll present one falsehood after the next, and do whatever necessary in order to realize their goal. He admonishes Israel for its racist treatment of Muslims and restrictions on their religious freedoms, but he fails to mention a landscape dotted with mosques, and the unmistakable sound of the adhan (call to prayer), easily heard five times a day.
He goes to extreme lengths to paint the most damaging portrait of Israel, but it’s the type of information that BDSers will gobble up in an instant. It’s more conspiracy, more chicanery and without delving into lengthy explanations all you have to do is visit Israel and judge for yourself. Nothing that Cohen says is true; he loses all credibility as an attorney, as a humanitarian and as a human being.
And for those who don’t get it, for those of you who become so enraged, justly, with the usual half-truths or lies, or with the need to always have to prove the Jews’ right, the Jews’ historical connection to the land . . . let me explain: Cohen has no choice but to resort to deviousness when he doesn’t believe in Israel’s right to exist. Discussing the issues with an unbiased approach would never garner the type of following that he craves, certainly not the same attention. Cohen is in the business of presenting a slanted account of Israeli affairs because a true representation of the facts would bury him. “The propagandists of Israeli power understand all too well that BDS is the first clear-eyed, internationalist movement of people—not governments . . . ” A clear-eyed movement? But it gets even better, “In the view of Palestinians, the state of Israel has never possessed legitimacy, not by international standards as it was founded on expulsion, land theft and military occupation. The BDS movement approaches this abstract issue by offering practicable actions for citizens in the West . . .”
Cohen must rely on fantasy in order to come up with absolute nonsense. You have to laugh at his desperate reach here, stating that Israel was founded on expulsion and land theft . . . Yeah, whatever you say liar. (Israel was created by the League of Nations Mandate and reaffirmed by the UN Security Council in UN Resolution 181.)
He talks of “people power” as the solution to the conflict—people and not governments are going to lead the way for change in Israel. “People power” is a buzzword that smacks of Third Reich vitriol; if it wasn’t for the spreading of conspiracy theories about Jews and using phraseology to incite and create uproar and bias against them, then history may have been slightly different. Just slightly though because as “deicides,” and staunch objectors to Muhammad’s teachings, antisemitism had always been rife in Europe as well as Muslim countries, much before Hitler’s rise to power. Jews were murdered continuously throughout history and hunted down collectively, which makes Jews the chosen people to hate universally.
It also casts a heavy shadow on the rest of the world—a worrying perspective on humanity that such a hatred could ever exist from an institutional level and still persist in this day and age. Jewish people can never escape this reality, and we are always made aware of our history no matter what, as was the case when we were subjugated to humiliating rules in European countries or as dhimma in Muslim countries.
Today, Muslim countries have pretty much solved the Jewish problem in their regions, and everywhere else we find ourselves having to prove and defend ourselves continuously. Jewish identity is a matter of interpretation to a degree, and every Jewish person has their own idea of what constitutes this identity, but for the rest of the world all Jews are tied in with Israel, and Israel has been the focus of hate from its very inception. The world’s ugly history towards Jews should have already been a distant memory, nothing we could possibly relate to, and only study in history class, or read about in a biography, or novel. For now though, it remains a premature thought at best.
When trying to make the case for Israel’s right to exist, of course history has a central role in this discussion. But the Cohens of this world will view this as perennial victimization or hubris on the Jews’ part to continuously remind people of their history in order to further secure an excuse to occupy Palestine blah blah blah. I doubt that Cohen knows anything about Jewish history and I doubt that his bevy of supporters know much either. I will give you a tiny glimpse into a part of history that is almost never mentioned in mainstream media, and I think it’s important to do so in order to understand how forward-thinking and compassionate Jews have been in light of the pitiful, criminal treatment they had received from their Arab countrymen.
Anti-Jewish sentiment is not a made-up Zionist invention as Islamic apologists would have you believe, but it’s part and parcel of the Quran and Hadiths and interpretations of the Al-Qiyas and Ijma. Arab countries had the most vile anti-Jewish edicts, actually anti-anyone non-Muslim, but it’s equally tragic that human rights activists ignore the context of Arab treatment of Jews throughout history and the most important fact of all, which is that Jews had never treated anyone in a similar manner. Still, they try their hardest to present Israel as anti-Muslim and anti-Arab. You don’t have to take my word for it, there are so many sources written by people hundreds of years ago who traveled in the region and were mortified by the way Jews had been treated in Arab countries. Try looking for material written by Israel Joseph Benjamin in the 1800s and you’ll feel enlightened.
I will use Persia as an example here, and what I’m about to mention is not unique to its Jewish community because it’s the way most Jews were treated in Muslim countries. It also begs the question why have Muslim countries not changed their stance with respect to Jews or other non-Muslims, and why haven’t human rights activists intervened? This is an important point, because if we are truly to move forward with peace then Muslims have to contend with their history towards Jews. They can’t continue to deny the Jews’ existence in the region or the general attitude towards Jews in their society. Some sort of accountability must take place.
From the time of the Arab-Muslim domination of Persia in 642 AD, albeit there were a couple of leaders in Persia who were more forgiving towards Jews, and allowed them to flourish for a bit, their lives were generally limited to the list that I present below. The list was taken from David Littman’s article on the “Jews Under Muslim Rule, The Case on Persia.”
- The Jews are forbidden to leave their houses when it rains or snows [to prevent the impurity of the Jews being transmitted to the Shiite Muslims].
- Jewish women are obliged to expose their faces in public [like prostitutes].
- They must cover themselves with a two coloured izar (an izar is a big piece of material with which Eastern women are obliged to cover themselves when leaving their houses).
- The men must not wear fine clothes, the only material permitted them being a blue cotton fabric.
- They are forbidden to wear matching shoes.
- Every Jew is obliged to wear a piece of red cloth on his chest.
- A Jew must never overtake a Muslim on a public street.
- He is forbidden to talk loudly to a Muslim.
- A Jewish creditor of a Muslim must claim his debt in a quavering and respectful manner.
- If a Muslim insults a Jew, the latter must drop his head and remain silent.
- A Jew who buys meat must wrap and conceal it carefully from Muslims.
- It is forbidden to build fine edifices.
- It is forbidden for him to have a house higher than that of his Muslim neighbour.
- Neither must he use plaster for white-washing.
- The entrance of his house must be low.
- The Jew cannot put on his coat; he must be satisfied to carry it rolled under his arm.
- It is forbidden for him to cut his beard, or even to trim it slightly with scissors.
- It is forbidden for Jews to leave the town or enjoy the fresh air of the countryside.
- It is forbidden for Jewish doctors to ride on horseback [this right was generally forbidden for all non-Muslims except doctors].
- A Jew suspected of drinking spirits must not appear in the streets; if he does, he should be put to death immediately.
- Weddings must be celebrated in the greatest secrecy.
- Jews must not consume good fruit.
Cohen and his friends will also ignore the fact, as do most people with a very vague understanding of Jewish history, that early Jewish leadership had no intention of excluding the Arabs of Palestine either. There are plenty of documents that highlight this specific view of inclusion, even from Jewish leaders on the right of the political spectrum such as Jabotinsky by the way, and the evidence is open for all to discover and read.
And this open and positive attitude was also the case even after Arab riots and massacres of Jews throughout the Mandate. Cohen talks of theft of land by Jews from Arabs but fails to mention the actual practice of the day when Arabs would sell to Jews for exorbitant prices, and notorious for doing this were prominent Arab families who were more than happy to multiply their wealth and strengthen their position and control of the local Arab population. In order to secure those sales they would punish anyone else who dared to sell land to a Jew. They fail to mention the ongoing incitement to kill Jews, usually preceded by the spreading of lies and rumors of an imminent Jewish invasion with an intention to kill Arabs.
They fail to tell you how Arabs benefited from properly built sewage and water infrastructure in their villages or organized healthcare services by Hadassah–a necessity that was not provided by any Arab state at the time. And for the first time Arabs enjoyed neonatal care, it also lessened the death rate of their newborns dramatically. The influx of Arab immigration to the region in the late 19th century was due to all these exciting changes taking place across the land and new opportunities afforded to everyone, Arab and Jew.
In Efraim Karsh’s book Palestine Betrayed he expounds on the attitude of early Jewish leadership, and it’s information that is lost on every single person who’s sided with BDS, they just don’t understand that Arabs have always said no to anything that the Israeli establishment had put forward, and all the bloodshed and hate are a direct result of their leadership. This is what Ben Gurion had to say on the Arab matter: “. . . had Zionism desired to evict the inhabitants of Palestine it would have been a dangerous utopia and a harmful, reactionary mirage. Arab community is an organic, inextricable part of Palestine; it is embedded- in the country, where it toils and where it will stay. It is not to disinherit this community or to thrive on its destruction that Zionism came into being . . . Only a madman can attribute such a desire to the Jewish people in Palestine. Palestine will belong to the Jewish people and its Arab inhabitants.” He believed there was enough room for both people to exist side by side, and this was the majority attitude of the Jews despite the fact that Arabs had occupied their land; they were desperate to return and regain their independence, and put an end to Jewish Diaspora.
Those Jews made history by doing the impossible, they escaped from a bleak existence that started with expulsions and forced conversions to Christianity and Islam, pogroms, or just “tolerable” humiliating edicts tailored specifically for Jews. They were seen as unclean and unworthy by their fellow countrymen despite their valuable contributions to society, but they still managed to gain the initiative to turn their backs on their oppressors and develop the will to chance it, and resettle in the place where they had prayed to return for centuries.
It’s where it all began, and every Jew knows this because the evidence is overwhelming. We read about Israel in our holy texts, beautiful literature, and ancient history books; we stumble on tangible proof with every single step we take in that land. Israel has been the backbone and framing of Jewish identity. Jews existed without Israel for centuries, but barely.
Still, Cohen regards the reasoning behind any support of Israel as ringing hollow and amounting to “little more than the shilling of the professional apologist industry deployed on Israel’s behalf throughout the Western media, in the never-ending defense of the oppressive status quo in Palestine.” Hollow? Really? Again, we have proof that this stupidity, or hatred, or whatever you want to call it starts from the very top down. He talks of displaced Arabs but ignores displaced Jews who were kicked out of their country initially and left to wander the world, and specifically he ignores the town upon town of Jewish communities annihilated, and erased from Arab maps.
He says that BDS is brave enough to put the Right of Return up front as a moral position, but ignores the Right of Return of Jews to their own historical homeland. Cohen’s a law school graduate and he still doesn’t see why we’ve been defending Israel; he thinks that our reasons for doing so are disingenuous. Our history doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist, and for Cohen and his ilk all that matters is the Palestinians’ history and their well-being. This type of logic makes his argument so understandable, especially for the nincompoops who are easy prey for conspiracy theories.
BDS organizers see themselves as the self-proclaimed marshals of justice and equality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and without the Cohens of this world their job would be all the more difficult. There is nothing just about BDS, and they’re fighting an ugly war, but one they’ll be hard-pressed to win in the end. Lately, I’ve noticed that people who’ve been apolitical up to now have changed their stance. On Facebook I see a plethora of posts about this virulent antisemitic atmosphere that BDS is spreading around the globe from people who normally like to talk about their garden or cats.
At some point Cohen asks, “Who but a handful of supporters are left in the room with Israel?” He says that we don’t have enough support to promote our cause. How wrong is Cohen though? How stupid of him to write this? It’s proof though of how very little he does know about Jewish history—about Jewish people and Israelis. We were always a few Jews against the mighty armies of the world; the Hashmonean revolt would be one such example from ancient times. But whether we look into our distant past or just a few decades ago, we’ve always managed to stick together, to thrive when we got the slightest opening, to keep our faith even when we were forced to convert, and to never lose hope. We were a few when Arab states attacked us time and time again, yet we still managed to defeat them. We beat Hitler for heaven’s sake!
Cohen imagines that BDS is gaining momentum in the world, and there are plenty of Cohens out there who manage to make headlines, but so what? It’s the core of us who count at the end of the day, because we know the truth, and we can distinguish between what’s just and what’s just plain wrong, and we have never lost sight of this truth—not in the millennia that we have been wandering through this world. I happily boycott all the Cohens of this world. Eh, not such a great loss after all.