Reading Roger Cohen in the New York Times

Roger Cohen: Liberal ZionistM. Shahid Alam

Roger Cohen is the rare columnist at NYT who makes an occasional effort to bring some objectivity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, how far does his objectivity go?

Consider his piece of June 10, “Modern Folly and Ancient Wisdom.”

I have selected a few excerpts for comment.

First excerpt:
“Israel’s bloody interception of the Mavi Marmara and its motley crew was crass — another example of the counterproductive use of force — but nothing about it could justify the Turkish prime minister’s outrageous statement that the world now perceives “the swastika and the Star of David together (italics mine).”

Why does he speak of the “motley crew” on the Mavi Marmara? First, is ‘crew’ the appropriate word for the humanitarian activists on a ship bringing relief to people under blockade. ‘Crew’ has unpleasant connotations. Let us consult the Oxford English dictionary. Originally, it meant “an augmentation or reinforcement of a military force.” Now, by extension, it means “Any organized or associated force, band, or body of armed men.”

In addition, why is this a ‘motley’ crew? Does he mean heterogeneous? In fact, most were Turkish. Why then are they “motley?” The word has a bad odor. The OED concurs. Consider two entries in the OED. Entry one: “Of a thing or collection of things: composed of elements of diverse or varied character, form, appearance, etc. Freq. with implication of poor design or organization (italics added).” And entry two: Of a gathering or group of people: consisting of people of diverse or varied appearance, character, etc.; miscellaneous. Freq. depreciative (italics in the original).

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Israel’s garrison-like hilltop settlements

It is a mark of how the US media’s uncritical coverage of Israel is eroding when you see Roger Cohen in the New York Times consistently being allowed the space to describe the desolate scenes in the West Bank which are punctuated by “garrison-like settlements on hilltops”. In his latest article he writes of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit there, in which he states: “If you’re looking for a primer of colonialism, this is not a bad place to start.” This type of language represents a promising shift in the Times’ op-ed pages.

The sparring between the United States and Israel has begun, and that’s a good thing. Israel’s interests are not served by an uncritical American administration. The Jewish state emerged less secure and less loved from Washington’s post-9/11 Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy.

The criticism of the center-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come from an unlikely source: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s transitioned with aplomb from the calculation of her interests that she made as a senator from New York to a cool assessment of U.S. interests. These do not always coincide with Israel’s.

I hear that Clinton was shocked by what she saw on her visit last month to the West Bank. This is not surprising. The transition from Israel’s first-world hustle-bustle to the donkeys, carts and idle people beyond the separation wall is brutal. If Clinton cares about one thing, it’s human suffering.

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