A week ago, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote a now much discussed column about Iran’s Jews. The gist of his argument was that Iran’s Jews live in a good place, evidently without fear. The 25,000 still in Iran, he wrote, worship in over a dozen synagogues and make up the largest Jewish community in the Muslim Middle East. True, before the Iranian revolution their community was some 1000,000, but far less left Iran than other Arab communities when Israel was created. “The Arab Jews has perished,” he writes. “The Persian Jew has fared better.”
What about the Israel bashing, so famous from the endless anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of President Ahmadinejad? As Cohen sees it, one has to ask what is more significant; the ranting or that the Iranian Jews live in “relative tranquility,” as proved by the fact that he has seldom “been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran.” He recognizes that in 1999 Iran arrested Shiraz Jews on trumped-up charges of espionage, which was “the regime at its worst.” Still, he explains, Jews have one representative in Parliament, although a Muslim is not allowed to vote for a Jewish candidate. So, Cohen suggests we show “realism” about Iran, and not respond to it in a way that makes us see Iran as a rogue regime.
As you might expect, Cohen was promptly blasted by many columnists and writers, including Marty Peretz, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rafael Medoff, Ed Lasky, and Uriel Heilman once and then again. Now yesterday, Cohen took to his paper’s website to respond. That may have been his latest mistake, because he makes himself even seem more foolish than he was the first time.
Now I cannot be accused of being a Roger Cohen basher. On this site, I previously wrote favorably about his Times Magazine story on Cuba. I have some disagreements with his arguments, but he recognized Cuba’s continuing suppression of political dissidents, and the accuracy of those who see Communist Cuba as a totalitarian and repressive society. Would he have been as critical as Iran as he is of Cuba.
First, if one goes to the links of his critics that Cohen himself provides, it is immediately apparent that he quotes them out of context in his response, in order to make them appear unreasonable. He is peeved that Jeffrey Goldberg, perhaps the single best correspondent to have written about the Middle East, accuses him of being taken in by Iranian hospitality. What he does not tell readers is that Goldberg is quite specific; he notes that in societies no one thinks is anything but hateful towards all Jews, Goldberg himself was treated civilly and respectfully by radical Islamists from both Hamas and Hezbollah who were nice to him, after telling him of their goals to destroy Israel and murder Jews. The personal, Goldberg notes, is not always political.