The Problem with Roger Cohen

The Tehran Times' favorite columnist.

Roger Cohen is a curious sort. His weekly columns obsessively spew forth hateful anti-Israel rhetoric while professing accolades for those stalwarts of democracy in Iran and Turkey. In the make-believe world of Roger Cohen, the Jews of Iran are in Utopia, “living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility,” and Israel is obsessively paranoid over Iran’s nuclear program, which he dismisses as “the nuclear bogeyman obsession.” Cohen is so in tune with the party line that even Iran’s theocratic mullahs have taken a liking to him, republishing at least one of his articles in their propaganda apparatus, the Tehran Times. He has since backtracked somewhat on the Iranians, having witnessed their brutality following Ahmadinejad’s theft of the country’s fraudulent elections, but his vitriol against the Jewish state is ever increasing and is matched only by his propensity to engage in sensationalist, and often times misleading, rhetoric.

Take for example Cohen’s recent article, “Israel Isolates Itself,” in which he calls on Israel to apologize to Islamist Turkey for actions against the Mavi Marmara and bemoans the loss of Furkan Dogan, a “19-year old U.S. citizen” and “aspiring doctor” from “upstate New York.” Cohen’s misleading description of Dogan conjures up images of a freckled face, bespectacled Norman Rockwell archetype dressed in the requisite graduation cap and gown. What Cohen cleverly omits is Dogan’s journal entries where he professes to dream of martyrdom. Also omitted is the fact that though Dogan was fortuitously born in the U.S., he was born of Turkish parents and lived in Turkey for nearly his entire life, having moved there at the age of two. Dogan was a U.S. citizen on paper only. In every other respect, he was a radicalized Turkish Islamist who sought martyrdom. Dogan knew what he was getting into when he joined his fundamentalist IHH mercenary cohorts. If he was not among those who cheered when IHH and other assorted Islamist demagogues lectured on the evils of the “Zionist entity,” he was certainly within earshot of those lectures. Make no mistake, Dogan was neither freedom fighter nor humanitarian, and he was likely part of a well-organized group of thugs armed with machetes, daggers, metal bars and other assorted goodies that violently attacked a group of Israelis who boarded the Mavi Marmara with nothing more than paintball guns.

As with all Israel haters, Cohen is very adept at driving a wedge between Americans and their only stable, democratic ally in the Middle East -- Israel. And there’s no better way to do that than by claiming (falsely) that Israelis kill innocent Americans. For over 40 years, the David Duke types have been pushing the asinine and fringe conspiracy theory that in 1967 the U.S.S. Liberty was deliberately set upon by Israeli forces with premeditation and intent to kill Americans. More recently, they’ve focused their efforts on the 9/11 attacks, claiming that Jews were warned to stay away from the World Trade Center by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Now, Cohen attempts to place a new spin on this age-worn anti-Semitic canard by claiming that Dogan was executed by Israeli soldiers, or in his own nebulous words: “something close” to being executed.

Cohen notes further that the panel set forth a recommendation that Israel issue “‘an appropriate statement of regret’” on the incident. He then takes a sudden leap, asserting, “Yes, Israel, increasingly isolated, should do just that. An apology is the right course and the smart course.” Did I miss something here? How did we jump from an “appropriate statement of regret” to an “apology”? The Palmer Report, which upheld the legality of Israel’s blockade and laid much of the blame for the debacle on Turkey and its affiliate, the IHH, called on Israel to offer a “statement of regret.” Israel has already accepted the report’s findings (with some reservations) and has issued such a statement along with an offer for compensation. The Turks, who rejected the UN-sanctioned report, also rejected Israel’s overtures and made clear that they would accept nothing short of a full apology, along with a lifting of the blockade. So much for compromise. But Cohen neglects to mention any of this and stubbornly clings to the party line of bashing Israel no matter the cause or circumstance.

That Cohen chooses to side with Turkey’s Erdogan, the man who allowed the Mavi Marmara to set sail from Turkey and whose Islamist rhetoric inspired the doomed voyage, speaks volumes of his duplicitous nature. Cohen, the writer-intellectual, chooses to side with an Islamist thug, who, in typical authoritarian fashion, has all but managed to stifle any meaningful dissent in his country, assuming near total control over a once independent judiciary and press. It is almost comical that while Cohen demands an apology from Israel to Turkey for the killing of nine fundamentalist Islamists in self- defense, he issues no such demand on Turkey for committing genocide against Armenians, for denying its Kurdish citizens basic civil rights, for routinely violating Iraqi territorial sovereignty, nor for its occupation of northern Cyprus and the disappearance and presumed murder of Greek Cypriots during the 1974 Turk-Cypriot conflict.

Feigning concern for Israel, Cohen notes (as his article title suggests) that Israel’s failure to apologize will result in a “needless road to an isolation that weakens Israel[.]” Cohen should spare us his sanctimonious lecturing and crocodile tears, because he is dead wrong on this issue, as he is on nearly every other matter concerning the Middle East. In some respects, Israel's diplomatic circumstances are better than they were in the 1970s and 1980s when the Eastern Bloc and so-called non-aligned countries were beholden to oil interests, liberation theology and Marxist dogma. Israel, of course, does not have diplomatic relations with countries like North Korea, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran and Syria. If Turkey wants to join this ignominious group of rouge nations, so be it, but it's certainly no badge of honor. In fact, Turkey’s downgrading of relations with Israel has produced surprisingly positive consequences for Israel’s relations with other countries, including Greece and Cyprus; nations with whom Israel had icy relations in the past. Israel now maintains good ties with both of these nations in all spheres.

But most troubling of all, beyond Cohen’s knee-jerk tendency to cozy up to petty autocrats and his penchant for providing misleading information, is his outrageous hypocrisy. Cohen is a man who could probably cite every single anti-Israel UN resolution, chapter and verse. In fact, he frequently refers to them when engaged in his Israel bashing. But true to form, he will not accept that rare, almost exceptional U.N. finding in Israel’s favor. He still calls on Israel to apologize when no such demand is made by the U.N. panel. But could we expect anything more from a person who gushes when it comes to Iran and even had the gall to characterize the 1979 Khomeini revolution as an act of liberation, under which “freedom has ebbed and flowed"?