An open letter to NY Times columnist Roger Cohen
in response to his article reproduced
in the opposite column
From Maurice Ostroff October 5, 2010
Dear Mr. Cohen,
The provocative title of your September 23, NY Times article "A Test of Israel’s Character", prompts me to
ask why you believe that, among all the parties involved in the mid-East peace talks, only Israel's character is being tested?
The bias in the title could be ignored were it not reinforced by your recommendation to President Obama in the
same article, to break some bones and your belief, expressed during a public debate in Doha that, like a naughty child, Israel
should be severely spanked. This leads me to ask whether you reserve this tough aggressive approach for Israel only, or whether
you would ever suggest that Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Taliban or even Ahmedinijad deserve to be spanked or that their bones be
You may recall that when you spoke at a symposium in Israel a short while ago, I asked from the floor whether we
could treat your views on Israel as unbiased in view of your call for spanking Israel during that Doha debate. The motion
before the debate was "This House believes Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East". Phillip Weiss
spoke for, and you spoke against, the motion ".
As you replied to me that you could not recall using those words, I quote from a verbatim transcript of the debate.
Well I think The United States has to take that adult [Israel] across its lap
and give it a spanking. And he's not doing it.
Roger Cohen, would you agree with that?
I think that's what we're seeing, I think we're seeing that right now before our eyes. It might
not be as severe a spanking as most people in the audience would like to see"
The complete transcript may be viewed on the BBC site at http://www.thedohadebates.com/debates/debate.asp?d=76&s=6&mode=transcript
It is interesting that although you and Weiss were on opposite sides, you found common ground in agreeing that
Israel deserved a spanking.
I also refer to your categorical statement that unlike Netanyahu, Abbas is serious about peace and I ask how you
reconcile this view with his obstinate refusal to meet with Netanyahu during nine months of the building freeze and his reluctant
agreement to engage in indirect talks only when the moratorium was about to expire.
Referring again to the title of your article, will you perhaps agree that Abbas' character and his seriousness
about peace are more seriously under test than Israel's in view of his failure to respond to Ehud Olmert's astounding offer
of 98 percent of the West Bank, along with a promise to remove all settlers over the border as reported in Al-Manar TV of
August 12, 2008?
Mr Abbas himself confirmed that he received and rejected this offer in an interview with Jackson Diehl in the Washington
Post of May 29, 2009. The following excerpt of what Diehl wrote cannot be ignored if a serious attempt is made to understand
the complex Mid-east pace process
"In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state
on 97 percent of the West Bank -- though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He
confirmed that Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees -- something no previous Israeli
prime minister had done -- and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to
the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government,
Abbas turned it down. "The gaps were wide," he said.
Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze -- if he did,
his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly
squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. "It will take a couple of years," one official breezily predicted. Abbas
rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession -- such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would
imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.
Instead, he says, he will remain passive. "I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will
wait for Israel to freeze settlements," he said. "Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are
living a normal life." In the Obama administration, so far, it's easy being Palestinian".
Further doubt was cast on Abbas' seriousness about peace by co-founder of Fatah, Farouq Kadoumi, when he told journalist
Lamis Andoni that Abbas' acceptability to the West would "spare Fatah a right on collision with Israel and America while
giving Fatah a chance to recover from the high costs, in terms of losses of lives and leaders who ended up in Israeli jails,
after the Second Intifada". (Al Jazerra September 1, 2010)
In the face of your apparent prejudiced view of Israel as demonstrated in many of your articles, it is difficult
to accept your general views as balanced and unbiased. For instance, in your fine article of September 20, 2010, "Democracy
Still Matters", you wrote: "Democracies seemed blocked, as in Belgium, or corrupted, as in Israel, or parodies, as in Italy,
or paralyzed, as in the Netherlands". Although Israel unfortunately has its share of corruption, it is certainly not the
defining characteristic of Israel's democracy. Rather it is the proportional representation voting system which though fairer
than the "winner takes all" system in the USA and Britain, nevertheless creates multi-party problems.
Examination of the facts shows conclusively that Israel is doing more to act against corruption than many other
Western countries. For example, former Ehud Olmert's position as PM did not protect him from being indicted for corruption,
whereas Jacques Chirac who was dogged by allegations of corruption and nepotism since 1997 was protected by presidential immunity.
On Transparency International's corruption scale, Israel at number 32 ranks above 150 other countries, including
Portugal, Jordan. Czech Republic, Poland, Brazil, Lebanon and Syria, none of whom you regard as characteristically corrupt.
In the circumstances, I trust you will acknowledge that your damaging allegation that Israeli democracy is characterized by
corruption is totally unjustified.
In a September 24, 2008 article in the Guardian the executive director of Transparency International was quoted
as saying that public confidence in political office in Britain has been eroded by the 'cash-for-honors' affair and the grudging
exposures of MPs' expenses and that Britain had a wretched and woeful record in prosecuting business executives for paying
bribes to foreign politicians and officials to win contracts. He said this was epitomized by the government's decision to
drop the police investigation into allegations that BAE, Britain's biggest arms company, paid bribes to Saudi royals. The
Department for Business said there was an increasing number of UK investigations into foreign bribery, with 20 live cases
and almost 50 preliminary enquiries ongoing.
And of course one cannot avoid your own backyard in the USA with the ongoing DOJ scandal and the trial of former
governor Rod Blagojevich, the fifth Illinois governor to be charged with criminal conduct over the last 50 years. And of course
Enron and Arthur Andersen and the puzzling refusal of the treasury to rescue Lehman Brothers after having bailed out Bear
Stearns, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leading to the financial meltdown that has crippled the world economy.
In a January 29 2010 article in the Independent, Representative Alan Grayson is quoted as saying about a Supreme
Court ruling permitting advertisements by corporations during an election campaign "It basically institutionalizes and
legalizes bribery on the largest scale imaginable. Corporations will now be able to reward the politicians that play ball
with them – and beat to death the politicians that don't".
And despite all the above, you illogically regard Israel as the corrupt country.
You ask whether Israelis are ready, with the right security guarantees, to make the painful choices leading to
peace and unhesitatingly, together with the great majority of Israelis I answer a resounding YES! And in order to make progress,
in all sincerity, I ask you in your capacity as an acclaimed observer of the Middle East to elaborate on the "right security
guarantees" that you refer to, taking into account the continuing incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools and mosques,
the declared intentions to annihilate Israel and the consequences of Israel's evacuation of the Gaza strip.
I hope I am wrong in the impression I have gained from your articles that you are so biased that you are unable
to write objectively about Israel and I would welcome a response from you confirming that I am wrong.
I will be publicizing this letter, as well as the response I hope to receive from you.