Inside a synagogue in Esfahan
A row has broken out over allegations of antisemitism at the New York Times, America’s most vaunted name in journalism and a newspaper with a large Jewish readership. The storm centres on a column about Jews in Iran written by New York Times journalist Roger Cohen and a cartoon attacking the recent war in Gaza.
The newspaper, and Cohen in particular, has been accused of being too critical of Israel and an apologist for Iran and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Cohen’s column was written from Iran about the country’s small Jewish minority. His piece acknowledged the difficulties the group experienced and portrayed them as part of an Iranian society that he said was more tolerant, democratic and sophisticated than many American critics allowed.
Such sentiments might seem uncontroversial, but in America no one touching on issues around Israel or antisemitism escapes close scrutiny. Cohen was attacked by Jewish writers and bloggers. The Jerusalem Post dubbed him “misled”, while the Atlantic Monthly called him “credulous”. Others went much further…
Perhaps part of the reason for the intensity of the attack is the fact that he is Jewish himself. “I think it’s partly my name. The ‘self-hating Jew’ things can come to the surface in some of the responses,” he said. Another reason is that the column appeared in the Times, which many media experts hardly see as a fierce critic of Israel, given its home audience. “As soon as I read the column I thought a lot of people would be unhappy,” said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.
Any critic of Israel’s government comes to expect charges of anti-Semitism. It generally is more ferocious than the old McCarthy Days [and post-McCarthy] label of anti-American against any citizen who challenges U.S. foreign policy. After all, Israel occupies a special place in the American mythology of Freedom Fighters We Love and Support.
The ranks of Americans with friends in Israel’s Left has diminished – mostly as that independent Left has dwindled through age, collaboration with Centrist and Right politicians. So, that American Jewish voice shrinks, as well. Even the last of my old friends who once shared the occasional cell during earlier American repressions – are gone – the Arab and the Jew, they used to call themselves in argument. Though they both were Jews.