New York Times on Israel’s ‘Biological’ Racism?!

In the pages of The New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen concludes that Israel is a racist country.

His logic?

Shuhada, a road within Hebron, a particularly violent area in the West Bank, is closed except to those passing through security checks, and sometimes closed to the public entirely.

In almost every country and language in the world, this type of security arrangement is referred to as a “sterile area,” meaning that it is kept free of potential security threats.  In fact, the term “sterile area” is used around the globe in airport security, domestic crowd control,  and military operations.

But Cohen has unilaterally decided that in Israel, and only in Israel, that word means racism:

The Israel Defense Forces refer to “tzir sterili,” or sterile roads, because no Palestinian is allowed on them, whether in a car or on foot…. Jews did not go to the Holy Land to deploy for another people the biological metaphors of classic racism that accompanied their persecution over centuries. But the exercise of overwhelming power is corrupting, to the point that “sterile” streets, presumably freed of disease-ridden natives, enter the lexicon.


By Cohen’s logic, governments around the world presumably consider all air travellers to be “disease-ridden natives,” as well as football fans, local residents in military towns, anyone who attends a presidential speech, and more.

But no, Cohen’s presumptions apply only to Israel. Even when Israel uses exactly the same terminology as…well, everyone.

Though it is not central to this particular article, I would be remiss if I did not also call attention to Cohen’s flippant description of Palestinians as “natives,” thus offhandedly dismissing the long Jewish history in the area.

Legitimate security needs

Cohen makes no mention of legitimate reasons for why such a globally common security measure might be necessary, or why Palestinians themselves might bear some responsibility.

The area surrounding Shuhada is currently home to frequent Palestinian riots, most recently several “days of rage” just last month, in which Palestinians threw molotov cocktails and rocks, and also burned tires. The area also hosts numerous terror cells, from Hamas , Palestinian Islamic Jihad and more.

If the UK police will create a sterile zone for something as innocuous as soccer hooligans, how could an area famous for its riots, firebombs and terror groups not have a sterile zone?

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Shuhada Street, Hebron by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Sense of scale

After spinning his story of racist Israelis, Cohen then paints an absurd fantasy that violence by Israelis and Palestinians toward one another is roughly equivalent, a “spiral,” with each act leading to the next.

Why absurd?

Because in order to paint his picture of Israeli violence Cohen first tells us of a soldier who was acting against orders (Cohen doesn’t mention that this soldier is now in an Israeli military prison) and then mentions a horrific terror attack by Jews in 1994, leaving out that Israel strongly condemned the attack, outlawed the group responsible, and imprisoned the perpetrators.

Palestinians, by contrast, have carried out 2,212 separate terror attacks against Israelis in 2017 alone, and far from being arrested by their government, the Palestinian Authority typically pays the attackers for their services.

Cohen does not alert the reader to this enormous difference in sheer scale or treatment.

Dubious journalism

The nature of Cohen’s column should come as no surprise: he has a long history of maligning Israel, and typically must resort to twisting reality, hiding or even misstating facts in order to do so. While a columnist is entitled to express his opinion, as a self styled expert on the region, Cohen might be expected to show a bit more balance, or at least depth of insight, over time.

There is no shortage of columnists interested in criticising Israel. But when Roger Cohen blatantly misstates facts (including the meaning of English words) in order to accuse Israel of gory racism on a biological level, he has passed far beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism.

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