Does Richard Cohen Really Believe This?:

A few weeks back, I noted that Richard Cohen was unfairly lumped in with a group of hard-core Israel-hating leftist Jews. I also noted in that post that critics of Israel are too quick to imply or assert that friends of Israel are hysterics who leap to condemn any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, and by doing so, they are in effect trying to silence the pro-Israel side of the debate. As it turns out, an example of this disposition comes from none other than Cohen:

Anyone who reads the Israeli press knows that Israel's national sport is self-criticism, often in the most vitriolic and personal terms. On the day I am writing this, for example, I found a reference to a remark made by an Israeli judge. He suggested Israel is becoming as corrupt as Sicily.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that observation, but I can say that several of the country's top politicians, including the prime minister, are under investigation. I can also say - not withstanding the facts - that if a non-Israeli had made such a colorful comparison (Sicily! the Mafia! Goyim gone wild!), he would have been instantly accused of anti-Semitism or, if Jewish himself, of aiding and abetting anti-Semitism.

What an absurd assertion! Comparing corruption in Israel to corruption in Sicily is exactly the type of criticism that one would expect if Israel was treated as a normal country. Instead, critics tend to equate Israel with Nazi Germany and South Africa, and question whether all six million Jews in Israel should be either shipped back to where their anscestors came from or forced to live as a dhimmi minority in a Palestinan Muslim state.

I'm not an expert on the subject, but I'm perfectly willing to say that from what I can discern, corruption in Israel is a major problem. Forget investigations of the Prime Minister and whatnot; it's widely known among Israelis that one can avoid certain unpleasant military assignments if one has the right connections (as a relative of mine in Israel did), and that contractors often violate building rules willy-nilly because of "protexia" (connections) and bribery. While I'm sorry to report this is a real problem, I guarantee that I won't get an emails accusing me of aiding and abetting anti-Semitism. [Nor, would I get, as Cohen should, grief for stereotyping Jews with his gratuitous "goyim gone wild" remark.]

I'm sure, indeed, that Israelis and most friends of Israel would actually be overjoyed if stories and commentary about Israel focused on the real warts and strengths of the society, without the persistent demonization of the country and its people that you can find, e.g., in any comment threat at Kos or the Huffington post that deals with Israel. To take one telling example, every Israeli I have ever met hates reserve duty, most hated their army service, and, if they are are parents, have as their biggest fear that their sons will be sent to war someday. Many, indeed, contemplate emigration for just these reasons. Yet, Israel is consistently portrayed in the U.S. (and worse in the rest of the world) as a "militaristic" society. Of course, it would help if U.S. and other media correspondents in Israel ACTUALLY SPOKE HEBREW, so they could talk to people other than extreme-right-wing immigrants from the U.S. who live in the West Bank, and leftist university professors. Both groups, for different reasons, will create the "militaristic" stereotype to naive American reporters.

UPDATE: Of course, if the criticism of Israel as corrupt came from, say, a writer who has overlooked corruption in every other country he has written about, including countries that are far more corrupt than Israel, and, when writing on Israel, only reports such negative stories, than one has a right to question the writer's agenda. Context matters.

FURTHER UPDATE: To support my point, here is a posting at the pro-Israel "Israel Hasbarah" website discussing corruption in Israel. And here's another one by Leonard Fein in the Jewish Forward. And here's an ever worse example than Cohen.