I read Roger Cohen’s columns on Iran’s Jews last week and this with interest, and fully expecting what evidently followed: A barrage of condemnation. I have liked Cohen for a long time. Like David Brooks, my other favorite NYT columnist, Cohen defies easy caricature. While one could write a Bob Herbert or Tom Friedman column with something of a Mad Lib, Cohen both espouses unconventional opinions and writes beautifully.
Yet whenever it comes to Israel (and now, by extension, Iran), many of my Jewish friends get the heebie jeebies about our fellow-MOT. Cohen argued that Iran’s Jews actually enjoy a good deal of freedom, that most of them don’t want to leave, that they were against the Israeli operation in Gaza. Yes, he admits, they face occasional trumped-up charges of conspiracy with the Zionist Entity. But, as he argues this morning in his rebuttal, this is within the context of something that is not a totalitarian state. Not a free state, but no Fourth Reich either.
I’m not ready to take sides here (I like Jeffrey Goldberg a lot too), and I am surely risking the opprobium of some of my friends and colleagues. But many of us strongly supported the election of Barack Obama, on the basis that he was smart and sophisticated, that he would not be the reductivist thinker that George Bush was. (Of course, many of my friends did so feeling that Bush had been the best friend Israel ever had. I demur.) Why do we want someone with supple thinking when it comes to health care, education, the environment, and foreign policy challenges in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, but not the Middle East? Let’s at least have a fully fleshed-out and informed coversation. Cohen has given one side. I’d like to hear the other.