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Roger Cohen Rebuts

You may recall my several posts on Roger Cohen, his views on Iran, and its disposition towards its Jews, the Jewish people, and Israel. Here for background are also Cohen's Times website columns on these matters.

catty suggestionTimes
New York, May 2, 2009
Dear Marty,
I have fond memories of contributing to The New Republic, particularly in Bosnia days, when Leon Wieseltier coaxed me into a couple of pieces that benefited from his fine hand. I also recall the feeler you put out to me in Paris about the editorship; I was honored by that. I still think of your publication as one with high standards and fine journalism. So I'm doubly perplexed by your "The New York Times Downgrades Roger Cohen."
It's false and tendentious, as Andy Rosenthal and David Shipley, copied here, will attest, and would have if you'd bothered to contact them. I've never had a permanent place on the NYT Op-Ed page. I'm an NYT columnist with a twice-weekly column in the International Herald Tribune newspaper (our global edition), and on the NYT website (not the "on-line blogs" as you write.) I pinch-hit in the NYT paper when there's an opening, as there was while Kristof was on book leave 18 months ago, and when Kristol left earlier this year. Nothing has changed in that arrangement. I will continue to write for the IHT paper, the Times web site, and the Times itself when openings occur.
My first inclination was to ignore what you wrote. But we live in a viral age, and I keep getting inquiries (and some insults, of course) about my "downgrade." Standards matter less in the age of the Web, when anyone can post anything they like and nobody really gives a damn. But I imagine that you still have standards that matter to you, as they do to The New Republic. I would therefore request that you correct or retract what you wrote, since it's baseless. As I said, if you wish to confirm my unchanged status, you may do so with my editors.
Roger Cohen



Dear Marty,
Thank you. I appreciate that.
Believe me, I reflect without much interruption on Iran and Israel, as anyone subjected to the vilification I've faced would. I gave a talk last week to several hundred people in the Iranian Studies Department at Stanford. There are few such departments left in the country, yet another sign of the lamentable effects of three decades of non-communication. Dr. Abbas Milani, who invited me, began by telling a story of how his sister was brought to tears by several of my columns. I've heard of many such reactions from Iranian exiles, even some Jewish Iranian exiles, who dislike or detest the regime but loathe even more the hateful, one-dimensional caricature of their country that amounts to the sum total of received wisdom on Iran in many circles. Iran, as I've written several times, is an unfree, repressive society; it is not a totalitarian reincarnation of the Nazi regime. We don't know -- they don't know -- who's going to win the election in June. Case closed.
I was in Iran in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza mini-war. Synagogues were being desecrated from the Paris suburbs to Caracas. The Iranian regime was whipping up whatever hysteria it could -- not much -- with posters showing slaughtered Palestinian children. Everyone knows where the Jewish quarters are in Tehran and Esfahan. Everyone knows where the synagogues are, and there are a couple of dozen of them. Was there a stone thrown? Graffiti? A single insult? Violence of any kind? Not that I heard, and I asked and looked. I will continue to reflect on the nature of Iranian society and the current state of Israel, but I would ask you to consider whether you are comfortable that you know enough of Iran to pass unequivocal judgment, and whether you might not be distracted by one or two men's intermittent use of vile, hateful language from the more nuanced realities of a deep civilization.

As it happens, I went to a concert in New York on Sunday and met a young woman who had just returned with her mother from a visit to Tehran. They are Jewish, and had "escaped" (the young lady's word) 19 years ago. Her grandmother had remained, much as nearly 300,000 Jews had remained in Nazi Germany even by 1939. Her own evocations of what Iran is like are desolating.

I won't rehash what I've written about Cohen's writings. But there is a long clause in his letter to me above that indicates how disastrously wrong he is about Iran, and how positively reckless he is about the future of Israel and the remnant of the Jewish people that survives in this world. He writes: might be distracted by one or two men's intermittent use of vile hateful language...

"Distracted" indeed. "One or two men's..."; "intermittent use..."; Israel may not be precious for Roger Cohen. The Jewish people, of which he is a high priest and of which I am only an ordinary Israelite, may not be precious to him either. So let me say: No, I am not distracted. I am obsessed. And wish others had been obsessed 75 years ago.