Monday, December 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Roger Cohen

Dear Roger,

You are a coy one.

You were raised in London where you were denied a scholarship based on your religion. You, then, without much incident, accepted another scholarship, taking up no fight against the bigots who had betrayed you previously.

I was raised in Brooklyn, New York. One time I was mugged by two African-Americans.

Each of the above stories seem about as relevant as Ira Stup's background. Probably more relevant though when you consider we are, at least, protagonists in this letter - unlike Ira, a poor vehicle for your venom in your most recent piece. By the way, whatever was he researching with that fellowship in Israel? Ah, for another time then, hey?

I return from your Op-Ed, The 'Real Jew' Debate, in the New York Times deeply troubled.

You see, as President of Artists 4 Israel, it is my proud duty to teach the world about the freedoms that Israel defends which create the opportunity for artistic expression. Included in that glorious array of artistic mediums is, of course, writing and, consequentially, journalism. As such a noted and long-historied purveyor of this craft, I imagined that you would be a clear example of reportage done right. I turn to your example for guidance.

In The 'Real Jew' Debate you draw large, finite opinions based on minimal, anecdotal, suspicious evidence. Your words read like a 12 year old's diary, full of lies, innuendo, gossip, rumor and these ridiculously clipped, short, silly sentences. You condemn an entire people - nay, an entire two countries - based on the supposed, unverifiable actions of a few individuals (some Yarmulke wearing Jews. In Israel nonetheless. Super specific. Super hate-mongering). Is this your lesson?

Am I to infer based on my experiences in Coney Island, Brooklyn that all African-Americans are thieves and criminals? Surely, you would not want me to stereotype in such a obviously derogatory and offensive way. There can be no truth in that.

Am I to infer, based on the singular and undocumented experience I found in your wiki regarding your denied scholarship that all Londoners are anti-semitic racists? Am I, then, to infer, based on your action of accepting a different award, that you are far less critical of those who wish you harm than your greedy and self-serving. Perhaps there is truth in this.

As a journalist, I imagined you would attempt to draw upon information from all sides in a story. I recognize the shorthand of Op-Ed but certainly can't imagine that such a distinguished writer as yourself would allow any of your prose to be weighted by one-sidedness and opportunism. But, here comes the lopsided Op-Ed, heavy with quotations from J Street, an organization who has time and again been discredited and seemingly fictitious stories about one, inconsequential man from Philly but light and paper-thin with any real evidence, fact, truth or, for that matter, opinion from those of who your sources are most critical.

You have not built a straw man for me to discredit. Instead, you have turned a straw man into a straw kingdom, complete with straw homes, castles and straw intrigue. What a compelling, albeit fictional, narrative you unwind before us.

Are you character modeling? Perhaps Ira and J Street represent an everyman meant to battle the behemoth of the mass of Israeli-advocacy organizations you name. But, certainly, if these organizations were so monolithic, you'd be able to find some quotes or other evidence of their wrong-doing than simply allowing J Street to paraphrase their purposes. Your article cries for unfettered and fair debate but falls incredibly short of providing an example of such and, to paraphrase you, your Op-Ed remains "stifled."

Let me help. Artists 4 Israel supports Israel's right to exist in peace and security. And, although we do not write this in our mission statement - there is a very clearly implied "no matter what" at the end of that support. The right to freedom, liberty and self-determination is unmistakeable. So, too, is the right to self defense. What is not a right is for me, the organization or any other armchair diplomats to determine the correct course of action for any state. Bush and Clinton have been stymied by this debate and now, too, Obama is being stumped. That is because, like you, they so far want to see peace that they forget their must be a peace partner. Let us call that by its literary term - intentional fallacy.

Hamas - with their declaration yet again today that they want all of Israel are not that partner. History has proven that the PA is not that partner. Who then? Perhaps you could build another straw man - a surprise character to move this issue along. Or, are you too busy ignoring your readers?

To dismiss the variety of opinions on Israel and America's open society in one huge breath, you would have the power to blow away the credibility of your own words. Perhaps you are far better at literature where your failure to consider any opinion but your own mirrors the obtuse and uneducated viewpoints of your lone source. You do wonders at narratively foreshadowing the telling incident that best describes your sort of debate - rude, obnoxious, hecklers who trade bumper sticker slogans and poster marker for serious, intellectual dialogue.

I choose, then, to hold you in high esteem as a fiction author. You have created absolutely mesmerizing characters of the truest post-Modern ilk, removed from reality and unbound by societal truth and convention. Bravo. Otherwise, were I to still consider you a journalist, such blatant disregard for journalistic standards is insulting to your readers, and evidence that perhaps you really are far more self-serving than credible. Perhaps your lesson of stereotyping is right after all. You are a coy one, Mr. Cohen.

Let the blacks know - bigotry is reborn.

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