Why Eliot Cohen Is Right To Call Out Vali Nasr Over Israel

November 1, 2023 Topic: Israel Blog Brand: Jacob Heilbrunn Tags: IsraelHamasGazaEliot CohenVali Nasr

Why Eliot Cohen Is Right To Call Out Vali Nasr Over Israel

In remonstrating with his colleague about the indispensability of Israel, Eliot Cohen has it right. Here's hoping that Johns Hopkins, too, doesn’t become a dangerous place.

The United Nations has long been a redoubt of anti-Israel sentiment, a dangerous place, to borrow the title of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s memoir of his tenure there during the Ford administration, when he resolutely battled against its most retrograde tendencies, including feting Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who showed up packing heat to the delight of the Third World contingent. A fresh instance of its pathologies has surfaced with a letter of resignation from Craig Mokhiber, the Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, that basically calls, among other things, for an end to the state of Israel.

Mokhiber seeks to occupy the moral high ground in ascribing low motives to Israel, which he, like more than a few of his confreres at the U.N., has always blamed first. The last paragraph of his mendacious missive explains that he is resigning because Israel’s incursion into the Gaza strip constitutes “a text-book case of genocide. The European ethno-nationalist settler, colonial project in Palestine has entered its final phase, toward the expedited destruction of the last remnants of indigenous Palestinian life in Palestine.”

Condemn Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu as the worst Israeli prime minister in its short history. Attack the policy of expanding West Bank settlements. But to hurl terms such as “genocide” and “colonial project” at the very moment that Israel has been brutally and wantonly attacked by a gang of murderers? Such wild language (are only the Palestinians “indigenous” to the region?) suggests that Israel qua Israel is illegitimate and, for good measure, that it is tantamount to a Nazi state.

Yet far from incurring censure, Mokhiber’s statements, as Eliot A. Cohen, who teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies points out on “X,” drew the approbation of his colleague, Vali Nasr, the former dean of the school. The Majid Khadduri Professor of International Affairs and Middle East Studies, in assessing Mokhiber’s letter, declared, “[L]ast paragraph best tells how international law & international rules-based order are coming apart, w support of the very world powers that tout its values & claim to be defending it. The American-backed world order will not be able to easily reverse this blow to its credibility.”

This is the thesis, more or less, of Nasr’s book The Dispensable Nation. It is always comforting for an author when contemporary events confirm their previous diagnosis. But Nasr has it backward. As President Joe Biden has recognized, the United States and its friends and allies are under assault both in Ukraine and Israel. Simply allowing Hamas and its Iranian protector carte blanche in the Middle East would be deeply injurious to what Nasr calls the “American-backed world order.” Should America simply wash its hands of the Middle East and allow the cutthroats of Hamas and Co. to run riot in the expectation that, as Mokhiber’s letter seems to suggest, a new era of peace might ultimately dawn in the Middle East with a single state solution (one presumably denuded of the pesky Jews who have been living there)?

Mokhiber’s little letter amounts to an inversion of reality. It transforms the Israelis into the aggressors and Hamas into a hapless victim. Cohen took Nasr to task for embracing the letter, observing about its final paragraph, “Colonial. If Israelis are colonists, what is the metropole? If an attempt to destroy the terror organization that avows its intent to kill Jews and celebrates torture and rape is genocide, what does that word mean?” What that word would mean is obviousa license to kill Jews around the globe, then proclaim that they brought it on themselves. In remonstrating with his colleague about the indispensability of Israel, Cohen has it right. Here’s hoping that Johns Hopkins, too, doesn’t become a dangerous place.

Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He has written on both foreign and domestic issues for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Reuters, Washington Monthly, and The Weekly Standard. He has also written for German publications such as Cicero, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Der Tagesspiegel. In 2008, his book They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons was published by Doubleday. It was named one of the one hundred notable books of the year by the New York Times. He is the author of America Last: The Right’s Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators, coming in 2024

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