Gentleman’s Agreement

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It is obviously easier to criticize how something was covered in the newspaper or who was included in an international or academic forum than to write about what or who was not there.  Often, the most powerful bias of a publication or conference organizer comes out in what they choose not to report or for a meeting, who was excluded.

Last year, the United States established a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), inviting a total of 29 states.  As the State Department website reads, “Launched by Secretary Clinton on September 22, 2011, the GCTF is a major initiative within the Obama Administration’s broader effort to build the international architecture for dealing with 21st century terrorism”.

Israel, which has certainly had vast experience with terrorism, was not even mentioned in Secretary Clinton’s initial remarks in September, let alone invited.  As for a video on terrorism victims prepared for the GCTF, the State Department advised, “Watch Global Survivors Network’s documentary, featuring survivors from Jordan, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, India, Uganda, Turkey, Columbia, Spain, Northern Ireland, Indonesia and the United States”.  Still no Israel. And from the New York Times and other media?


As a physician I am often reminded, “If you don’t document it, it did not happen”. The New York Times famously promises to provide “All the news that’s fit to print”.

The United States established the GCTF.  While this is commendable, Israel was excluded not only from the initial membership but also from the June meeting in Turkey and the July meeting in Spain.

In her remarks at the GCTF’s most recent meeting, Israel was also MIA (missing in action) from the list of terrorist victims recounted by Maria Otero, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

It has been observed that not inviting Israel to a counterterrorism conference is like excluding Columbia from a coffee conference.  Columbia, of course, is an exporter of coffee, while Israel may be the world’s leading recipient of terrorism.  Israel’s experience combatting terrorism is unmatched. There has been an ongoing effort at boycott, divestment and sanctions directed at Israel, the so-called BDS movement. Israelis have been excluded from academic conferences, as well as from appearing on campuses and international forums, her enemies seeking to isolate and thereby destroy her. It is concerning that the United States may be seen as having joined the BDS movement as it relates to excluding Israel from this international forum.   Based on the size of their population, Israel has been a major victim of terrorism, from the murder of their Olympic athletes, to the ongoing rocket fire from Palestinian ruled Gaza.  It is difficult to imagine their experience not being extremely valuable at a conference our State Department calls, “A unique platform for senior counterterrorism policymakers and experts from around the world to work together to identify urgent needs, devise solutions and mobilize resources for addressing key counterterrorism challenges”.

It is also difficult to imagine this was not a conscious decision by our government, which reinforces the view of Israel’s enemies that small country can be isolated and destroyed.  How can Israelis be expected to believe America will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, when our State Department can so easily be dissuaded from even inviting them to a conference?

And it raises questions as to why the “newspaper of record” and other mainstream journalists have chosen not to even cover this “major initiative.”
The 1947 film “Gentleman’s Agreement” won three Oscars, including Best Picture, for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of a Jew who was a victim of pervasive but informal anti-Semitism driven discrimination in New York and its suburbs.  Jews were unwelcome, but it took a courageous producer to bring that out, despite pressure from Hollywood Jews to avoid the topic, fearing it would “stir up trouble”. 

Unfortunately, less has changed than we thought. Then again, perhaps the Times’ editors share my opinion that a global counterterrorism forum that does not include Israel does not deserve to be taken seriously.

Gentleman’s Agreement

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John R. Cohn

John R. Cohn, Thomas Jefferson University, SPME Board of Directors

John R. Cohn, M.D., is a physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH), in Philadelphia, PA, where he is the chief of the adult allergy and immunology section and Professor of Medicine. He is the immediate past president of the medical staff at TJUH.

In his Israel advocacy work he is a prolific letter writer whose letters and columns have been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Haaretz, the Jewish Exponent, Lancet (an international medical journal based in the UK), and others. He was CAMERA’s “Letter Writer of the year” in 2003. He maintains a large email distribution of the original essays which he authors on various Israel-related topics.

He has spoken for numerous Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, the Philadelphia Jewish Federation and to a student group at Oxford University (UK). He and his wife were honored by Israel Bonds.

He wrote the monograph: “Advocating for Israel: A Resource Guide” for the 2010 CAMERA conference. It is valuable resource for all interested in maximizing their effectiveness in correcting the endless errors of fact and omission in our mainstream media. One piece of very valuable advice that he offers to other letter writers is: “Journalists and media are not our enemies, even those we don't agree with". Particularly for those of us in the academic community he urges a respectful and educational approach to journalists who have taken a wayward course.

In addition to the SPME board, Dr. Cohn is a member of a variety of professional and Jewish organizations, including serving on the boards of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, the CAMERA regional advisory board, and Allergists for Israel (American allergists helping the Israeli allergist community). In the past he served on the board of the Philadelphia ADL. He participated in the 2010 CAMERA conference (“War by Other Means,” Boston University) where he led a panel with students on “Getting the Message Out,” and a break-out session called “Getting Published in the Mainstream Media.”

He is married, has three children and one grandchild. He belongs to two synagogues--he says with a chuckle, "So I always have one not to go to". He has been to Israel many times, including as a visiting professor at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. His first trip was at age 10, when Jerusalem was still a divided city; and he remembers vividly standing before the Mandelbaum Gate, wondering why he could not go through it to the Old City on the other side.

He adroitly balances his wide-ranging volunteer activities on behalf of Israel with his broad and complex medical and teaching practice (including authoring numerous professional publications) while successfully maintaining good relations with a broad spectrum of Jewish community leaders and organizations -- no small feat.

Regarding his involvement with SPME, Dr. Cohn acknowledged first and foremost SPME’s Immediate Past President, Professor Ed Beck. Dr. Cohn has long perceived that under Professor Beck’s guidance, SPME has been doing an essential job on college campuses; so he was honored when Professor Beck invited him to join the board.

He finds it easy to support and be active in SPME because being a Jewish American and a supporter of Israel presents no conflict due to the congruence of both countries’ interests, policies and priorities. It is clear that Israel’s cause is not a parochial issue. It is a just cause and its advocacy is advocacy for justice.

For Dr. Cohn, the need for SPME is clear. The resources of those who speak out on behalf of Israel are dwarfed by the funding sources available to those who seek to denigrate Israel. Israel's supporters don’t have large oil fields to underwrite their work. And the campus is a critical arena for work today on behalf of Israel, because this generation’s students are next generation’s leaders.

For advancing SPME’s work in the future, he would like to see the continued development of academically sound analyses to counter the prevailing anti-Israel ideology of all too much academic research and teaching on campuses and in professional fields today. He points to Lancet’s creation of a “Lancet Palestinian Health Alliance,” which asserts that Israel is to blame for poor health care for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The documented reality, however, is that life expectancy, infant mortality and other measures of health are better for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza than in many of the countries so critical of Israel This is in large part thanks to Israel.

Dr. Cohn asserts that we need more research, analysis and publications to counteract such misleading allegations.

Read all stories by John R. Cohn