BY MARY REINHOLZ | Radical left-wing lawyer Stanley Cohen once lived in an Avenue D loft while defending squatters, hackers, drug dealers, anti-war activists and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law.
Over the years, the 70-year-old flamboyant mouthpiece, who served 11 months of an 18-month sentence on tax charges from two convictions, starting in 2013, has periodically represented members of Hamas, the militant Islamic network designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group. He successfully defended a senior political leader, Abu Mazoud, in federal court, first on immigration charges and then on suspected terrorism.
Now living in the Catskills with his Mohawk Native American wife, Cohen, who is Jewish, won’t discuss any of his current dealings with Hamas members but has closely followed coverage of the group after its Oct. 7 multi-front surprise attack on Israel that thwarted the Jewish state’s vaunted security apparatus, killing some 1,400 people and kidnapping roughly 200 as hostages.
He called this reporter on Tuesday about a “direct hit” by an alleged Israeli airstrike on a hospital in Gaza that reportedly killed hundreds in the enclave that Hamas has controlled since 2007 after parliamentary elections. Both Israel and Hamas have since blamed each other for the attack on the hospital — Israel charging it was a Hamas rocket that misfired, one of hundreds that have done so since the Oct. 7 attack.
Israel has maintained a blockade on the 25-mile-long enclave since Hamas took power — cutting off water, electricity and food last week for more than 2 million Gazan inhabitants and beginning a steady bombardment of retaliatory aerial strikes, killing more than 2,020, many of them children, according to authorities.
Asked if Israel’s imminent invasion of Gaza could result in an even larger bloodbath, Cohen asserted: “There’s been a bloodbath going on for years in Gaza because of the horrific conditions that Israel has forced” on the community as its “occupier.” Like many others opposed to the blockade, he described the Gaza Strip as an “open-air prison.”
Cohen also denounced mainstream news reports that Hamas had committed atrocities such as burning and beheading babies as “total bulls—. I wasn’t there but I’ve heard from reliable sources there was a gunfire fight with Israelis. There were Israeli soldiers at each of the locations” where Hamas attacked, he claimed. “Were they carrying bows and arrows?” he asked sardonically during a telephone conversation.
He claimed that one political commentator had acknowledged that some of his stories and texts on Hamas “burning babies” were false. Cohen says some of the simplistic media narratives have “erased” everything Israel has done against Palestinians before Oct. 7, suggesting that “Hamas just woke up and killed some Jews in a vacuum, without any context, and decapitated babies. There have been almost daily attacks, with Palestinians shot down. There’s been land theft. There have been attempts to annex all of Palestine,” claimed Cohen, who has written extensively on the subject for Counterpunch, including in its current issue.
In a recent profile of Cohen in the New York Post, he’s quoted as saying: “Do I agree with the notion that Palestinians have a right to armed struggle? I do,” he said, calling Israeli “settlers” and soldiers “legitimate targets under international law.”
(Note: The Israeli settlers are in the West Bank — not within Israel, including the area around the Gaza Strip where the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre occurred.)
Fellow lefty lawyer Ron Kuby read the Post piece on Cohen. He told The Village Sun that he disagrees with Cohen’s views on reports of Hamas atrocities as false and on Israeli “settlers” as legitimate military targets.
“There’s plenty of proof that Hamas is deliberately targeting and murdering civilians,” Kuby said. “And there’s no justification under international law for Hamas to attack civilians. The United Nations has long recognized and legitimized Israel — and not as a settler colony. Its civilians are not legitimate targets.”
As for Israel’s tactics of depriving Gaza residents of food, water and electricity, Kuby stated, “There is also no justification for Israel using hunger and thirst as tools in war and there’s no justification for the indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets [in Gaza] because some schmuck with a rifle might be in one of the apartments.”
In reply, Cohen told The Village Sun that, “Mr. Kuby does not accept that armed struggle by the occupied is legitimate under international law. He apparently does not understand one need not be wearing a uniform to be a legitimate target.”
Kuby, however, who is also Jewish, agrees with Cohen that Israel has turned Gaza into an “open-air prison and apartheid state. Israel rules over 4 million people in Gaza and the West Bank,” he said. “They are completely under the control of Israel because they are not citizens and have no civil rights. They also have no place to go,” he said of Israeli efforts to evacuate Palestinians from northern Gaza.
A few days ago, Kuby, who is also a radio show host and occasional television pundit, stopped commenting on the Israel/Hamas war on his Facebook page because, he said from his Chelsea office, “I spent time arguing with people who were rabid and irrational and I accomplished nothing. I’m going back to [working with] Black people behind bars because that’s something I can do something about.”
For his part, Cohen keeps writing, litigating and speaking out about the situation, adding he doesn’t have much faith in President Biden, who has pronounced unwavering support for Israel and plans to visit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow in Israel.
“He complicates things,” Cohen opined. “He f—s things up. He’s in way over his skill set and his internal circle of advisers share the malaise.”
Will more Gaza residents evacuate as Israel continues its bombardment?
“It’s not up to me,” Cohen said, adding he believes that the overwhelming majority want to live in their homes and communities. “Would people here [in the U.S.] be thrilled if a million Ukrainians moved here?” he asked.
Queried about Russian President Putin and his war on Ukraine, Cohen snapped: “Putin is a war criminal and a piece of s—, and I’ve said that for 20 years.”
Cohen grew up an Orthodox Jewish family in Port Chester, a New York working-class community, and attended Hebrew schools. Like his late parents, he became disappointed by his religion and also by Zionism. Although derided as a self-hating Jew and worse by his detractors, the activist attorney notes that his views on Israel are widely shared by “hundreds and thousands of Jews who agree that the nation state is in violation of international law and that Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism and is a deadly cult.”
Does he believe that Israel has a right to exist? Cohen doesn’t hesitate in his reply: “I believe every state has the right to exist but not at the expense of another.”