Sunday, July 03, 2011

Thomas Friedman and Israel

Thomas Friedman has been honored many times over. He has won three Pulitzers for international reporting. He is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, a reward for his yeoman work in eloquently promoting the anti-Israel message of the Times.

President Obama reportedly relies on him for advice about Israel. For many years, Friedman has been recognized as an expert on the region and its conflicts. What is usually ignored is how frequently he gets matters wrong, but does so with great style Few journalists have his record of cute and seemingly clever phrases that sound good, but say little. These statements clearly reveal Friedman’s antipathy toward the Jewish state.

For example, here are three statements about the manner in which Israel has responded to US demands:

“Well, first there’s Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, who has been telling everyone how committed he is to peace with the Palestinians while refusing to halt settlement building as a prerequisite for negotiations”

“ When America asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security but would actually enhance it, there is only one right answer: “Yes.” It is a measure of how spoiled Israel has become that …. Israel feels no compunction about spurning an American request for a longer settlement freeze”

“Israel, when America, a country that has lavished billions on you over the last 50 years and taken up your defense in countless international forums, asks you to halt settlements for three months to get peace talks going, there is only one right answer, and it is not “How much?” It is: “Yes, whatever you want” .

This is eloquent and powerful language. It is also wrong. Friedman ignores the fact that Netanyahu did precisely what he is recommending when Israel halted settlement building for nine months at the request of the US administration. The result? The Palestinian Authority, led by Prime Minister Abbas, refused to enter negotiations during that period. At the end of the nine months Abbas asked for an extension and Netanyahu, seeing that the freeze had accomplished nothing in the way of encouraging negotiations, said no. (The administration and much of the media condemned Israel for this, but had no criticism of the Palestinians for failing to negotiate while the freeze was in place)

Surely Friedman knows this. The only conclusion possible is that Friedman, given his words, is “speaking flattery–not truth–to power ”

Another example of Friedman’s cleverness disguising persistent fallacy occurred at a recent presentation at the Aspen Institute. On that occasion, he made the comment. (later confirmed in a tweet), that “Mubarak had 30 years to reform Egypt, then he tried to do it all in six days. Netanyahu is Mubarak of Israel”

Never mind that Mubarak’s record in Egypt consisted of 30 years of autocratic rule, while by contrast Netanyahu has been elected by Israeli citizens twice and the vast majority of Israelis think he has done a good job. (The Israeli experience over the last few decades of suffering from terrorist acts by her neighbors is reason enough for Netanyahu’s election)

So Friedman apparently believes that Israel has not changed in thirty years. Really? Thirty years ago, Israel rejected dealing with the PLO, and rejected a Palestinian state. Today, if favors a two-state solution; and accepts negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Thirty years ago Israel controlled a large swath of southern Lebanon and the Gaza strip. Not today. Thirty years ago West Bank settlements were expanding; last year there was a nine month freeze. Under Ehud Barak Israel offered a Palestinian state that would include most of East Jerusalem. No change in thirty years?

Many critics of Israel claim they are not against Israel, only against its government. (never mind that as a democracy, its government is a mirror of what its people want). Friedman has joined in propagating this supposed distinction when in fact his comments are anti-Israel, and have two goals. They are designed to undermine policies needed for Israel’s survival, and to divide the American Jewish community and destroy support for Israel by American Jews.

Friedman repeats the false line that “if only Israel took more risks and made more unilateral concessions peace would be possible, even quick to arrive.” Rubin points out that we “learned eleven years ago that this was nonsense.” All the risks in the Israel-Palestinian conflict have been taken by Israel; only angry and reflexive anti-Israeli observers believe otherwise. The reality? The real roadblocks to peace are based on actions by the Palestinian Authority

Here is another Friedman distortion, as revealed by Omni Ceren. Friedman stated that “the Israelis and the Palestinians” are the people in the Middle East “most” in need of an Arab Spring. Does this mean that Israel, one of the world’s most robust democracies, needs a democratic housecleaning more urgently than Syria, Libya or Egypt?

And here is another dangerous recommendation. Friedman reportedly suggested that the U.S. “get out of the way” in September when the Palestinians seek unilateral statehood in the United Nations. Friedman has not paused in his clever utterances to consider what such a betrayal might mean with respect to trusting the U.S. on its most ironclad assurances. Or to consider how such a move would further harm the already badly compromised U.S.-Israel relationship.

Friedman is not only wrong, he is hopelessly inconsistent. How can he acknowledge on the one hand that the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace, but still insist that we should tilt the diplomatic playing field away from Israel, our last stable Middle East ally.

Friedman has either not learned the hard realities in that part of the world, or more likely deliberately ignores them. Not so the American people, as demonstrated by polls and by the overwhelming bipartisan enthusiasm expressed toward Netanyahu by the US Congress.

Once again we are told that the people of Israel simply don’t know what’s good for them, and so they need the great wisdom of President Obama, J Street, and Thomas Friedman to tell them how they must come to their senses. We need accurate and honest journalists, not individuals who distort facts to serve those in power.

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