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Our Uncle Tom

Tom Friedman won over some previously skeptical readers in the months following the 9/11 attacks by advocating a tough line against Islamic extremists and, to the dismay of his fellow liberals, supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

On Israel, however, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist has remained true to form, coupling every criticism of Palestinian terrorism with complaints about intransigent Israelis and the bullying Ariel Sharon.

It’s as if Friedman’s word processor has a default setting that automatically types out the word ‘settlers’ in any paragraph containing the term ‘suicide bomber.’ In a sense, it could be argued, this moral equivalence actually represents an improvement in Friedman’s worldview. For there was a time when all Friedman was interested in was burnishing his progressive bona fides by wailing over what he perceived to be the sins of Israel – and this while employed as an objective reporter of news, not, as he is today, a pundit infatuated with the sound of his own opinions.

In his 1989 bestseller “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” Friedman boasted of how his disdain for Menachem Begin colored the dispatches he filed as a Times Middle East correspondent, first in Lebanon and then in Israel.

Friedman’s contempt for Begin led him to psychoanalyze the Israeli prime minister in the following startlingly crude manner: “Begin loved the idea of Jewish power, Jewish tanks, Jewish pride. They were his pornography. He needed a war to satisfy his deep longings for dignity…”

Nowhere in the book did Friedman bother speculating in such a loutish manner about the ‘pornography’ of Yasir Arafat or the ‘deep longings’ of Hafez Assad.

Friedman ascribed much of what he found objectionable in Israel to what he characterized as the country’s unhealthy obsession with the Holocaust, which he blamed in part on the presence of Holocaust studies in Israel’s high school curriculum.

In a turn of phrase so flippant and insensitive it’s hard to believe it could come from a Jew, Friedman dismissed the State of Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force.”

And Friedman, in writing about his coverage of the 1982 Lebanon war, came as close as a journalist can to admitting a lack of objectivity. It seems Friedman didn’t like the answers he was getting during an interview with Major General Amir Drori, overall commander of Israeli troops in Lebanon. So what did this exemplar of New York Times professionalism do? He proceeded to do a classic hatchet job, that’s what.

“So the next morning,” wrote Friedman, “I buried Amir Drori on the front page of The New York Times, and along with him every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state.”

Given Friedman’s history, it’s a wonder readers even bother to react with surprise and outrage to anything he writes. But they do. Witness the angry response to his Feb. 5 column, in which he regurgitated the type of anti-Zionist canards beloved by pro-Arab propagandists and extremists on both the Left and the Right.

“Mr. Sharon,” wrote Friedman, “has the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat under house arrest in his office in Ramallah, and he’s had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office. Mr. Sharon has Mr. Arafat surrounded by tanks, and Mr. Bush surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who’s ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates…”

As former New York City mayor Ed Koch noted in his weekly commentary on Bloomberg Radio, “Of all the anti-Semitic slurs, one of the most outrageous is that Jews secretly control the world. Last week we heard yet another version of the same old lie, this time from Tom Friedman.”

Continued Koch, “Friedman, who is full of himself, believes he can resort to the anti-Semitic slur of secret Jewish control, and avoid criticism because he is a Jew. In reality, Friedman disgraced himself and his newspaper. His false words, coming at a time when anti-Semitism is skyrocketing worldwide, are particularly irresponsible and repulsive. If he is capable of feeling shame, I hope he feels it now.”

Tom Friedman feel shame? He’s never even had a passing acquaintance with the concept.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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