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Tom Friedman, Again


Thomas Friedman, who in the past has written of American officials being held “under house arrest” in the White House by an Israeli prime minister, used a crass Yad Vashem metaphor to describe Israel, and viewed Menachem Begin’s pride in things Jewish as “his pornography” (more on those statements later), is at it again, this time likening Israeli leaders to dangerously inebriated motorists.

Vice President Joseph Biden, wrote Friedman on Sunday, should have reacted in the following manner to the Israeli announcement, made during Biden’s visit to Israel last week, of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem:

“He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: ‘Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk.”

When it comes to Israel, Friedman, the New York Times’s foreign affairs columnist, has long had a short fuse, especially when Israeli officials have had the temerity to disagree with Friedman’s presumed wisdom.

Usually Friedman expresses his anger in the plodding, workmanlike prose for which he’s been lampooned by a number of writers (not that it’s prevented his books from automatically becoming best-sellers). But on occasion he lets loose and the invective goes flying.

He did so in a 2004 column in which he wrote of Israel’s then-prime minister: “Mr. Sharon 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 at the time 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.”

Koch continued: “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.”

Friedman’s vicious streak when it comes to Israel was on full and painful display in his 1898 book From Beirut to Jerusalem. As the Monitor has noted on a couple of occasions, 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 crudely psychoanalyze the Israeli prime minister. “Begin,” he wrote, “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.…”

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 in writing about his coverage of the 1982 Lebanon war, Friedman came as close as a journalist can to admitting a lack of objectivity.

Friedman didn’t appreciate the answers he was getting during an interview with Major General Amir Drori, commander of Israeli troops in Lebanon, so he proceeded to turn in a classic hatchet job.

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

Two decades later, nothing’s changed. On the bright side, Friedman is now an opinion columnist and readers know in advance they’re getting Friedman’s subjective views rather than the unvarnished, undisputed truth.

In that position he’s considerably less harmful than he was as a foreign correspondent shoehorning his personal issues with Israel, Jewish pride and Holocaust remembrance into news slots supposedly reserved for objective coverage.

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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