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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Friedman’

Thomas Friedman Labels Obama’s Visit a ‘Tourist Trip’

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

President Barack Obama will be visiting Israel as a tourist with nothing much to do in the way of diplomacy, according to Thomas Friedman, The New York Times resident know-it-all on Israel.

Friedman has been trying to run Israel for years until he gave up last year when he belatedly realized, for the wrong reasons, that the “peace process” has become a dead issue.

In his op-ed article Wednesday, he stated, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats. Like any hobby — building model airplanes or knitting sweaters — some days you work on it, some days you don’t.

“Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.”

He cited three reasons: The reduced dependency of the United States on Arab oil, which means there is no fear of an Arab oil embargo over the issue of Palestine; the overshadowing regional problems, such as the instability in Egypt and Syria; and what he says are the two major obstacles to peace with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Jewish settlers.

Friedman has always hated settlers, whom he once termed terrorists and Israel’s answer to Hizbullah.

He could have stopped there and be done with it and go back to telling Obama how to run the country, but Friedman never misses an opportunity to show he knows more about Israel than anyone else, especially those living in Israel.

He raised the favorite State Dept. and Peace Now illusion that if those awful settlers continue to live in Judea and Samaria, Israel will be ruling “2.5 million Palestinians with a colonial-like administration that can only undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy and delegitimize Israel in the world community,”

That attitude reflects the simplicity of American foreign policy, which is that the rest of the world outside the United States is black and white and that there are always two and only two possibilities. One is to accept American thinking and the other is to beat the path to catastrophe.

The fact is that the Arabs in Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza before Hamas came along, have enjoyed a quasi-independent life for 46 years, without Israel “ruling” them and without a desire to become ruled by another Arab regime. They suffered malign neglect under the Jordanian occupation, and “occupation” is the only word to describe its usurping authority after the Arab world failed to annihilate Israel in 1948.

After the Six-Day War in 1967 war, the Arabs enjoyed an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity until Yasser Arafat, born in Egypt, came along. He built a terrorist infrastructure that not only killed and wounded thousands of Israelis but also blew up co-existence between Israel and Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

But Friedman, like the State Dept., sees the Middle East, and the world, through American glasses.

He asks Israel “as a friend, I just want to know one thing: What is your long-term strategy? Do you even have one?”

Of course, Israel does not have one and does not need one. It leaves that to the Arab world, whose long-term strategy of destroying Israel through diplomatic means, if not through war and terror, is fading into oblivion, somewhat like Thomas Friedman’s self-assumed mandate to rule Israel and the Middle East.

As for Obama’s visit, Friedman forgot to mention one small issue that will be discussed with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but the Iranian nuclear threat apparently is not as dangerous as settlers.

Who Will Morsi Heed: Allah or Tom Friedman?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Sigh. Forgive me. I really don’t want to write this article but it is too good a case study of the contemporary Western foreign policy reporting, debate, and elite attitudes toward international affairs. And doing a better job is vital because this task involves the fate of millions of people; matters of war and peace; the most basic interests of the United States; and the decency of intellectual discourse.

I refer of course to Thomas L. Friedman’s latest effort, “The Belly Dancing Barometer,” (New York Times, February 19, 2013). Hey, tens of millions of lives are at stake so that’s worth a flippant title and a goofy concept, right?

Friedman writes:

Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. [President] Morsi’s power grab will haunt him.

The Brotherhood needs to understand that its version of political Islam – which is resistant to women’s empowerment and religious and political pluralism – might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt, you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of the potential for growth. So let me get this straight. Friedman is saying that you cannot trust the Brotherhood, it seeks total power and is antidemocratic. Hmm, What’s he been saying the last two years? He’s been an apologist for the Brotherhood, a cheerleader for the course taken by the “Arab Spring,” and has constantly insisted that the democratic revolution is going well.

Indeed, in January 2012, I wrote an analysis of Friedman’s coverage entitled, “Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved.” Now that it’s too late he is supposedly outraged to see what’s going on there.

Now he concludes that the Egyptian regime is not democratic at all but then draws no conclusion about how U.S. policy should change to adjust for his discovery?  Does Friedman now favor, as he hints in the article, using real pressure on Egypt if the regime continues to be repressive at home? Will he criticize Obama for not doing so?

But if Morsi has “Bolshevik tendencies” might that not also lead to his doing something nasty to U.S. interests?

It’s like identifying a mass murderer and then saying, “Do you really think you can get away with this without a vast criminal organization behind you?” rather than yelling, “Help, police! There’s a mass murderer over there!”

And then on top of that he uses the “needs to understand” phrase so beloved of newspaper editorialists but totally absurd in dealing with dictators. Well, what if they don’t understand?  How about saying:

Herr Hitler needs to understand that he cannot conquer the whole world. Germany lacks the economic base to do so.

And do we now believe in economic determinism? Was the USSR sustainable? Can you imagine someone writing this in 1917 to the Bolsheviks?

Mr. Lenin needs to understand that the Soviet Union [yes, I know it wasn't founded until several years later but I'm trying to make a point here] should abandon its Bolshevik tendencies because it will never work out.

Sure the Soviet Union failed but it took almost 75 years and there were tens of millions dead as a result.

And since when did a Middle Eastern radical dictatorship (even one that was elected) put economic pragmatism ahead of seeking its goals: the PLO or Palestinian Authority, Saddam Hussein? Gamal Abdel Nasser? I  don’t remember the Iranian government dropping the nuclear weapons program because of economic sanctions.

Arguably, one such leader did bow to economic necessity to moderate. His name was Anwar al-Sadat and now his regime–under Sadat’s successor, Mubarak–is the villain for America and the West.

Note that Friedman never says: President Obama needs to understand that he cannot trust this Muslim Brotherhood regime, should see it as a threat to U.S. interests, and must work to undermine it.

Moreover, is Friedman correct and Morsi wrong? Is the world really going to cut off the money to Egypt if it keeps getting more Islamist? Will the U.S. insist that the IMF stop aiding the Egyptian regime or even stop sending it free weapons?

Stay off the Slippery Slope

Monday, December 31st, 2012

We are often warned about the dangers of the “extreme right” in Israel — as Thomas Friedman called them, those who “actually want to annex the West Bank.” I presume that Friedman was referring to people like Naftali Bennett, who has made a proposal to annex Area C— the parts of Judea and Samaria where almost all the Jewish residents and few Arabs live.

Even Daniel Gordis, who — unlike Friedman — actually cares about Israel’s future, has suggested that Israeli voters should beware of, er, excessive Zionism, because it could lead to the isolation and ultimate destruction of the Jewish state. In a recent article, Gordis presents a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ scenario for the Israel of 2063. In the ‘bad’ one,

European hostility to Israel never subsided, and successive Israeli governments turned irritating both the EU and the US into a national sport. In response to repeated European and American demands that building projects cease, the government assured Israelis, “They’ll learn to live with it. We just have to show them we can’t be bullied.”

Germany changed the rules first. Lufthansa stopped flying to Israel, and a year later, Germany refused El Al landing rights. After subsequent dustups, Air France and France followed suit, as did British Airways and the UK. Soon, the only way to get to Europe was by sea. Israelis could still fly to Turkey, though.

Both Friedman and Gordis seem to be saying that Israel must not defy the Europeans and Obama Administration on the issue of Israel’s rights in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. By playing along — despite the fact that an excellent case can be made for the legality of Jewish settlement in these places — Israel can avoid potentially disastrous punishment.

There are two problems with this position, one philosophical and the other practical. The philosophical problem is that it represents an abdication of sovereignty, the sovereignty that Jews have been fighting and dying to preserve since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise. It represents a return to the ghetto mentality by which Jewish survival was dependent on the good will of the local gentile prince. Once we agree to the principle, where does it stop?

The practical problem is that the immediate objective of the EU and the Obama administration is the reduction of Israel to the 1949 armistice lines (the so-called “pre-67 borders” which actually were never considered borders by anyone). It is not for nothing that Abba Eban referred to these boundaries as “Auschwitz borders,” because they would be a strategic disaster. Whether you take Naftali Bennett seriously or not, you should look at the illustrations in his proposal. Here’s one of them:

3dIsrael

Both the US and the EU do not accept Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem — the US State Department continues to insist that until there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel’s capital is not Jerusalem (they won’t say what it is). Many European countries (and the EU’s Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton) are prepared to talk with with a Palestinian ‘government’ that includes Hamas. The EU’s oft-stated position is that any Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are “illegal under international law.” How can Israel play along with a policy that calls for the expulsion of half a million Jews from their homes?

And this is only the immediate objective. What can we expect next, that the EU will require Israel to grant a ‘right of return’ to 4.5 million descendants of Arab refugees before it will welcome what’s left of Israel into the family of nations?

The EU’s positions can only be expected to harden in the future, as its Muslim population grows. Although it’s harder to predict the behavior of the US in the long run, there are worrisome indications today — like Obama’s floating of a possible nomination for the anti-Israel Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

The Schoolmarms Tell the Terrorists to Play Nice

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

“You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks….
You’re very well read
It’s well known
Yet something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
–Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”

The entertainment director on the ship of fools that constitutes so much mainstream analysis of the Middle East—I refer, of course, to Thomas Friedman—has produced a wonderful paragraph that beautifully characterizes the problem, exquisitely expressing a Western mentality that not only makes it impossible to understand the Middle East but even to set up the question in a way people that could help people even begin to confront the truth. So perhaps it is worth disassembling. Sound like fun? Let’s go!

The paragraph is from an article entitled, “Egypt – The next India or the next Pakistan?” And that’s the first problem. Analogies are no substitute to understanding the specific reality of a country and culture, its history and balance of forces that shape the local political culture. You don’t understand Egypt by comparing it to India or Pakistan—very different places indeed—but by examining Egypt itself.

Let me first quote the entire paragraph and then deal with it a bit at a time. Here’s the whole thing:

“Yes, democracy matters. But the ruling Muslim Brotherhood needs to understand that democracy is so much more than just winning an election. It is nurturing a culture of inclusion, and of peaceful dialogue, where respect for leaders is earned by surprising opponents with compromises rather than dictates….More than anything, Egypt now needs to develop that kind of culture of dialogue, of peaceful and respectful arguing — it was totally suppressed under Mubarak — rather than rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering and waiting for America to denounce one side or the other, which has characterized too much of the postrevolutionary political scene. Elections without that culture are like a computer without software. It just doesn’t work.”

I will now go a sentence at a time.

“Yes, democracy matters.” It is strangely ironic that suddenly democracy has become the main issue shaping the American debate over the Middle East. When President Jimmy Carter in 1978 called for democracy in the Shah’s Iran that call might have played some role in setting off a revolution that didn’t turn out too well. After a hiatus—due in part to that debacle—the democracy issue returned under President George W. Bush. The people who pushed that idea became known as “neoconservatives” and were absolutely loathed, even demonized, by liberals and the Left.

Now this idea that democracy would solve the region’s problems was indeed a bad one, having failed in Iran, been (perhaps unfairly) ridiculed in Iraq, and become a deadly joke in Afghanistan. Yet suddenly the Left adapted the conception of the man they most hated in the world! And nobody in the mainstream debate even remarked on that rather obvious point! Thus, we get the Obama policy based on a Bush idea. Except while Bush’s approach worked acceptably in Iraq because the extremists were defeated militarily, Obama’s approach helped put the radicals into power in Egypt and will soon do so in Syria.

One would think Friedman would continue by explaining that strategic interests are more important for U.S. policy than formal democracy. Nope. Instead, he assumes that democracy is or should be everyone’s goal:

“But the ruling Muslim Brotherhood needs to understand that democracy is so much more than just winning an election.”

Whenever an article or editorial contains the words “needs to understand” you know that’s trouble. For one thing this phrase often means that some Western pipsqueak whose most strenuous activity is hailing a taxi is lecturing men ready to commit mass murder and crush their opponents under a hobnailed boot. By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to heed the advice and will be no worse off for doing so.

Yet this also raises another intriguing issue: Why “must” they do so? Suppose staying in power, establishing a dictatorship, and chopping off various body parts of those who don’t live the way they decree is their goal? Suppose they already know that “democracy is so much more than just wining an election” but couldn’t care less? And what will the columnist, op-ed writer, or editorial scribe do to them if the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t heed his advice? Experience shows these people won’t even use mean words in response. What a joke.

Doesn’t Friedman know that Obama’s hero and guru, Turkish Prime Minister Mehdi Erdogan, has said that democracy is like a streetcar and you just have to decide where you want to get off? Hint: You get off as soon as possible after you’ve won the election.

“It [democracy] is nurturing a culture of inclusion, and of peaceful dialogue, where respect for leaders is earned by surprising opponents with compromises rather than dictates.”

At this point I must tell a story I once heard from a former member of a motorcycle gang, though I cannot attest to whether or not it actually happened. There was a really dangerous criminal motorcycle gang (it made Hell’s Angels look like Obama’s Ostriches) and the local police decided something must be done. They picked a young policeman to infiltrate the gang and dressed him accordingly.

The undercover cop met the gang and tried to join. Suspicious, they asked him a question: What is the meaning of these ribbons we wear? The symbolism involved various kinds of murder, rape, and various acts I won’t describe for a family audience but each one had a very specific significance. Unfortunately, the policeman hadn’t been briefed on this and after a long pause he answered, “I thought they were just decorations.” I won’t describe his fate.

That is sort of like Friedman and various others thinking they can teach revolutionaries willing to commit genocide how to play nice. They don’t understand the significance of what these radicals say and do. Indeed, they don’t understand that what they say–especially in Arabic–is significant at all.

These tough guys aren’t interested in inclusion, political dialogue, or “surprising” opponents by giving them presents under their tree. No. They are interested in seizing state power and exercising total power. They are ready to order others to martyrdom and in some cases to be martyrs themselves. They are ready to deliberately and coolly order what happened in that Connecticut elementary school many times over. The only limitation on that behavior is a consideration of whether or not it will help their cause.

They don’t care whether the New York Times or some other American newspaper they don’t read is going to scold them. In fact, if they do know what’s in this mass media they understand that no matter what they do they are more likely to have it explained away more than criticized.

Shouldn’t we recognize that reality rather than lecture them on playground comportment?

“More than anything, Egypt now needs to develop that kind of culture of dialogue, of peaceful and respectful arguing — it was totally suppressed under Mubarak — rather than rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering and waiting for America to denounce one side or the other, which has characterized too much of the post-revolutionary political scene.”

Why does Egypt “need” that? One might argue that it needs such a system to be most effective at being a truly democratic society whose supposed top priority at home is increasing living standards and abroad is living in peace with its neighbors. The full answer to that question lies beyond my space limits but briefly: that might not work in Egypt; the people who think it would work lose all of the elections; if you try to implement such a system you are far more likely to be overthrown or face chaos.

Suppose you have no way to solve your country’s social and economic problems. It then makes more sense to stir up passionate hatred of “the other”; distract attention from your own failings by blaming foreigners for the problems; and engage in aggression abroad so the masses can blow off steam and get some loot. Ironically, this is the kind of thing that Western radicals claim leaders of their own countries have done. It is amazing that they never seem to notice this is how Arab dictators have repeatedly felt a “need” to do in the past.

Also, whatever Mubarak’s shortcomings, there was a lot more dialogue and peaceful arguing under his reign then in any Islamist state or in Syria and Iraq under radical nationalist regimes. This line of argument that is all too familiar from the left in assuming that pro-American dictators are more brutally repressive than anti-American dictators. Usually, the truth is the opposite.

And then at the end, Friedman admits that the post-revolutionary political scene has not been so great. Should this have been a surprise or wasn’t it painfully obvious back in January 2011 what was going to happen? It was obvious to me and a few others but scarcely anyone in the mainstream media pointed out the consequences. And those who dared to be right are practically blacklisted from those places despite having been correct.

The main Western accomplishment of the last two years has been to move from step one to step two in the mainstream interpretation of what’s going on in the Middle East:

Step one: The Islamists will be moderated by gaining power through elections.

Step two: The Islamists should make themselves become moderate after gaining power through elections because they need to do so.

What is needed is an altogether different approach:

Extremist revolutionaries whose goal is to set up regimes that are supposedly implementing the will of Allah—a will no human can question or alter—and who loathe the West, despise Christians, and want to commit genocide on Jews are not going to be moderated. Nor are they going to follow Western instructions on how they should behave. Nor is democracy their ideal, since they don’t believe at all in governance on the basis of the majority unless the majority agrees with them.

These points are all rather obvious, aren’t they? Yet what we have seen for the last two years is not an attempt to understand these realities but rather a series of obfuscations and rationalizations designed to shore up a mythical world that is increasingly diverging from the situation on the ground.

Lewis Carroll wrote the following dialogue for “Alice in Wonderland”:

Alice: “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
Charles: “I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

The problem nowadays is that an insane interpretation of international affairs seems to be a quality defining who “the best people are.” A man has just been appointed secretary of state for exhibiting a particularly virulent case of this malady.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

American Journalists Decry Israel’s Ability to Defend Itself as Blocking Peace

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

I hate to spend time discussing U.S. media coverage of Israel. It should be clear by now that it is not very good, balanced, accurate, or fair. Yet there are examples which are irresistible to discuss because they are so revealing of the political as well as media assumptions made about Israel that so mislead the Western publics and policymakers.

The Washington Post has a major article explaining that while, on one hand, the Iron Dome missile defense is a good thing because it blocks missiles that would otherwise kill and injure Israelis as well as cause damage it is also a bad thing. Tom Friedman made similar claims. Why?

“For a nation that longs for normalcy and acceptance, one question being debated here is whether Iron Dome will motivate Israel’s leaders to pursue peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world or insulate them from having to do so.”

In other words, if a lot more Israelis were being killed and wounded by attacks then Israel would have more incentive to make peace with the Palestinians and Arabs. But since they are only being attacked and their lives paralyzed but not killed, Israel just isn’t interested in making peace.

And who is debating this idea that only if they are more bloodied will their hearts be softened and they will prefer peace to endless conflict? Supposedly Israelis are saying: “Wow, we wish our leaders tried harder to make peace with the Palestinians. Maybe it’s because we are too strong and secure.” Well, basically the Post comes up with one person, left-wing author Tom Segev. Nobody is interviewed who ridicules this bizarre thesis.

Just to make the situation completely clear let me be very explicit: In the 1980s and in 1993 at the time of the Oslo agreement many Israelis argued that because Israel was more secure it could take risks and make concessions to try to achieve peace. A number of specific steps, including Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, were based on this same stance. Israel could pull out of the Gaza Strip, uproot all of the settlements there, and not suffer any decline in security. That’s the historic argument: the more secure Israel was, the more it could offer the Palestinians in the hope that they would make peace. Is that clear?

When a country becomes less secure it must increase its ability to protect itself, including by retaining territory useful for that defense, spending more on military equipment, and not making concessions and taking risks. The only exception is that if people feel certain that such concessions and risks would definitely bring a full response from the other side and thus lead to a secure and lasting peace.

Now even leaving aside the Palestinian Authority’s intransigence and desire–clearly visible for the last twelve years–to avoid a compromise two-state solution, Israel also faces the following new regional features:

–Hamas, which constantly attacks Israel and would continue to do so (indeed escalate attacks) if Israel did reach an agreement with the PA.

–An Islamist Egypt whose ruling Muslim Brotherhood group daily speaks of genocide against Israel and Jews, plus not accepting the 30-year-old peace treaty, not to mention the even more extreme Salafists.

–An Islamist-ruled Lebanon, where Hizballah, the ruling group, constantly threatens to attack and also daily calls for Israel’s extinction.

–A hostile Turkey whose rulers support Hamas and Hizballah.

–A Syria where radical Islamists seem poised to gain power. They cannot possibly be more anti-Israel than the current regime but they are willing to make the anti-Israel war a higher priority for direct action.

So this is an era where Israel clearly needs to defend itself. Compare this to the early 1990s. Saddam Hussein had been defeated in the 1991 war; the radical Arabs main ally, the USSR, had fallen; America was the sole superpower; the PLO was so weak and depressed that it seemed conceivable it might be pushed into peace because it had no other alternative (in contrast to the contemporary Palestinian Authority which just got recognition as a state and is feeling very confident); and other factors.

That was a moment when Israel could take risks and did so with the Oslo Agreement. And yet, of course, we know–like it or not–that this “peace process” made things worse, another lesson not processed by the hegemonic political forces in much of the West today.

So how do we get from here to demands that Israel must keep doing what has failed and the claim that the weaker is Israel’s strategic position the more it can and should make concessions and take risks? Such a stance is just about equivalent to saying that it is a pity that U.S. counterterrorism measures are working because if there were more September 11 type attacks that succeeded the Americans would be nicer to Muslims. Or if the British air force had only not defeated the Luftwaffe perhaps Prime Minister Winston Churchill wouldn’t have been so insulated from the need to make peace with the Axis.

Special categories are constantly created to bash Israel. Has the concept of “proportional response”–that in defending yourself you shouldn’t do too much–ever been applied to anyone other than Israel? Can you imagine an American journalist writing an article suggesting that if only England got hit harder by IRA terrorism it would treat the Irish better in Northern Ireland?

What’s most infuriating about all of this is not just that Israel has tried so hard to make peace–including risks and concessions–but the precise attacks referred to in the Post article were made possible only because Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in an attempt to promote peace!

Yet the essential insanity of the kind of thinking epitomized in this article is shielded when it comes to Israel by the media’s bias and sense that it can get away with any nonsense when it comes to discussing Israel.

Meanwhile, there is some concern by Israeli intelligence officials of a new intifada in Judea and Samaria. This would be due to new confidence created by the UN’s decision to make Palestine a non-member state (the UN’s contribution to peacemaking); a rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority, which rules much of Judea and Samaria, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip; and the Palestinian Authority’s wish to compete with Hamas in attacking Israel and trying to kill Israelis.

Following the logic of the Washington Post we should hope that lots of Israelis are killed by terrorists as a way to pressure those obdurate Israelis to make peace.

The Post article basically follows the same Palestinian political line that has prevailed since the 1960s: forget about a negotiated compromise, Israel must be defeated; Israelis made to suffer. The main goal is to get Israelis to give up altogether and abandon having a state; the shorter-term goal is to get Israelis to accept a Palestinian state unconditionally so it can get on with the task of finishing that job.

Before around 1980, the above analysis would have been considered a normative Israeli analysis. Between the 1980s and 2000, when there was a rising hope of a compromise peace with the PLO and its child, the Palestinian Authority, it would have been considered a right-wing view. Since 2000, however, that assessment—based on evidence and experience—has again become that of the overwhelming majority across almost all of the political spectrum.

Internationally, the refusal to face the fact that the Palestinian side is responsible for the failure of peace leads to such bizarre theories and blinds people to the actual situation.

And here is the speech by Hamas’s leader to mark the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary. See for whom the Washington Post is suggesting that greater military success will lead to Middle East peace.

Regarding Friedman’s article, here’s a response from Dan Margalit.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Thomas Friedman and the New Anti-Semitism

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Though The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman invariably characterizes himself as a friend of Israel, his Dec. 14 column illustrates the slippery slope along which critics of the Jewish state invariably slide as they attempt to shout down those with whom they disagree.

In an effort to simultaneously bash Republican supporters of Israel as well as the Israeli government, his frustration with Israel’s enduring popularity led Friedman to engage in smears more typically associated with fringe intellectuals such as Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It’s not just that Friedman disdains Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance, but that in order to justify his contempt he finds himself having to paint Israel as being intrinsically unworthy of any support.

First, Friedman is wrong that Newt Gingrich’s line about the Palestinians being an “invented people” means Israel wants to rule the West Bank indefinitely. Rather, the injection of some truth about the history of the conflict ought to highlight a fact that journalists like Friedman have done so much to ignore: the inextricable link between Palestinian nationalism and a belief in the destruction of Israel. The point that Gingrich and many others have tried to make is that unless and until the Palestinians reinvent their identity and political culture in such a fashion as to drop their desire to extinguish the Jewish state, peace is not possible.

Second, let’s address one of the primary slanders at the heart of his piece: that the standing ovations Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received last spring in Washington were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Rather, they were the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans – Jew and non-Jew alike – think of Israel as a friend and ally. They, and their representatives in Congress, believe the Jewish state’s security is, contrary to Friedman’s formulation, a vital U.S. interest in the Middle East. It is true, as Friedman says, that the applause may not have been a personal endorsement for Netanyahu, but that’s because it was also a stiff rebuke to President Obama’s attempt to ambush the Israeli prior to his visit with his speech about the 1967 lines, whose purpose was to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism that masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Friedman goes on to embarrass himself by contrasting the reception Netanyahu received on Capitol Hill to the one he might get at a center of leftist academia such as the University of Wisconsin. There’s little doubt he would not be cheered there. But the same would be true of most American politicians or thinkers who deviated from leftist orthodoxy. The notion that liberal campuses are more representative of public opinion about Israel than Congress is laughable.

But Friedman doesn’t stop there. He goes on to enumerate various Israeli sins that should, he thinks, cause American Jews and our leaders to distance themselves from the Jewish state.

Some of the items he lists are troubling. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s closeness with the Putin regime in Russia is a mistake. But can a small nation under siege be blamed if one of its leaders sees the value in maintaining relations with a powerful nation? And many Americans, Friedman included, have at times criticized opinions or decisions made by our own secretaries of state. Disagreeing with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice or Hillary Clinton isn’t considered a good reason to abandon support for America’s continued existence and security, so why should it be so for Israel?

The violent actions of a tiny band of extremist settlers are also unsettling. But it’s a stretch to say such activities are representative of the Jewish communities in the territories, let alone that of the entire country. Even less credible are Friedman’s citing of ultra-Orthodox attempts to segregate buses in their neighborhoods by gender and the Knesset’s consideration of bills that make it harder for foreign-funded non-governmental organizations to pursue propaganda campaigns that support Israel’s enemies.

The fight over the buses is ongoing, but it is a struggle conducted by competing groups in a democratic society. Any effort to portray an overwhelmingly secular Israeli culture as one that is dominated by haredim bears little resemblance to reality.

The attempt to skew the debate over the legislation about the NGOs or even efforts to reform a court system (whose power far exceeds that of the United States) as anti-democratic is equally off the mark. The lively debates on these issues that represent efforts to impose some accountability on foreign bodies as well as on an out-of-control judiciary is a sign of a healthy democracy. Those Israelis and Americans who have attempted to argue the contrary are merely engaging in partisan bickering that has little to do with the truth about the Jewish state.

Thomas Friedman – Just Another Face In The Arab Mob

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Even without the anticipated passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal, it was a week that rattled Israelis’ nerves.

It began on with a stern lecture by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that got considerable play in the Israeli media.

“For anyone who spent time in Tahrir Square these last three weeks,” he wrote, “one thing was very obvious: Israel was not part of this story at all. This was about Egypt and about the longing of Egyptians for the most basic human rights ‘.”

And because Israel, in Friedman’s view, failed to enthuse over nascent Egyptian democracy and instead feared the fall of the nonbelligerent Mubarak government, the columnist found himself “more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.”

Friedman, for his part, continued to enthuse in his subsequent dispatch a couple of days later, writing that “Egypt has now been awakened by its youth in a unique way – not to fight Israel, or America, but in a quest for personal empowerment, dignity and freedom.”

One doesn’t know if his ardor has been cooled by the fate of his journalistic colleague Lara Logan, brutally assaulted in Tahrir Square by an anti-Mubarak mob shouting “Jew! Jew!” Material on the anti-Semitism of the “democracy protesters” had already been available, though it clearly had made little or no impression on Friedman.

Israelis, for their part, could be impressed by USA Today’s report that “top leaders of the protest movement that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak” are calling, among other things, “to cut off natural gas shipments to Israel.”

Those shipments are supposed to be guaranteed by the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. While flouting many other provisions of the treaty, the Mubarak government upheld that particular provision for thirty years.

But let’s not get picayune about these “youth…in a quest for personal empowerment, dignity and freedom.”

And if Israelis turned their eyes from their neighbor to the southwest to their neighbor to the north, Lebanon, the picture was also something less than inspiring as Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Hizbullah terror organization, threatened in a ceremony in Beirut to take over the Galilee in the event of another war with Israel.

“I’m telling the Zionist commanders and generals,” he said, “wherever you go, anywhere in the world and at any time, you always need to look out, because Imad Mugniyeh’s blood has not been spilled in vain” – referring to the terror master assassinated by Israel in Damascus in 2008.

Israelis can remember another “Arab spring” not long ago – in Beirut in 2005. Then too democracy protesters – many of them undoubtedly authentic – thronged the streets and succeeded in getting Hizbullah’s ally Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. But today Lebanon is very much in the grip of Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran, and tens of thousands of Hizbullah missiles cover every inch of Israel.

One does not have to be Israeli – just intelligently sympathetic – to understand that such experiences dispose Israelis to cautiousness about purported transformations in the Middle East. Intelligently sympathetic and a good deal less arrogant than Thomas Friedman.

And what about Israel’s neighbor to the east, Jordan – with which, like Egypt, it signed a peace treaty, that one in 1994?

Some rather unpleasant winds blew from that direction, too, when Jordan’s new justice minister, Hussein Mjali, called for the release from a Jordanian prison of Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997.

Mjali had been appointed by King Abdullah a week earlier “in a shakeup,” the Jerusalem Post noted in an editorial, “geared to stem protests inspired by Egypt’s turmoil” and “facilitate greater democratic freedoms.”

But the fact that Mjali, who served as Daqamseh’s attorney during his trial, could be appointed minister of justice in the first place raises grave questions. It should have been no great surprise that he’d be the blusterous chief speaker at a demonstration for Daqamseh’s release.

For now Jordanian officials have told Israel there are no plans to free Daqamseh – even though “Jordan’s powerful Islamist movement and the country’s 14 trade unions, comprising over 200,000 members, relentlessly campaign for [his] release.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/thomas-friedman-just-another-face-in-the-arab-mob/2011/02/23/

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