Photo Credit: Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90
New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman

On November 4, 2022, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, who reflects the worldview of the State Department’s establishment, lamented that “The Israel we knew is gone.”Should one rely on T.F.’s assessments concerning the Middle East?*In September 1993, T.F. welcomed Arafat as a peace-seeking statesman.  He established (an immoral) moral equivalence between a role-model of terrorism, Arafat, and a role-model of counterterrorism, Prime Minister Rabin: “Two hands that had written the battle orders for so many young men, two fists that had been raised in anger at one another so many times in the past, locked together for a fleeting moment of reconciliation.”  T.F. was trapped by Arafat’s strategy of dissimulation (“Taqiyya”), highlighting Arafat’s peaceful English talk, ignoring Arafat’s violent Arabic talk, and playing down Arafat’s unprecedented terroristic walk since the 1993 Oslo Accord.*In July, 2000, T.F. posed the question: “Who is Arafat? Is he Nelson Mandela or Willie Nelson?” A more realistic question would be: “Who is Arafat? Is he Jack the Ripper or the Boston Strangler?”*T.F.’s pro-Palestinian stance dates back to his active involvement, while at Brandeis University, in the pro-Arafat radical-Left “Middle East Peace Group” and “Breira’” organizations.  It intensified during his role as the Associated Press’ and New York Times’ reporter in Lebanon. There he played down Arafat’s and Mahmoud Abbas’ rape and plunder of Lebanon, and their collaboration with Latin American, European, African and Asian terrorists, while expressing his appreciation of the PLO’s protection of foreign journalists in Beirut (who responded in kind…).   *The 2020 peace accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and the Sudan were concluded – in defiance of T.F.’s worldview – because they centered on Arab interests, bypassing the Palestinian issue, denying the Palestinians a veto power over the Israel-Arab peace process.* In a July 15, 2022 column, T.F. asserted that Saudi Arabia considered the Palestinian issue central on its agenda. He ignored the gap between the warm Saudi talk and the cold-to-negative Saudi walk on the Palestinian issue.  Contrary to T.F.’s assessment, all pro-US Arab regimes do not welcome a Palestinian state, which they expect to be a rogue regime, and therefore have never flexed their military or diplomatic (and barely any financial) muscle on behalf of the Palestinians.  They consider Palestinians as a role-model of intra-Arab subversion, terrorism and ingratitude, based on the Palestinian terrorist track record in Egypt (early 1950s), Syria (mid-1960s), Jordan (1968-1970), Lebanon (1970-1982) and Kuwait (1990).Contrary to T.F.’s worldview, all pro-US Arab regimes have realized that the Palestinian issue is not the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither a crown-jewel of Arab policy-makers, nor a core cause of regional turbulence.*In the July 15, 2022 column, T.F. referred to Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate, peace-seeking and anti-terrorism leader, ignoring Abbas’ K-12 hate-education system, inciting sermons in Palestinian mosques, public monuments honoring terrorists, and his monthly allowances to families of terrorists.  Since Oslo 1993, Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has been a most effective production-line and hot house of terrorists.*In January and June, 2000, T.F. was charmed by Bashar Assad’s background:  a British-trained ophthalmologist; married to a British citizen of Syrian origin; fluent in English and French; and, President of the Syrian Internet Association.  He compared the eventual leader and Butcher from Damascus to Deng Xiaoping, who led China’s economic reforms, modernization and rapprochement with the USA.  Swept by wishful-thinking, T.F. assumed that Bashar could liberalize Syria, attract international investors, end the Arab rejection of the Jewish State, and demolish the Iran-Syria axis and terminating Iran’s involvement in Lebanon.  According to T.F., the prerequisite for such a scenario was Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights.  However, as expected, Bashar decided to adopt his ruthless father’s brutality, demolishing T.F.’s assumptions and slaughtering Syria’s domestic opposition, irrespective of the Golan Heights and Israel’s existence.*In August, 2006, T.F. told NPR Radio that Bashar Assad’s Syria was not a natural ally of Iran. He maintained that Syria could become an ally of the pro-US Arab Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, ignoring Syria’s anti-US track record since 1946 and pro-Iran stance since 1979.*In June, 2009, T.F. stated that “for the first time, [Middle East] forces for decency, democracy and pluralism have a little wind at their backs.”  According to T.F., “the diffusion of technology – the Internet, blogs, YouTube and text messaging via cellphones” – tilted the Middle East in favor of the US. He was determined to prohibit Middle East reality to alter his vision, which is consumed by globalization, modernity, democratization and the Internet. Unfortunately, the increasingly boiling and seismic Arab Street from Morocco to the Persian Gulf has repudiated T.F.’s Pollyannish vision.*In February, 2011, T.F. determined that “the Muslim Brotherhood is not running the [anti-Mubarak] show…. Any ideological group that tries to hijack these young people will lose…. The emerging spokesman for this uprising is Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive.”Swept by the Arab Spring (“Facebook and Youth Revolution”) delusion, T.F. concluded that the Egyptian Street “tried [radical] Nasserism, tried Islamism and is now trying democracy.”  He was convinced that “the democracy movement came out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square like a tiger…. Anyone who tries to put the tiger back in the cage will get his head bitten off…. The first pan-Arab movement that is focused on universal values….”T.F. underestimated the surge of the trans-national Muslim Brotherhood and its credo:“Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad [Holy War] is our way; and martyrdom for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”  To T.F.’s frustration, the Muslim Brotherhood aims to consolidate Islamic Sharia’ as the legal foundation in Muslim and “infidel” lands, as a prelude to the establishment of a global Islamic Caliphate.*In a May 25, 2021 column, T.F. opines that a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River would serve US interests, ignoring the fact that such a state would doom the pro-US Hashemite regime east of the Jordan River, and triggering a domino scenario southward, threatening the survival of all pro-US oil-producing regimes in the Arabian Peninsula, according a geo-strategic bonanza (including a military foothold) to Iran’s Ayatollahs, Russia and China.*On July 15, 2022, T.F. wrote that sustaining Israel’s control of Judea & Samaria (the West Bank) will doom Israel to lose its Jewish majority. T.F. ignores Israel’s unique demographic reality, with an unprecedented momentum of Jewish fertility (number of births per woman), especially among secular women, which exceeds the dramatically westernized Arab fertility. He overlooks Jewish net-immigration and Arab net-emigration (from Judea & Samaria); the 50% inflated Palestinian census (1.5mn Arabs – not 3mn – in Judea & Samaria,); and the 68% Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel, which benefits from unprecedented fertility and a net-migration tailwind.Has Tom Friedman been mistaken? Or, has he been disingenuous?


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Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.