Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, proved once again last week that despite his non-stop insistence that he has Israel’s best interests at heart, he relishes nothing more than slinging mud at Israel and its most vocal American supporters.
By writing that the numerous standing ovations showered on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by members of Congress last spring were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” Friedman employed a canard dear to the hardest of hard-core critics of Israel, a good number of whom are obsessed with conspiracy theories regarding the alleged stranglehold of pro-Israel forces on the machinery of the U.S. government.
As the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin wrote, Friedman “offers no support or example, as though the Jews-equal-money connection is so obvious it doesn’t require evidence. Such paranoid assertions are routine in crackpot circles, but the appearance in the Times under Friedman’s byline is shocking and will offer aid and comfort to enemies of Israel.”
But what are we to expect of a man who in the past has written of a U.S. president being held “under house arrest” in the White House by an Israeli prime minister; likened Israeli leaders to drunk drivers; characterized the late Menachem Begin’s pride in things Jewish as Begin’s “pornography” and, in a fit of pique over what he considered the overemphasis of Holocaust remembrance in Israeli public life, described the country as “Yad Vashem with an air force”?
Friedman’s tiresome refrain is that his disdain is reserved for specific Israeli leaders (generally those on the right) and policies. But Friedman was already an outspoken critic of Israel back in the mid-1970s, before the country elected its first Likud prime minister.
“By the time Friedman graduated from Brandeis University in 1975,” wrote historian Jerold S. Auerbach, he was already expressing sympathy with the Palestinian national cause.”
Auerbach (a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press) went into some detail about Friedman’s college-era activism in a 1990 letter to Commentary magazine:
During his final year at Brandeis, after returning from a summer of study in Cairo, Friedman belonged to the steering committee of a self-styled “Middle East Peace Group.” It vigorously opposed the mounting storm of protest among American Jews (to be expressed in a “Rally Against Terror”) over Yasir Arafat’s impending appearance before the United Nations General Assembly. In November 1974, on the day before Arafat’s infamous declaration that Zionism is racism, delivered while brandishing a pistol on his hip, the Peace Group published a statement in the Brandeis Justice. Co-signed by Friedman, it called for Israel to negotiate with “all factions of the Palestinians, including the PLO” and stated that the issue of “Palestinian self determination,” a standard euphemism for a Palestinian state, was “one of the central issues blocking peace in the Middle East.”
The statement acknowledged repeated acts of PLO terror against Jews, but claimed they were “clearly not representative of the diverse elements of the Palestinian people,” though the only evidence of such diversity presented was of those even more committed to terrorism than the PLO itself. It also asserted that “international condemnation of terrorist activities for which the PLO is responsible can have little effect. . . .” The group joined Breira, already notorious for its endorsement of Palestinian goals and for the blame it placed on the United States and Israel for Middle East instability, in urging “a more meaningful and constructive approach” than protesting against Arafat and the PLO.
Again, this was a time when the liberal-left Labor Alignment was still firmly in power in Israel and years before any Palestinian leader was prepared to make even the most perfunctory of gestures at denouncing terrorism and proclaiming readiness to negotiate with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu was a 25-year-old college student in the U.S. What accounted for Friedman’s issues with Israel then?