If a white supremacist accused Jews of bribing members of Congress, no synagogue in the world would invite him as a speaker. Yet, surprisingly, one of Manhattan’s most prominent synagogues has extended a speaking invitation to a newspaper columnist who has made that exact same accusation repeatedly.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in his December 13, 2011 column that the standing ovations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received when he addressed Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Yet, Friedman is scheduled to speak on “American Jews and Israel” at Temple Emanu-El on September 16. Isn’t that ironic? The man who publicly accused American Jews of “paying” congressmen to support Israel is going to speak at a synagogue about “American Jews and Israel.”
That “bought and paid for” slur was not a random or one-time outburst. Friedman has repeatedly accused Jews of controlling Congress or the White House.
In his November 19, 2013 column in the Times, Friedman wrote: “[N]ever have I seen more lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s.” He claimed there is “a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”
Or go back to his notorious New York Times column of February 5, 2004. That’s the one in which Friedman declared that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office…surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who’s ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates.”
Friedman added that Prime Minister Sharon, Jewish lobbyists, Cheney, and unnamed “political handlers” were “all conspiring to make sure the president does nothing [regarding Israel].”
After that column, former New York City mayor Ed Koch commented to 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…. He 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.”
I am not saying that Friedman should be banned from Temple Emanu-El, or prevented from speaking at any other synagogue or institution. That’s a decision for the members of each synagogue to make in a democratic vote (although somehow I doubt that any such vote will ever take place). What I am saying is that the synagogue leaders have an obligation to inform the public just whom it is that they are inviting.
It’s not sufficient to say, as the advertisements for Temple Emanu-El’s September 16 event put it, that Friedman is “a Pulitzer Prize winner.” You have to explain that he won a Pulitzer for a book (From Beirut to Jerusalem) that ridicules Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force,” claims Israel’s leaders – Labor and Likud alike – “encouraged” what he called “the ‘Holocausting’ of the Israeli psyche,” and asserts that “[t]oday – unfortunately – the teaching of the Holocaust is an essential element of Israeli high-school education and in the Israeli army officers’ course” (pages 280-282).
In that same book, Friedman offers this highly grotesque psychoanalysis of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin: “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.”
America is a free country and a synagogue can invite any speaker it wants, even one who claims Jews pay off Congress or who describes Israel’s democratically-elected leaders in vulgar terms. But the public has a right to know the truth about the speaker, and what he has said and written about Jews and Israel.