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November 18, 2013 4:47 pm

Thomas Friedman’s Folly

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. Photo: WEF.

Thomas Friedman’s boyhood infatuation with Israel following the Six-Day War quickly faded. During his undergraduate years at Brandeis in the mid-Seventies he belonged to the steering committee of a “Middle East Peace Group” affiliated with  the notoriously anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, organization Breira.

Posted in Beirut by The New York Times during the first Lebanon War, his unrequited love turned to fury after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982. “Boiling with anger” at Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Sharon, and determined to “help get rid of them,” Friedman wrote the four-page Times article that won a Pulitzer Prize. A week later, after an interview with the Israeli commanding officer, he proudly “buried” the general on page one and “along with him every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state.” Even Friedman subsequently admitted: “I was not professionally detached.”

Nor was he detached once he left Beirut for Jerusalem. As the Times bureau chief during the mid-Eighties his primary instructors were Meron Benvenisti, the former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem who castigated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and advocated a bi-national state; political theorist Yaron Ezrahi, who lacerated Zionism for disregarding liberal democratic values; Rabbi David Hartman, whose rabbinic and academic commitment was to building “a more pluralistic, tolerant, and enlightened Israeli society”; and Ari Shavit, columnist for left-wing Ha’aretz. It was not exactly a representative sampling of the Israeli political spectrum.

Friedman returned to the United States, he wrote, believing that Israel was “a Jewish South Africa, permanently ruling Palestinians in West Bank homelands.” And, as he  memorably described it in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem,  Israel had become “Yad VaShem with an air force.” Arrogantly certain that he knew the solution for Middle East peace, he  presented Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah with the Friedman peace plan in 2002. In this “simple, clear-cut proposal,” as he described it the Times (February 17, 2002), Friedman urged “a total withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967 lines, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, in return for “full peace” with “the entire Arab world.” It came to naught, predictably, but Friedman was not deterred.

Seven years later he tried again, drafting a proposal for now King Abdullah to send to the new American president, Barack Obama. Friedman warned that “Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem” if nothing was done to stop them. The solution, once again, was an Israeli agreement “to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem.” Egypt and Jordan would “maintain order,” while Saudi Arabia would fund Friedman’s “5-State Solution.” Like the previous Friedman plan, it went nowhere.

Fast forward to the most recent Friedman column (November 17),  imagining a conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu about Israel’s double strategic dilemma – trading settlements for peace with the Palestinians and trading sanctions on Iran for nuclear restrictions. Friedman recommended a new book for them to read. Entitled My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, its author is his old Ha’aretz friend Ari Shavit, “one of the handful of experts whom I’ve relied upon to understand Israel” for thirty years, once a committed leftist who has moved to the center since the Oslo failure.

It is evident why Friedman is such an admirer. Shavit grasps the double truth of Zionism that Friedman finds so compelling: a miracle of national restoration for the Jewish people that produced the “nightmare” of Palestinian defeat and exile. The centerpiece of his story of Jewish triumph and Palestinian tragedy is “Lydda, 1948,” recently excerpted  in The New Yorker (October 21). The mass expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from that strategically vital city, located only a few miles from Tel Aviv, near the international airport and on the road to Jerusalem, was tragic. But it was an Israeli response dictated by the decision of Arab governments to ignore UN truce proposals and renew their effort to exterminate the fledgling Jewish state within any borders.

Shavit understands that “Lydda does not make Zionism criminal.” But “it is my moral duty as an Israeli to recognize Lydda and help the Palestinians to overcome it” by working for a Palestinian state. He remains convinced that post-1967 “occupation was a moral, demographic and political disaster.” Friedman chimes in: the Jewish state “must find a way to separate from the West Bank . . . otherwise the spreading Jewish settlements there will be the virus that kills the original Israel.” To remain democratic, Israel must terminate “an endless occupation [that] will lead to Jews being a minority in their own home.”

But the demographic warning issued by Shavit and Friedman is erroneous. Jews comprise two-thirds of the population between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, while Jewish birth rates rise and Palestinian rates decline. Neither journalist mentions the ninety-year-old international guarantees to Jews, never rescinded, for “close settlement” west of the Jordan River. But Shavit, at least, still marvels at the “miracle” of Zionism. That is one lesson of history that Thomas Friedman still seems reluctant to learn.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.

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  • Dorothy Seidel Wigod

    One would like to be able to give up reading Friedman. Like the UN interpreter, unwitting speaking on an open microphone after yet another General assembly anti-Israel Resolution, “Enough already.”

  • Dorothy Seidel One would like to give up reading FriedmanWigod

    Reading Friedman is an obligatory burden, I suppose, like the UN interpreter after yet another General assembly anti-israel resolution, saying “Enough already.”

  • Mark Bernadiner

    Thomas Friedman and whole NYT provide support to palestinian, Hamas and Hezbollah thugs who kill Americans; kidnup and rape women; steal properties; highjucking planes. Friedman and Co. committed obvious crime according to Material Support Law 18 U.S.C. § 2339B “Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations”

  • Mark Bernadiner

    Thomas Friedman is genetic idiot; genetic thief; genetic liar; genetic islamofascist prostitute. he has no high school education in ME or world history. He is typical NYT “journalist”.

  • Ana Stone

    I am not surprise of this idiot, you see he works for the New York Times

  • June Grant

    Friedman is just one reincarnation of the court Jews of the Middle Ages. While there was some excuse for those unfortunates as they hoped to save their lives and those of their families by appeasing the ruling classes, Friedman and his fellow sufferers of outrageous indignation against the Israeli State have no such excuse. Maybe he is hoping the crocodile will eat him last.

  • Reuven

    The self-righteous Friedman, who continuyes to do Israel so much harm, is a kapo.

  • Beatrix17

    Friedman and Blumenthal are overprivledged children of the bourgeois. They were never drafted, nor would they volunteer for an American war. Their first war experience with which they had any involvement was with Israel, where they didn’t have to fight or die or even to break a nail. They only had to stand on the sidelines and watch and judge.

    It never occurred to them that war was war no matter who fought it. The flags changed and so did the accents, but the fighting, dying, suffering and injustice was the same with all wars, especially the injustice of the winners toward the losers. But they only saw Israel’s wars—from the sidelines. And they stopped sucking their thumbs long enough to decide that it wasn’t war that was terrible, it was Israel that was terrible. Then they went home to their pink swaddling blankets and have remained there ever since.

  • Thomas Friedman is a disgrace to quality journalism and a disgrace to the Jewish people and the Jewish State. He is an enemy of Israel and deserves no recognition and only rebuke for his self hating statements and ignorance. One would think an educated man would know better, but Friedman deserves the prize of “King of the Shmucks.”

    • Claudia

      I agree with you 100%

    • Fred

      If there is a hell, Thomas will be there.

  • Marco Del Rio

    From Philippines

    The solution is peace.

    Problem is Islam! Muslims have created lots of enemies all over the world and the more they threaten Israel the more powerful Israel becomes.

    Islam must be reformed and must stop being so backward looking.

    May there be peace and Good Fortune TO All

  • Sol Bleiweis

    I am tired of Tom Friedman self serving rhetoric. He is an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people. It is only 75 years since the Shoa and our so called liberal friends have forgotten the million of Jewish kedoshim who were murdered only because they were Jews. I think our liberal friends should have been able to talk to the assimilated German Jews who were murdered even though they were part of German society. To the Nazis it made no difference whether you were an “Ost Jude” or a Jew of several generations of German Jews. The furnaces and gas chambers could not distinguish it. Tom when they come for the Jews I am sure you will be on the top of the list. Israel is our haven so the Shoa will not be repeated. Tom we are past Yom Kippur but you can still repent and support your people.

  • ABK

    Thomas Friedman is a self hating POS….in other news sun rises in east, water is wet, and Islam is the religion of “peace”.

    • Steve Butman

      Brilliantly stated!

  • First – In 1948, Israel agreed to the UN partition plan – The Arabs attacked – arguably, the eviction of some arabs (not execution) post 1948, to areas on the other side of the Green Line seems to be a civil response to the Arab aggression. Jews were also evicted from East Jerusalem, Hebron, and other areas of ancient settlement and originally allotted by the UN to Israel – Where is Friedman’s outrage?

    Second- Although there are cases of Israeli pre-emtive action, the overwhelming Arab Terror and War against Israel since 1948 is illegal and immoral. Israel has been in a defensive posture since 1948.

    Third- What if Israel withdraws to 1967 lines, which today are blurred by settlement? Note – whether or not the settlements are legal and appropriate is another discussion. The fact is they are there, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis now reside in West Bank—- Will there be peace? Hardly – Israel unilaterally handed control to Gaza – PLO. Hamas staged a bloody coup against the PA – Arab vs Arab, and has continued to wage war from ‘liberated’ land, supposedly guaranteed by Egypt? Why should Israel believe the West Bank will be different?

    What should be done? The Arabs should be granted citizenship in Palestine, with full autonomy, but not sovereignty. They can secure all land that is mostly Arab in perpetuity, but leave border control and international security to Israel. In this approach, the Palestinians gain dignity and freedom of movement, including within Israel, while having autonomous citizenship. There should be unified currency and trade.

    Imagine if a tour group can easily book an Israel/Palestine/Jordan adventure? with everyone cooperating?

    How is going to work with Palestine avoiding Israel for trade, water, tourism, jobs? They dont have critical mass to be a country- The result will be endless war, as only that industry will attract jobs.

    Stop with the two state solution, and create a confederated Israel-Palestine-Jordan

  • Paul la Demain

    Dilemma of legitimacy? Sounds likes a contrived issue; something invented by the likes of Tom Friedman and his fellow junketeers. Why cannot this man, who parades his Jewishness whenever called upon to dance for applause, control his compulsion to invent troubles where non exist? And for this he received a prize? A Pulitzer? Sadly, such brazen flattery went straight to his head and he became the arab invaders’ most precious fool. The British love him, and Tom loves love. But still, he has no business meddling into the internal affairs of Israel, let alone “advising” the Saudis and Mr. BHusseinO. Given his lack of interest in matters pertaining to international law, it’s no wonder that he blithely ignores the San Remo Resolution that to this day still binds and compels the US and Europe to recognize the lawful boundaries of the jewish Homeland set during the Twenties. These boundaries encompass the very lands Tom-tit demands Israel bestow upon the arab invaders who poured into the Jewish Homeland, re-inventing themselves as “palestinians” with a little help from Yasser Arafat, the bloody Egyptian-born terrorist. We venture to say that Tom probably blanches at the very thought of other nations waking to the dictates of international law that obliges them to respect the state of israel and its superior claims to its lands. If they don’t, or if they won’t, then these nations are in effect compromising the status of their own boundaries. We are not Jews, but we are “Zionists” and so we remind Tom that the San Remo Resolution and subsequent treaties still bind the US and the euroids even to this day. And that’s the truth and concealing the truth is the real reason why the guilty British felt it necessary to help the arabs invent the Big Arab Lie. It’s a shame this sweetheart of the New York Times, this O-so-Jewish Jew, refuses to study history and the dictates of settled international law and so, draped in ignorance, he behaves as if his Jewishness, in and of itself, entitles him to issue dictates to the sovereign nation of Israel.

  • Lenny

    Brilliant analysis and in the end, a convincing smackdown of the pundit who knows it all, yet consistently gets it wrong. Oh! His near orgasmic predictions of the Arab Spring’s democratic impact have drifted away into the dessert sands without trace!

  • The trouble with people like Friedman is that they do not understand, and do not WANT to understand the Palestinians (and most other Arabs). Perhaps the Syrian civil war and the civil wars in Libya and to some extent Egypt have taught him that Arabs love to hate. Their attitude to Israel is not the attitude of an adversary as in other wars, where the enemy is even admired, it is pure racial hatred an antisemitism that is the rule rather than the exception throughout the Arab world, and not just among Muslims but among Christians too. They have the same attitude to the Jews as the Nazis did, considering them as less than human, some sort of vermin to be eradicated. However noble the gestures of Israel toward the Arabs, such as treating Ismail Haniyeh’s granddaughter, these gestures are futile. Arabs do not understand “love thy neighbour”. If they cannot love each other, how can they love us?

  • Stormin’Norm

    There’s NO Bigger S.O.B. than a self hating Jew with a Grudge against the “Mother Land”…Israel!!!!

    • Claudia

      How right you are !!!

    • Henry Meisel

      So true………….a disgrace………..our own worst enemies………..he is a liar and ignorant of so called Palestinian history
      when Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the W. Bank they never asked for a separate Palestinian state
      they will never agree as long as the world supports them financially……….they would have to go to work

  • Bernard Ross

    ‘ during the first Lebanon War, his unrequited love turned to fury after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982. “Boiling with anger” ‘

    Innacurate, the same article just stated that before lebanon he steered an anti israel group

  • I. Barr

    Typical for Thomas Friedman and the New York Times is not to discuss the role of Islam in the Conflict of Palestinians with Israel. WAQF introduced by Haj Amin Al-Husseini in 1926 means that all mandatory Palestine in Islamic land that cannot be owned by infidels Christian or Jews. Hamas Covenant Article Eleven: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic WAQF consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day…” Thus every part of Israel is Islamic land occupied by Israel, even Tel-Aviv. Fatah has similar declarations demanding not only Israel settlements in West Bank but all of Israel. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal vowed “Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land”. As a religious concept WAQF is not subject to negotiations. To bridge the intent with reality Muslims use two mechanisms. TAQYYA means that a Muslim can even deny his faith or commit illegal or blasphemous acts, lie, if it is good for Islam. Agreements between Palestinian Authority and Israel were nixed by Hamas. HUDNA means truce until Muslim armies are ready to win a war than truce is aborted which happened in Gaza on numerous occasions. It seems that discussion of Islam and it’s impact on peace in the Holy Land is a taboo that does not deserve discussion. But WAQF is what is taught in Palestinian kindergarten , schools and media and there is no intention of the Palestinians to prepare their people to coexistence with Israel. Why does the New York Times and it’s journalists never discuss Islam? Are Mr. Friedman and NYT intimidated by radical Islam? Lastly, I share Mr. Friedman respect to Mr. Shavit though I wonder why there was no reference to Avi Shavit opinion (2011) that “Obama’s betrayal / As goes Mubarak, so goes U.S. might- The policy setback which Washington will experience will be no less dramatic than the regime debacle which Cairo is experiencing”-Haaretz 1/31/2011. This opinion proved to be true.