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September 24, 2015 12:58 pm

Thomas Friedman’s Hectoring Yom Kippur Sermon

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

Thomas Friedman. Photo: Facebook.

Thomas Friedman. Photo: Facebook.

The pundit’s hectoring sermon, appearing in the New York Times on Yom Kippur, began as a movie review. Thomas Friedman pitched a new Israeli film, “Rabin: The Last Day,” which is “quite relevant to America today.” To be sure, the last time an American president’s “last day” ended in assassination was more than half a century ago. But why quibble over dates and details?

According to Agence France-Presse, cited by Friedman, the Israeli film “revisits a form of Jewish radicalism that still poses major risks.” Produced by Israeli director Amos Gitai, it focuses on the right-wing incitement campaign that impelled Yigal Amir to murder Israel’s Prime Minister. No wonder Friedman touts its virtues and can hardly wait to see it. With the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination nearing (November 4), and with evident pleasure, he quotes Gitai’s indictment of  the “hate campaign led by hallucinating rabbis, settlers who were against the withdrawal from territories and the parliamentary right, led by the Likud, already then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.” Friedman could hardly resist lauding an Israeli film that castigates his favorite Israeli targets.

Friedman declined to mention that Amos Gitai has been a fiercely anti-Israel Israeli for more than three decades. His first film (1980), a documentary for the Israeli television corporation (which refused to show it), depicted the attachment of Palestinians to their land i.e. the biblical Land of Israel. Fixated on Palestinians, he followed two years later with a film on the West Bank. In 1983 he further demonstrated his disaffection from Israel by relocating to Paris where, appropriately, he produced a trilogy of exile.

“The Last Day,” Gitai has explained, focuses on the vanished dream of peace and normalcy that followed Rabin’s assassination. He warns that “the men that made possible the killing of our prime minister are still around. In fact, some of them are now flirting with power.” No names are mentioned, but implications were evident. In a statement outdated by some thirty years, before he became a yored, he confessed to alarm at “the growing existence of a violent Jewish religious underground in the heart of Israeli secular society.” Perhaps it is time that he returned to Israel for another look.

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Friedman, whose teen-age summer romance with Israeli kibbutzim morphed into affiliation with the J Street antecedent organization Breira while he was a Brandeis undergraduate, seldom misses an opportunity to seize the opportunity to flagellate Israel. Especially, it now seems, on Yom Kippur. This time, however, it was merely a prelude to his warning against “the divisive, bigoted campaigns of Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” thereby enabling him to kill two Republican birds with the stone of Israeli extremism.

The day after Friedman committed his first journalistic sin for atonement next year, Times editors added their own epilogue to the Iran deal. They focused on “what America must do to reassure Israel and its American supporters that the agreement will not harm Israel’s security.” The obvious answer might be repeal. But the Times believes in soft power: “Increased cooperation between America and its regional partners, including the Arab gulf states as well as Israel.” Having found its mantra of linkage between Israel and the “Arab gulf states,” it twice repeated it. Linkage was crucial. The Times could not bring itself to support Israeli security alone – with, for example, the “dubious proposal” for a massive penetrator bomb that could damage Iran’s buried nuclear enrichment facility. That would be “provocative and dangerous.” It might even work.

For Times editors, “What’s most important for Israel’s security is the relationship with the United States,” which was “put at risk” by – guess what — Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to “polarize” the debate over the Iran deal. “A crucial sense of trust needs to be rebuilt.” That admonition expresses the determination of the Times to preserve its editorial embrace of the official American position on anything to do with Israel lest it be accused of divided loyalty.

Thomas Friedman found his true home, warning lest “a whole faith community [Islam] gets delegitimized,” while touting the cinematic delegitimization of rabbis, settlers and Prime Minister Netanyahu – by, of course, an Israeli filmmaker.


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