In a February 5th column, “A Rude Awakening,” New York Times syndicated columnist Tom Friedman rudely awakens his readers to his apparent inability to write rationally and accurately about Ariel Sharon. He uses imagery and descriptions that are, in the familiar words of Harvard President Lawrence Summers, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.”
Friedman writes that Sharon has “had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office. Mr. Sharon has Mr. Arafat surrounded by tanks, and Mr. Bush surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who's ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates, and by political handlers telling the president not to put any pressure on Israel in an election year — all conspiring to make sure the president does nothing.”
As well as unfairly impugning the integrity of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Friedman uses age-old themes commonly associated with anti-Semitic canards: Jews “conspiring” to control the government, Jews “dictating” to compliant government officials.
Has Friedman ever considered that Israel and the U.S. government agree on many issues because Israel and the U.S. share common values and share goals regarding the war on terror? Isn't that more likely than 1) Sharon having some kind of supernatural power over our elected officials or 2) that our officials care more about pandering to potential voters than to crafting solid policies they truly believe in?
Aside from this egregious example of character assassination against Sharon, Bush and Cheney, Friedman also gets his facts wrong. He claims that Abu Abbas was a “moderate” and that Sharon did nothing to try to bolster him while he briefly served as Palestinian prime minister. While Abbas may be more pragmatic than Arafat, Abbas is on record as being unwilling to arrest or disarm Palestinian terrorists. Is someone who gives terrorists a safe haven a “moderate?” Maybe in Friedman's skewed world view.
Furthermore, Friedman misleads when he writes:
...Mr. Sharon turned over 400 Palestinian prisoners to the Islamist Lebanese militia Hezbollah in a prisoner swap, something he was never ready to do with moderate Palestinian leaders.
The message he sent is: use violence, as Hamas and Hezbollah do, and you get results from Israel. Adopt moderation, and you get nothing.
While the wisdom of Sharon’s prisoner swap with Hezbollah is certainly fair ground for criticism, Friedman is wrong that Sharon did nothing to bolster Mahmoud Abbas. While Sharon didn't “swap” prisoners with Abbas, he did something even more helpful to the Palestinians; in a goodwill gesture, Sharon released hundreds of prisoners without getting anything in return at all.
As the New York Times itself reported in an August 7, 2003 article:
Israel on Wednesday released more than 330 Palestinian prisoners... Israel was not required to make the releases under the Middle East peace plan known as the “road map,” but it said it hoped to help the sputtering peace negotiations…
…Securing the release of prisoners has been a top priority for the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel had intended Wednesday's release to bolster his standing among his people.…
…Wednesday's was the largest of several Israeli prisoner releases in the past few months, and brought the number of those freed to almost 600. Another 100 Palestinians jailed for common crimes, such as being in Israel illegally, will be freed soon, Israel says. Israel says it could let more prisoners go if peace talks progress, but stresses that it is not obligated to do so...
“Releasing prisoners is something that is not part of the road map,” said Arnon Perlman, an Israeli government spokesman. “It is something we are doing unilaterally as a trust-building measure .”...
...Israel has pulled back troops in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem, and the army has removed some key checkpoints.
[Excerpted from “Israel Frees 330 Prisoners; Palestinians Dismiss Gesture” by GREG MYRE, August 7, 2003]