Tom Friedman Doesn’t Let Facts Get in the Way

Tom Friedman’s New York Times Op-Ed, “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir” (December 13, 2011),  is a concoction of distortions seasoned with the classic anti-Semitic canards that all too often appear in anti-Israel writings. Unfortunately for Friedman, John Adams was right when he said facts are stubborn things.

Among Friedman’s most disturbing claims is that the standing ovation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress last May was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Not only is the statement’s anti-Semitic allusion grossly offensive, but the assertion is false. The suggestion that Americans and their elected representatives do not support Israel for genuine reasons of sympathy and affinity is plainly wrong;  a 2011 Gallup poll showed that American support for Israel was on the rise, at a near record high of 63%, and that Americans were nearly four times as likely to side with the Israelis as with the Palestinians.

The statement about being “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” echoes the widely criticized book by Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar & Straus, Sept. 2007). The authors accuse the “Israel lobby” of distorting US foreign policy to serve Israel’s aims at the expense of U.S. interests. Fraught with shoddy scholarship, the book updates the classic slander that Jews are a fifth column with, at best, dual loyalties and, at worst, a secret unpatriotic agenda. Friedman’s Op-Ed clearly suggests the same.

Friedman’s reference also, troublingly, brings to mind other anti-Semitic tropes, including the all-powerful Jew pulling strings behind the scenes, a libel spelled out most notoriously in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “Bought and paid for” evokes the money-grubbing Jewish stereotype brought to life by such literary villains as Shylock and Fagin.

While saying he’d “never claim to speak for American Jews,” Friedman goes on to do just that and falsely so.
He suggests that only a “minority” of secular American Jews still care about Israel — the majority, ostensibly, having been driven away by Israel’s innumerable alleged transgressions. But a recent Luntz poll of American Jews commissioned by CAMERA, demonstrates just the opposite. There is continuing, deep support for Israel among American Jews, with strong belief in the Netanyahu government’s commitment to peace efforts and apprehension about a Palestinian “culture of hatred.”

To bolster his condemnation of Israel and its supporters, Friedman tosses in whatever incendiary insults and charges come to mind with total disregard for fact or context. He thus falsely characterizes Newt Gingrich’s interview with the Jewish Channel  as “suggesting the Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people and not a real nation entitled to a state.” While Gingrich did, indeed, say, “I think we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs” – a statement that can and has been much debated, nowhere in the interview did Gingrich say that the Palestinians are not entitled to a state. In fact, in subsequent remarks, Gingrich stated that he is in favor of a negotiated two-state solution, including necessarily a Palestinian state. Just because Friedman assumes that Gingrich meant something he didn’t actually say does not mean the Times columnist can create facts. Friedman, of course, has a long history of erroneous predictions, misguided analysis and wrong assumptions (for example, see Vanity Fair  and The Washington Post). 

Another inflammatory charge Friedman interjects is the accusation that the Israeli Egged bus company offered gender-segregated bus lines to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where women would be forced to the back of the bus. The pundit duly quotes the Web site of the far-left New Israel Fund (notorious for funding many of the NGO’s that contributed to the discredited, anti-Israel Goldstone Report), repeating their claim that “women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus.” But this is a clear distortion by an organization with an agenda.

While it is true that ultra-Orthodox Jews have requested this service, the Israeli Supreme Court  ruled that mandated gender separation is illegal. The bus lines in question are limited to routes between ultra-Orthodox communities where users, the Supreme Court ruled, are permitted to segregate themselves voluntarily. No one, however, can be coerced to sit in the back of the bus, according to Israeli law. Friedman also omits the fact that the same practice has been in place for years on buses in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in New York.

It must be noted that women’s rights are far more constrained in every country surrounding Israel than in the Jewish state and that citizens of those countries have little if any access to an independent judiciary to adjudicate their rights. There can simply be no comparison between the rights enjoyed by women in Israel and those denied to women in Arab countries, where so-called “honor killings” are still common and largely unpunished. I t is telling that Friedman ignores this obvious comparison.

It is likewise telling that Friedman chooses to end his piece with a quote from radical journalist Gideon Levy whom he characterizes as a “powerful liberal voice.”  In truth, Levy is considered a marginal figure in Israel. He is dismissed by the vast majority of Israelis who are familiar with his penchant for distorting the truth to suit his fringe anti-Israel agenda.

Holding Israel to a discriminatory, double standard is what bigots do. For all Friedman’s claims over the years of (qualified) affection for Israel, columns such as this one reveal a troubling disregard for facts and embrace of irrational criticism he applies to no other nation. As an opinion writer, he is, of course, entitled to his own opinion, however extreme and offensive to his readers. But in the oft-quoted words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he is not entitled to his own facts.

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