UPDATED: Tom Friedman’s Grudging Correction

Updated March 29, 2004.

February 13, 2004

CAMERA, along with many other organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, have called on the New York Times to apologize or write an editor’s note for irresponsibly allowing Tom Friedman to make assertions in his Feb. 5 column that were anti-Semitic in effect, even if fanning the flames of bigotry wasn’t the writer’s intent. Additionally, CAMERA and others pointed out that Friedman was factually inaccurate in claiming that Sharon had not released Palestinian prisoners while Mahmoud Abbas was Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. The New York Times responded that Friedman would address the concerns in his next column.

Friedman’s Inadequate Correction

At the end of his Feb. 12 column, Friedman admits he was wrong, sort of, about the prisoner release:

My Feb. 5 column erred in saying Ariel Sharon had released no Palestinian prisoners to Mahmoud Abbas. He did. It was just too limited a release to have any impact. See above.

And what is Friedman’s response to the hundreds, if not thousands, of letters pointing out how reckless his imagery was of Jews “dictating” policy decisions to servile American officials who are in the Israelis’ “pocket”…how his words would almost certainly be used by anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists to bolster their hatemongering…how it would make closet anti-Semites more comfortable expressing their views publicly…how it might even engender prejudice where there had been none toward Jews and Israel? Nothing.

Friedman takes no responsibility for abusing his influential position and apparently he and the New York Times management feel no need to reconsider using such obviously inflammatory language at a time when violent anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide.

Friedman could have made the same point without using language that recklessly fed into theories of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to control the government. It is time for an Editor’s Note from the New York Times expressing regret and noting the importance of responsible language, especially during this time of escalating and dangerous anti-Semitism.


Friedman’s Feb. 12 column, a fictionalized letter from President Bush to Arab leaders, displays the same indifference to both essential facts and Israel’s existential concerns. Mischaracterizing the responsibilities of the parties to the Road Map, he faults Israel for its supposed failure to bolster the (then) new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, saying “Sharon gave him virtually nothing on settlements or on easing Israeli checkpoints on Palestinians.” The fact that Abbas refused out of hand to undertake the foremost requirement of the agreement — to dismantle the Palestinians’ terrorist infrastructure — is omitted entirely.

Friedman urges a return to the Saudi Plan, a proposal the columnist has championed and about which he has written misleadingly in the past. Previously, he erroneously claimed the plan requiring full withdrawal by Israel from all the West Bank and Gaza conforms to the terms of U.N. Resolution 242. The resolution 242 makes no such demand for Israel to withdraw from all the territories.

Friedman’s “Full Normalization” Lacks Context

* Advocating that the Arabs offer “full normalization with Israel in return for full withdrawal from the territories,” Friedman ignores, for example, Israel’s experience with Egypt. Despite making huge concessions to Egypt ostensibly in return for “full normalization”–almost 30 years later, Egypt still has not normalized relations; Egyptian tourism to Israel is almost non-existent. Egyptians who visit Israel are often kicked out of their trade unions, vilified and ostracized. There are few joint projects between the two countries. Egypt continues to disseminate vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda in its state-run media.

*Friedman also ignores that the Palestinians have repeatedly betrayed Israel and their American negotiation facilitators by failing to implement any of their numerous signed agreements to disarm and arrest terrorists and to cease incitement to violence. Perhaps that’s why the American-proposed “road map,” which is already the agreement in place, begins with concrete action required of the Palestinians.

* Friedman implies that the Arabs simply making a promise of future normalized relations should be enough for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem. He fails to explore the possibility of concrete actions being taken by the Palestinians and Arab nations that would be much more likely to get Israel’s and America’s positive attention:

o Anti-Semitic music videos being pulled off state-run television and radio stations in the Palestinian Authority areas and Arab nations

o The ubiquitous Palestinian “public service ads” that glorify terrorism and encourage children to murder Israelis being removed from Palestinian television

o Palestinian and Arab leaders giving speeches in Arabic that are broadcast on the radio and TV and published in the newspapers about the immorality of murdering Israelis, about the need to finally accept Israel as a permanent, not temporary, neighbor who does have historical and legal rights to be there.

o The Palestinians making serious and consistent efforts to disarm and arrest the terrorists.

March 29, 2004 Update — Abbas Says Israel Wasn’t the Problem.

Contrary to Thomas Friedman’s Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 suggestions that Abbas failed because Sharon did not sufficiently “strengthen Abbas’ hand,” the former Palestinian Prime Minister has denied that Sharon played a role in his decision to resign, pointing a finger at Arafat instead:

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Miinister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has dismissed the widely accepted notion that it was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s lack of gestures that forced him to resign, hinting that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and his inner circle had “thwarted” his mission. . . .

He was speaking to local journalists in Ramallah for the first time since he quit. . . . “I have talked about Sharon’s role in aborting this experience, but, unfortunately, it was our brothers who thwarted this mission. . . .

Abbas said he would not rescind his decision to resign from the Fatah Central Committee and suspend his membership in the PLO Executive until the two bodies endorse large-scale reforms. “I didn’t resign from Fatah, but only from its Central Council because it has failed to bring about change,” he explained. “And I didn’t resign from the PLO Executive Committee, but I’m boycotting its meetings because it’s paralyzed and it’s not doing anything.”

Abbas lashed out at the PA for failing to enforce law and order and called for implementing security, administrative, and financial reforms in all PA institutions.

“The PA must prove its existence, and there’s nothing that prevents it from doing so,” he said. “There are certain things it must do, first and foremost the unification of all the security forces under one command. We accepted the road map [which calls for security reforms in the PA] and we must implement it so that we can demand our rights.

“The PA must carry out its obligations regardless of whether or not Israel and the US acknowledge this. I know very well that there is a problem and it’s the the Israeli occupation, but when the PA proves its capabilities it will put the occupation in the corner, embarrass it, and force it to leave the territories. . . .” (Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, March 28, 2004)

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