As condemnation of the Jewish state in the media becomes more and more extreme, those leveling the charges are proclaiming themselves to be the true friends of Israel. Just recently, New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman penned a column excoriating Israelis for a variety of alleged crimes. He began by professing his love for Israelis.
Counting himself as one of the minority of American secular Jews who still cares about Israel, he denigrated those expressing traditional support for the Jewish state and its interests as not really pro-Israel, as grovelers, and most outrageously—as “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Friedman thus repudiated not only the large majority of American Jews who, according to a 2011 Luntz/CAMERA poll, strongly support Israel and believe that the current Israeli government is committed to establishing a genuine peace, but the 68 percent of Americans overall who, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, view Israel in a favorable light.
Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which charges American supporters of Israel with distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel’s selfish interests, lost no time in promoting Friedman’s column and declaring him “a true friend of Israel.” Walt conversely branded former Foreign Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams as “no friend of Israel” after the latter pointed out that Americans remain extremely supportive of the State of Israel, contrary to Friedman’s claims.
Walt’s co-author John Mearsheimer, who maligns Israel as an increasingly apartheid state, has gone even further by classifying American Jews into three categories: “the new Afrikaners,” “righteous Jews” and “the great ambivalent middle.” Mearsheimer’s “new Afrikaners,” with the connotation of racism and bigotry, include leaders of the traditional pro-Israe—roups—the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, ADL, AJC, World Jewish Congress and others. The “righteous,” on the other hand, include Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, and others who have embraced terrorist groups sworn to Israel’s destruction while depicting the Israelis as terrorists or even equating them with Nazis.
In the new parlance created to mainstream Israel’s most radical antagonists, a “friend” or a “righteous Jew” is one who publicly denounces Israel, and being “pro-Israel” means lobbying against Israel’s stated interests.
Thus, J Street markets itself as a “pro-Israel” movement, but lobbied against a bipartisan, congressional letter calling on President Obama to urge the Palestinian leader to renounce incitement against Israel and Jews, root out terrorism, and renew peace negotiations without pre-conditions, because that letter was not critical of Israel.
All this is not to say that friends and supporters can never disagree with or criticize Israel. Of course they can and they do. But unlike Friedman, they do not seek to use every perceived misdeed committed by an Israeli to tar the entire nation. Unlike Walt and Mearsheimer, their aim is not to revive the age-old canard of undue Jewish influence, with its anti-Semitic underpinnings. And unlike J Street, they do not insist that in order to achieve peace, Israel must, above all, be condemned.
Constructive criticism does not aim to destroy Israel’s image and legitimacy, but aims to improve it. True supporters of Israel, even while criticizing certain aspects, are able to see the good in the country as well. They understand that Israel must be defended not only from those who call themselves enemies, but also from some of those who call themselves “friends.”
This column was originally published and distributed by JNS on Dec. 26, 2011.