Thomas Friedman's fury
November 18, 2022
(JNS) — New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is distraught. Nothing could be worse, he appears to think, than Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent reelection as Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu’s new governing coalition, Friedman warns, will comprise “a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists.”
This “previously unthinkable reality,” Friedman asserts, raises “a fundamental question” that will “roil synagogues in America and across the globe.” The congregants will ask: “Do I support this Israel or not support it?” The issue will also “haunt” pro-Israel college students, “challenge” Israel’s Arab allies, “stress” American diplomats who have “reflexively defended Israel as a Jewish democracy” and send congressional friends of Israel “fleeing” from “such a religious-extremist-inspired government.”
In the worst possible insult, Friedman identifies Netanyahu’s pursuit of “illiberal” Israeli voters with former President Donald Trump’s preference for “white nationalism.” He anticipates that, with Netanyahu’s election, “we are truly entering a dark tunnel.”
In fact, it is Friedman who long ago entered a “dark tunnel” with his relentless hostility towards Israel. As a Brandeis University student, he joined a “Middle East Peace Group” that discounted Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis as “clearly not representative of the diverse elements of the Palestinian people”—as though that mattered to murdered Jews.
Hired by the Times in 1981, Friedman was posted to Beirut after Israel invaded Lebanon to halt PLO terrorist attacks. Friedman described a massacre of Palestinians by Christian Phalangists as “a blot on Israel and the Jewish people” that erased “every illusion [he] ever held about the Jewish state.” That Israel did not commit the massacre was irrelevant to Friedman. No matter who did what, Israel was to blame.
Appointed the Times Jerusalem Bureau chief, Friedman found endless opportunities to criticize Israel. Relying on a Peace Now advocate and a liberal rabbi as his primary sources, his main targets for criticism were “rigorously” Orthodox Jews and malevolent Israeli settlers. Palestinian violence was justified as “spontaneous acts of a people being occupied by another people.”
In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, published a year after his return to the U.S., Friedman concluded that Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War and its “occupation” of “Palestinian” land (i.e., biblical Judea and Samaria) had led to the Jewish state’s moral decline. Dismissing Palestinian terrorist attacks as merely a “poke in the ribs,” he expressed surprise that the words “Palestinian” and “terrorist” were linked, absurdly describing their violent attacks against Israeli civilians as “relatively non-lethal civil disobedience.”
As a Times columnist, Friedman warned that without a two-state solution, “Israel will be stuck with an apartheid-like, democracy-sapping, permanent occupation of the West Bank.” He attacked “far-right settler activists” who were “so arrogant and so indifferent to U.S. concerns” as to announce plans for new settlements. Unless Israel froze settlement activity, Friedman claimed, it could become “some kind of apartheid-like state” led by “scary religious nationalist zealots” who could lead Israel into the “dark corner” of a “South African future.”
In 2015, as a prelude to his current concerns, Friedman asked whether “a Jewish democratic Israel survives” a Netanyahu election victory. It did. Israel’s retention of settlements, he warned, ensures that Israel “could no longer be a Jewish democracy.” It still is.
Friedman’s relentless criticism of Israel is, to be sure, a perfect fit for the Times, which for decades has concocted reasons to lacerate the Jewish state.
Netanyahu’s latest election victory has sent shivers through the halls of the paper of record. Indeed, Friedman’s unrelenting criticism has been embraced by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Patrick Kingsley. Obsessed with Israel’s “occupied territories,” mentioned three times in the first five paragraphs of his post-election article, Kingsley focused on the victorious “far-right alliance” that distresses Palestinians and, clearly, the Times.
The New York Times will never make peace with the existence of a Jewish state in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. As Thomas Friedman and Patrick Kingsley demonstrate, any opportunity to flagellate Israel is irresistible.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.