Crazy responses in Israeli media to Thomas Friedman’s op-ed

Posted: February 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

In his latest column, New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman attacks Jerusalem’s response to the Egyptian revolution. Friedman’s bluntly expressed opinions were the catalyst for a torrent of angry comments. “Court Jew” was just one of the expressions used

For about a year now,  Thomas Friedman has been driving Israelis crazy. Ever time he mentions Israel in his columns he is widely quoted, debated and analyzed. Friedman is becoming a household name – at least for those who follow the news.

Things spun out of control following Friedman’s latest column. I cannot remember such a direct assault by the Israeli media on an American journalist.

This is the paragraph that started it all:

Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’

The Jerusalem Post’s Shmuel Rosner was one of the few journalists who tried to analyze what Friedman had written. On the morning Friedman published his article, Rosner claimed in a column for Maariv that administration officials had praised Israel for its response to the events in Egypt. He admits to being surprised by what Friedman wrote, and tried to explain the contradicting reports:

Simple explanation: It all depends on whom you’re talking to. More complex one: It all depends on the things you choose to highlight in the article, and those you feel are off subject. I didn’t hear that anyone was “disgusted” with Israeli interlocutors. Maybe I’ve been talking to the wrong people – maybe those “disgusted” with Israel feel more comfortable talking to Friedman (he also has more readers, and is more handsome).

Others were less inclined to compliment the New York Times columnist. “Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in late 2008, Friedman has sallied forth with a series of articles that have not only been harshly critical of Israel, but also decidedly haughty and hostile,” wrote one of my old professors at Tel Aviv University, Martin Sherman. “Friedman adopted the most malevolent and mendacious aspects of anti-Israeli slander,” he added, referring to another column in which Friedman attacked Jerusalem.

“Friedman has a mental problem – Netanyahu obsession” wrote Arkiel Segal in Maariv [Hebrew]. Segal also called Freidman “Obama’s pet Jew.”

“His approach is similar to that of Chamberlain before the Second World War,” observed Yair Freeman on Ynet [Hebrew].

There were other writers, some less blunt, others more. But no one went as far as Knesset Member Yaakov Katz (National Union) in an op-ed he sent by mail to the entire foreign press corps (titled “Thomas Friedman, Court Jew”), Katz wrote:

It doesn’t take much intellectual prowess or professional psychological training to realize that Mr. Friedman is actually attacking and denying his very own Judaism. Playing the role of the negative exemplars of the stereotypical Diaspora court Jew, he is filled with self-loathing, ashamed of his origins – and aims to ensure that this is common knowledge.


Friedman attempts to call on the world to force the Jewish people and its state to return to the atmosphere of the days of submission and oppression in the ghetto. After all, he makes his home in the ghetto of a foreign land, lives as a Diaspora Jew, and perhaps would like to get us to join him.

I must admit: I can’t wait for Friedman’s next column on Israel.

Rahm Emanuel goes after Bibi?

Posted: January 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I didn’t like the “disengagement” threats that supposedly came from Rahm Emanuel last week. Thomas Friedman had the same idea a few weeks ago. It seemed weird back than, and it doesn’t sound any better coming from the White House now.

For those who missed the story, it all started when the daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported last week that Rahm Emanuel had a message for both Israelis and Palestinians:

“The US administration is tired of you, the Israelis and Palestinians. You’re wasting precious time and are missing an opportunity to make peace. There is going to be a stage in which we’re simply going to give up on this endless conflict and leave you alone.”

Soon enough, the American media caught up with the story, what caused Emanuel to claim he was misquoted.

The real problem, however, is not with the undiplomatic tone of Obama’s chief of staff, or with him threatening both sides publicly, but rather with the fact that this threat is actually no threat at all: Netanyahu’s greatest hope is that the administration would get off his back. If the US was to put the diplomatic effort on a hold, most of the Israeli prime minister’s immediate political problems would be solved. Emanuel acts like a parent demanding his 8 year old kid to stop beating up his younger brother, “or else,” he threatens, “I will go to my room.”

If the US was considering abandoning all of its interests in the region, it would have been another story. If the White House was threatening to stop the economical and military aid to Israel, Jerusalem would have had something to worry about. But this is clearly not the case. The current administration is committed to maintaining Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, and Emanuel knows more than anybody what backlash the White House will suffer if it would even consider cutting some of the 3 billion dollars the US hands Israel every year (That’s why the right wing cheered Emanuel’s idea. Here is an example, on no else than the political blog of Israel’s best Basketball referee ever).

These kind of statements by Obama’s chief of staff looks, more than anything, like a sign of frustration, and it comes pretty early in the game. I don’t get this. After all we have been through, with all the damage of the lost eight years of George Bush, did the new administration really think that reigniting the process will be that easy?

Thomas Friedman is missing George Bush

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Thomas Friedman’s last Sunday’s column at the NYT got considerable attention in Israel. Friedman’s article, who called the US to put its current diplomatic effort in the Middle East to a halt – due to lack of interest from the parties involved – was quoted on and even got some sort of response from Ehud Barak. Israel’s defense Minister described the Obama presidency as “a rare opportunity to reach peace.”, before going on with his usual blaming of the Palestinians and Arab Leaders for missing this very opportunity (Barak’s attitude is so narrow-minded and his conduct is so annoying, that he seems like the only person still capable of stirring some emotions in the Israeli Left. This Saturday he was even booed at the Rabin Memorial Rally).

Friedman, who as a reporter was stationed both in Jerusalem and Beirut, thinks that the US president is wasting his time in trying to get the Palestinians and the Israelis to the table. In recent Middle East history, claims Friedman, diplomatic progress occurred only when both sides desired it, and not when it was imposed from outside:

The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace — post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo — has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen — Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton — savvy enough to seize those moments.

Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other — a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership “wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations” and Israel’s leadership “wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal.”

I find this reading of history extremely naïve. In fact, I think what’s true is almost the opposite: the parties in the Middle East shed each other’s blood as long as the international community, and most notably the US, allowed them to. Examples: the US allowing Israel to hit Egypt in 56′ but than forcing it to evacuate the Sinai peninsula; the US stopping the IDF on 73′, and saving the Egyptian Third Army; the US forcing Israel to let the PLO evacuate Beirut before the IDF enters the city. This goes on to our very days: Why do you think Israel was in such a hurry to finish its attack in Gaza on the same week George Bush left the White House?

But my problem with what Friedman wrote goes deeper than his historical perspective. Read the end of his article:

It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can’t decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.

If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It’s time to call a halt to this dysfunctional “peace process,” which is only damaging the Obama team’s credibility.

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.

While I may agree with what the way Friedman views the current Israeli policies – let’s assume even that he got the Palestinian side right – the problem is with his conclusions, or with the absence of some of them.

The US diplomatic engagement in the region is only the tip of the iceberg. When Friedman says that “we are in the wrong place”, does he also mean that the 3 billion dollar annual military and economical support Israel receives from the US goes in the wrong place? Is he saying that the US should re-consider its automatic veto on Security Council resolutions that troubles Israel? Does he call for the Pentagon to stop its military support of the IDF, because we end up with US subsided weapons used to guard the settlements that the White House want dismantled?

Because if that’s what Friedman means, he should say so (unless he is afraid of the reactions he might meet, and in this case, he should give up writing altogether). If, on the other hand, all he thinks is that the US should carry on with its support of Israel and Israeli policies, and just drop the diplomatic effort to end the occupation for now, he could make things much easier by simply saying we should go back to the first six years of the Bush administration, when the Palestinian leaders were Persona Non Grata in Washington and Israel got a Carte Blanche in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Even the Neo-Cons of the Bush administration arrived at the conclusion that this wasn’t such a good idea, so they came up with the road map and the Annapolis summit. And now Friedman is asking Obama – who promised that the US will not turn its back on the Palestinian people again – to walk the same road?

The Right Offers No Solutions

Posted: February 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

There has been some talk recently about a “three states solution” to the Palestinian problem. John Bolton, George Bush’s ambassador to the UN, promoted this idea in an op-ed in the Washington Post and Daniel Pipes, president of The Middle East Forum, wrote similar things in the Jerusalem post.

The idea is simple: instead of a forming a Palestinian state, Jordan and Egypt will regain control over the West Bank and Gaza for a generation or two, or even permanently, thus enabling Israel to evacuate these areas without putting its security at risk. The blogger Mary Madigan called it “the no-state solution”.

I won’t go to length in explaining why this idea is a waste of time. It would be enough to say that both Jordan and Egypt won’t have it, mainly for the internal problems it might cause them; the radical Islam is the main threat to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, which is why he won’t want to add Gaza’s Hamas to his list of enemies from home; and in Jordan, the Palestinians were close to bringing down the regime in the early 70′s. And as for the issue of Israel’s security, there is no reason to believe that Arab soldiers will do a better job chasing rocket launchers and suicide bombers than we do now.

But my real problem with this line of thought– and this goes for Thomas Friedman’s “5-State Solution” in the NYT as well – is that we don’t lack solutions for the Middle East, but rather the political power and will to carry them out.

Read the rest of this entry »