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Tom Friedman’s 14-Year-Old Losing Streak

Yesterday’s New York Times diatribe by Thomas Friedman is being blasted for declaring that the United States Congress is “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Friedman contrasted the strong support that Israel receives from the American political establishment with what he insisted is declining support from American Jewry, the latter being the result of Israeli domestic and foreign policy.

And while it’s important to underline the deep unseemliness of Friedman’s implicit dual loyalty canard – a smear that has become distressingly commonplace in left-wing anti-Israel discourse – let’s also take some time to appreciate the near-comical fidelity with which he toes the “Jews are abandoning Israel” line. Here is Friedman yesterday:

I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.

Here is Friedman on October 09, 1997. I’ve ellipsed out the names of President Clinton, Palestinian President Arafat, and then-Conference of Presidents Chairman Melvin Salberg, the effect being to make Friedman’s 14-year-old passage literally identical to what anti-Israel partisans are writing today:

I cannot recall a time of greater disquiet among mainstream American Jews over the drift of events in Israel. It’s for the same reason many Israelis are distressed — the dashed hopes of the Oslo peace process, combined with the rising tension between religious and non-religious Jews, all happening under an Israeli leadership that has more in common with Larry, Moe and Curly than with David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Both in Israel and in the U.S. there is a deepening concern that Israel today is led by people who have no clear vision and no courage to stand up to the religious and political extremists bent on driving Israel over a cliff… The White House knows there’s a new mood out there among American Jews… [the] chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told [the] President Monday that American Jews want the President to press both [the Palestinian President] and Benjamin Netanyahu to do what’s needed to restore the peace process, and then let the two of them negotiate a settlement.

There’s a much longer post to be written about the Alienation Thesis, the two-pronged claim that American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel and that the estrangement is driven by Israeli policies. Matthew Ackerman debunked the latter, causal claim a few months ago, and Jonathan Tobin did the same for the former, empirical claim over the summer. But it keeps getting unblinkingly repeated in articles like Friedman’s, and it was a critical pivot in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent dust-up with Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry. The thesis wasn’t true 14 years ago and it isn’t true now, but– again–it’s obviously going to take more data to put the claim to bed.

In the meantime, there’s a legitimate debate about the source of Friedman’s deepening venom toward Israel’s American supporters. One theory holds that it’s driven by sheer frustration: “Why won’t American Jews do what I said they were going to do?” The other theory suggests it’s a kind of paranoid rationalization: “American Jews did do what I said they were going to do, but the lobby is obfuscating the evidence by controlling Congress.” Clearly there are arguments to be made on both sides.



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