After the publication earlier this week of the New York Observer’s scathing feature about the New York Times opinion section, the focus of much of the behind-the-scenes dishing in the piece—foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman—as if on cue, produced another vivid illustration of why his reputation is in tatters, both in his own newsroom and beyond. Friedman’s cliché-ridden postulations of the conventional wisdom have become a bi-weekly self-parody and an embarrassment not only to liberalism but also to journalism. But yesterday’s column is a particularly good example of why it’s now officially open season for critics of his work and the paper’s opinion section that he calls home.
The column, entitled “The Third Intifada,” is but his latest iteration of an all-too-familiar Friedman rant on why Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong and will ultimately undermine support for the Jewish state. He claims the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel is, in effect, the third uprising against the Jewish state, and one that will have a better chance of succeeding than the earlier two, perpetrated by the Palestinians alone. Speaking up in support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats of more boycotts should the Netanyahu government fail to satisfy the Palestinians, Friedman says the reason this intifada will succeed where the others failed is that this one, supported by leftists in Europe and in academic swamps in the United States, makes Israelis feel “morally insecure.”
There is an argument that can be made to support the proposition that Israel’s policy of building Jewish communities throughout the territories was a mistake. But Friedman does not make this argument. Friedman’s column falls apart because of two basic flaws that are typical of his work whenever he writes on Israel. One is that he perennially ignores or dismisses the Palestinian role in the equation. The other is that even as he gives the boycotters the moral high ground he concedes—albeit buried at the bottom of his column—that many of them are not motivated by morality or even by concern for the plight of the Palestinians but by simple anti-Semitism. That single point renders his entire column both self-contradictory and patently illogical. In other words, you needn’t be a supporter of settlements or even of Israel to understand that this column—like so many others he has written—is a jumble of clichés that sheds no light on the subject other than to highlight the author’s unfailing anti-Israel bias and utter moral confusion.
Friedman is right about one thing. The BDS movement must be seen in the same historic context as the previous intifadas and, indeed, all the other Arab wars waged against Israel since its birth in 1948. The purpose of BDS is not to shame Israelis into giving up a bit more land than they’ve already offered the Palestinians, who refused three offers of an independent state including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Like mainstream Palestinian nationalism, BDS seeks Israel’s total destruction.
Anti-Semitism isn’t merely an aspect of BDS: it is its essence. Those who single out the one Jewish state in the world for moral opprobrium that they choose not to impose on any other country—including those with monstrous rights violations—is nothing but an expression of bigotry. Those who would deny the Jews what they grant to all others—the right to sovereignty in their homeland and the right to self-defense—are bigots, not human-rights activists. To grant such a movement, as Friedman does, the mantle of the late Nelson Mandela, as the cutting edge of human-rights activism isn’t merely obtuse; it’s an abomination.
The sinister motives of the BDS movement ought to have been a red flag to Kerry and his sidekick Friedman that its actions are beyond the pale. Instead, they offer their tacit support in the unconscionable belief that an American threat of isolation will weaken Israel’s resolve to drive a hard bargain with the Palestinians. Also like Kerry, who regards Palestinian incitement and murderous attacks on Israelis as not worthy of his attention, Friedman treats the behavior and the demands of the Palestinian Authority in this conflict as beneath his notice. Yet as long as the Palestinians continue to demand a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—measures that would signify their willingness to end rather than to merely pause the conflict—any discussion of settlement freezes are pointless.
Friedman’s latest demand for a freeze in building in the settlements is all the more deceitful because he knows that previous freezes have failed to persuade the Palestinians either to negotiate in good faith or to reduce their deadly violence. The focus on the building is also disingenuous because Friedman is well aware that almost all new building is taking place either in Jerusalem or within settlement blocs that he knows perfectly well Israel will retain in the event of a peace treaty. Rather than encouraging peace, columns such as Friedman’s that focus on such freezes merely encourage the Palestinians to think they can get the U.S. to back their demand for the eviction of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, most of whom are living in Jewish neighborhoods or in suburbs of Jerusalem that have existed for decades.
Treating such building or the anger of many Israelis at Kerry’s presumptions as the moral equivalent of the Palestinian Authority’s honoring terrorist murderers or broadcasting hate speech is merely further proof of the profundity of the columnist’s moral confusion. Unlike Friedman, Israelis have been forced to pay the closest, daily attention to what the Palestinians have been doing and saying during the past 20 years of peace processing. That’s why serious-minded Israelis pay no attention to the Times‘s foreign-policy guru. Unfortunately for his newspaper, as the Observer noted, the rest of the world, not to mention his New York Times colleagues, have also caught on to him.