Commentary Magazine


Topic: Thomas Friedman

What’s Wrong with Obama Walking in the Ayatollah’s Slippers?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Read More

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

What really came through to me in the interview really is a couple things that really do show you the difference between him and Netanyahu. Obama is someone who has lived abroad, maybe more than any president in a long time. And because of that, he actually knows what America looks like from the outside in. And he can actually see America even to some point from the Iranian perspective. And it comes through when he says let’s remember we, the Unites States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Friedman is right that understanding your adversary is a vital tool for any world leader. It is possible that the president’s experience of living abroad in his youth is an asset in that it does help him understand the way foreigners view the United States. Perhaps that has aided his efforts to think seriously about Iran and to realize that it is a vast complex country with a government with competing factions vying for influence in an undemocratic structure, at the top of which sits a supreme leader who ultimately calls the shots.

No one who thinks about Iran policy should be ignorant of the narrative of their country’s modern history that the leaders of the Islamist regime have carefully propagated, though it’s more likely that that the president learned about this from leftist professors at Columbia University and not at the Indonesian school where he studied as a boy. As Friedman rightly notes, Iran’s rulers see their nuclear-weapons project as an insurance policy against any threat of regime change that might, as many of those Iranians who took to the streets in a “Green Revolution” in 2009 may have hoped, lead to a government that would allow them more freedom than their current theocratic masters with whom the president prefers to do business will ever allow.

Friedman contrasts what he claims is Obama’s nuanced view of Iran with the more simplistic understanding of the country that he attributes to Netanyahu. The latter, he says, views it as a country with no politics and where 85 million people get up every morning clamoring for a bomb to drop on the Jews. The president and Friedman see it as more complex and think the right sort of diplomacy will tip the balance toward more moderate factions and away from extremists.

That is an interesting scenario that most in the West would applaud. But it is also the point at which walking in another fellow’s shoes becomes wishful thinking about that other person wanting the same things you want. In the case of Iran such thinking is not a triumph of understanding. It is delusional.

A truly nuanced view of Iran would incorporate the ideology that runs throughout the Islamist regime encompassing the worldview of both the so-called “moderates,” supposedly led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the hardliners, whose most prominent personality is the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As much as there is certainly a political struggle between the two factions (though Rouhani has always been a faithful servant of the country’s extremist leaders), they don’t disagree about wanting a bomb. Nor do they differ much on the nation’s goal of regional hegemony or the desirability of obliterating Israel by any means possible. In that sense, Netanyahu’s supposedly more primitive grasp of the situation (a misnomer since the prime minister has devoted far more time to scholarship and writing about the Middle East than Obama has ever done, but never mind) is actually far closer to the truth.

The problem here isn’t that critics of Iran don’t get the motivations of those in power in Tehran. It’s that Obama and his foreign-policy team have bought into a myth about the potential for Iranian moderation that is rooted in their hopes for détente and completely divorced from recent history or Iran’s behavior. Having placed himself in the ayatollah’s slippers, President Obama has not only sought to gain a grasp of his prejudices; he has adopted them and treated them as normative and even worth defending. It is this mindset that caused him to assess his adversary in the talks and to discard the West’s enormous economic and political leverage and give in to Iran’s obdurate demands to keep its nuclear infrastructure rather than face them down.

This is not wisdom or understanding. It is folly and the sort of misplaced empathy with foes that has served as the rationale for every act of appeasement of tyrants throughout history.

Read Less

Friedman’s Adelson Derangement Syndrome and Democracy

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times are aware of the fact that he doesn’t like the fact that a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition predominates in the U.S. Congress. Friedman is stuck in the conspiratorial world of the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that falsely alleges that backing for the Jewish state is purchased by the cash of pro-Israel donors. And the most conspicuous of those donors is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who seems to be occupying a rather large space in Friedman’s head these days. Last week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Friedman repeated the slurs against the pro-Israel community and Adelson that he first lobbed in 2011. That he doubled down on those charges in today’s column is of little interest. But what is worth noting is Friedman’s attack on Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper Adelson owns. According to the columnist, the paper is subverting Israeli democracy in the manner that Adelson and other donors are supposedly undermining American foreign policy. But what we really learn from this piece is that Friedman likes neither democracy nor freedom of the press.

Read More

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times are aware of the fact that he doesn’t like the fact that a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition predominates in the U.S. Congress. Friedman is stuck in the conspiratorial world of the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that falsely alleges that backing for the Jewish state is purchased by the cash of pro-Israel donors. And the most conspicuous of those donors is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who seems to be occupying a rather large space in Friedman’s head these days. Last week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Friedman repeated the slurs against the pro-Israel community and Adelson that he first lobbed in 2011. That he doubled down on those charges in today’s column is of little interest. But what is worth noting is Friedman’s attack on Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper Adelson owns. According to the columnist, the paper is subverting Israeli democracy in the manner that Adelson and other donors are supposedly undermining American foreign policy. But what we really learn from this piece is that Friedman likes neither democracy nor freedom of the press.

Friedman believes the ovations Netanyahu received from Congress in 2011 and last week were “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” This is a profound misunderstanding of the way American democracy works. Members of Congress are pleased to accept contributions from pro-Israel donors, but those relationships help solidify the alliance. If that stand were not popular with the overwhelming majority of Americans, of whom more than 98 percent of are not Jewish, no amount of money could purchase it. That doesn’t please liberals like Friedman who would like Congress to be more like President Obama when it comes to a predilection for unreasonable pressure on Israel and support for détente with Iran. But the fault lies not so much with Adelson as with the basic sympathy of most Americans for Israel and their skepticism about the Palestinians and Islamist regimes like that in Iran.

But, as Friedman notes, stringent Israeli campaign-finance laws prevent Adelson or anyone like him from having much say in their elections. That those laws, like the attempts of American liberals to impose campaign-finance rules on our elections, are aimed at suppressing political speech rather than enhancing democracy is an argument for another day. But Adelson is not voiceless in Israel. He owns Israel Hayom, the largest circulation paper in a country that is addicted to newspapers.

Like many on the Israeli left, Friedman thinks there’s something wrong with this. He believes Israel Hayom isn’t kosher because it is a free circulation paper. But what he really hates about it is its pro-Netanyahu bias.

Friedman is right about Israel Hayom favoring the prime minister and also right when he says it is putting financial pressure on the mass circulation Yediot Aharonoth and the hard-left Haaretz (which dubs itself Israel’s New York Times, though all the two papers have in common is bias against the Jewish state). But the reason for this isn’t because it’s free.

It has often been said of Fox News that its success is due to the fact that its founders sought to fill an underserved niche of the news market. But that audience for that niche happened to consist of approximately half of the American public, making it the most watched cable news network. That a recent poll found it to be the most trusted television news source might strike its left-wing critics as absurd but it’s actually quite logical. Unlike its liberal mainstream media competitors, Fox doesn’t pretend to be objective. Therefore no one is deceived by either its generally outstanding straight news coverage or its successful opinion shows.

The same might be said of Israel Hayom. Though Friedman thinks it’s not fair that Yediot and Haaretz’s main competitor these days is pro-Netanyahu, the reason why so many people read it is because it provides a rare antidote to the uniformly anti-Netanyahu and pro-left wing party coverage in the rest of the Israeli media. Like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, Adelson found an underserved market that made up a large percentage of the Israeli electorate. As Israel Hayom pointed out in a study they published, Yediot is every bit as biased against the prime minister as Adelson’s paper is on the other side. Of course, it goes without saying that if Friedman really disliked biased newspapers, especially with regard to Israel, he’d have to denounce his own New York Times in every column.

Just as Friedman would like to shut up and shut down pro-Israel activists like Adelson and marginalize AIPAC, so, too, would he and his left-wing Israeli friends like to do the same to Israel Hayom. They may well succeed too if Labor wins the upcoming election as it is pledged to support a bill that would seek to put Adelson’s paper out of business by burdening it with regulations. Israel’s lack of First Amendment protections for the press—something that Friedman would rightly fight to the death to protect here—may make this possible.

Adelson’s money couldn’t buy his friend Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 any more than it helped Mitt Romney to defeat Barack Obama in the general election. Nor will the bully pulpit of Israel Hayom ensure that Netanyahu wins reelection. Money helps, but it doesn’t guarantee any results in a democracy. But what foes of Israel like Friedman are really against isn’t so much money in politics as its use on behalf of causes or candidates they dislike. Which is to say, his problem, like that of many liberals, isn’t just a bad case of Adelson derangement syndrome, but with the democratic system in both countries.

Read Less

The Speech and Friedman’s Recycled Slurs

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Read More

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Friedman didn’t claim that Netanyahu misrepresented the facts about the proposed Iran deal or even dispute the danger that an Iranian bomb would represent. His problem is with what is to him an even more dangerous idea: that the security interests of Israel and the United States might overlap. He asserts that a weak deal that might prevent Iran from getting a bomb for ten years would be perfectly adequate as far as defending American security even if, as he seems to be implying, it might not be what is good for Israel or the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as upset with the administration policy as the Jewish state. Demands that Iran give up its nuclear infrastructure, something that President Obama promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney would be integral to any deal struck by the United States, are simply unrealistic and therefore must be dismissed even if that’s what most Israelis and Arabs think is necessary for their security.

Friedman’s right about one thing. A nuclear deal with Iran would only work if the regime changed its nature and was ready to “get right with the rest of the world,” as President Obama put it. But though he likes to pose as a tough-minded analyst, he leaves unsaid the fact that no serious person thinks Iran is moderating under its current government. Nor is logical to believe that it would do so if that tyrannical, terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime were to get the major economic boost and political prestige that would it get from a nuclear deal with the United States.

But by the end of his column, Friedman runs out of ideas or even the energy to try and square his prejudices with the facts and simply lets loose with an anti-Netanyahu rant. He argues that if Netanyahu really wanted support for his position on Iran, he’d make concessions to the Palestinians even though he knows very well that those wouldn’t bring the region one inch closer to peace. In fact, Netanyahu has the tacit support of most of the Arab world for his speech. It’s only the Obama administration and others obsessed with the idea that détente with Iran is possible that didn’t like it.

Friedman concludes his piece by saying that it “rubs me the wrong way” to see a foreign leader pointing out the mistakes of an American president in front of Congress. But in that paragraph he lets us on to his real problem with the speech and the entire discussion about Iran: the existence of a solid pro-Israel coalition in Congress that thinks Netanyahu’s concerns are worth a hearing. Friedman says, “I have a problem with my own Congress howling in support of a flawed foreign leader.”

With this phrase he reminds us of his reaction to Netanyahu’s last speech to Congress in 2011. At that time, Friedman couldn’t restrain his bile and claimed that the ovations the prime minister received were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” a smear that was reminiscent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis about a vast Jewish conspiracy controlling U.S. foreign policy to benefit Israel. The point of that thinly disguised piece of anti-Semitic invective was to delegitimize supporters of Israel who had the temerity to back Netanyahu against the Obama administration’s assault on the alliance between the two democracies.

Friedman didn’t go quite as far as that sort of libel this time though his contempt for a Congress “howling” in support of Netanyahu betrayed his animus. But he did let down his hair a bit in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Friedman claimed the only reason Netanyahu received tumultuous applause for his brilliant speech was that he was speaking in “Sheldon’s world” a reference to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a leading Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel political donor.

Whatever you may think of Adelson’s politics, the point of that comment is to reintroduce Friedman’s 2011 slur about Congress being purchased by a ruthless Jewish minority. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope in which Jews are accused of using money to insinuate themselves into power and subverting the interests of the nation in favor of their own agenda. It is, of course, pure tripe, since support for Israel is overwhelming throughout the country and undiminished by either the media barrage against Netanyahu or the efforts of the administration to distance itself from the Jewish state.

Friedman then claimed that had Netanyahu spoken to the real America, rather than the Congress that is supposedly owned by the Jews, he would have gotten a different response. His example of a real American venue is the University of Wisconsin. It’s true that if Netanyahu or any friend of Israel were to speak at a leftist enclave such as the one in Madison, they would not be cheered. But who, other than Friedman, actually thinks that opinion there is representative of anything but the prejudices of liberal academics.

But the truth is, as a poll suggest, most Americans agree with Netanyahu on Iran, not Obama or Friedman. That’s why Friedman’s canard about Congress, Adelson and the “Israel lobby” is a lie. But like Obama’s Iran policy, Friedman is as undaunted by the prospect of repeating untruths about Israel as his newspaper is unashamed about printing them.

Read Less

Friedman Spreads Anti-Semitic Libels About Netanyahu Speech

The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

Read More

The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

Supporters of the speech, such as Wall Street Journal columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens, argue that Congress needs an “unvarnished account of the choice to which Mr. Obama proposes to put Israel: either accede to continued diplomacy with Iran, and therefore its de facto nuclearization; or strike Iran militarily in defiance of the U.S. and Mr. Obama’s concordat with Tehran.” I don’t disagree, but as I have written in the last two weeks, I think the decision to give the speech was a grave tactical error on Netanyahu’s part. Congress was in no doubt about Israel’s position and the prime minister could have reached out to members in the same way that British Prime Minister David Cameron has used to back up the president. But by parachuting directly into the debate on Iran sanctions that is taking place in Congress, he ran the risk of being seen as trying to upstage the president in a way that was bound to ruffle the feathers of many pro-Israel Democrats, even those that agree with Netanyahu on the issue. The proposed speech also provided Obama with a heaven-sent chance to divert attention from the administration’s indefensible opposition to strengthening their hand in the nuclear talks with Iran. The prime minister’s alleged chutzpah became the focus of the discussion instead of the president’s clear desire for détente with the Islamist regime, dealing sanctions proponents a clear setback.

But Friedman, who is at least smart enough to seem to harbor some doubts about whether Obama’s diplomacy can succeed, isn’t satisfied with asserting that Netanyahu is making the mistake. Instead, he uses this controversy to return to one of his favorite hobbyhorses: the way pro-Israel political donors, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are trying to buy Congress in a way that runs contrary to U.S. interests. Claiming, without backing the charge up with reporting, that Adelson hatched the idea is one thing. He even says someone should have told Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer “anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.” The fact that it is Friedman who has floated this charge in the Times when he complained about the ovations Netanyahu earned the last time he addressed Congress is unmentioned in the column.

Even worse, Friedman then goes on to write that if diplomacy fails and the U.S. is forced to use force to address the Iranian threat, the Netanyahu speech will serve as a smoking gun proving that it was Israel that manipulated America into what might prove to be another disastrous war.

Of course, Friedman frames this as helpful advice intended as advocacy for what is in Israel’s best interests. But by raising the specter of anti-Semitism as well as of what must be considered nothing short of a potential blood libel, Friedman is tipping his own hand.

One can agree with President Obama’s absurd belief that Iran must be appeased on the nuclear issue in order to help it “get right with the world” without raising the specious charge that opponents of this policy who think it will endanger the West as well as Israel are being bought by Jewish money. One can also envision what is at this late date a highly unlikely scenario in which Iran’s refusal to accept Obama’s offers—which would effectively give a Western seal of approval to the Islamist regime becoming a nuclear threshold state—might lead to armed conflict without dropping the hint that the Jews will be the ones who started it.

Yet Friedman can’t avoid those temptations and injects the virus of anti-Semitism into a debate about whether the president is really interested in carrying out his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. By writing of anti-Semitism when virtually no one outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right are doing so, Friedman is, once again, seeking to tilt the discussion in ways that do exactly what he claims he wishes to avoid.

Though President Obama has sought to paint advocates of more sanctions as warmongers, the truth is just the opposite. More sanctions that would actually press Iran to give up its nuclear toys are, in fact, the only path to successful effort to halt the threat from Tehran by measures short of war. Though it is hard to imagine a president so intent on normalizing relations with Iran ever considering the use of force, if that ever happened in this administration or his successor, it would be the result of the Islamists courting such a conflict, not Israeli political maneuvering. Iran’s ballistic missile program also means stopping it from going nuclear is as much a matter of U.S. security as the safety of Israel.

Anti-Semites need no prompting from Tom Friedman to promote libels against the Jewish state. But by seeking to frame the argument about Netanyahu as one that would justify their ravings, Friedman has crossed a line that no responsible journalist should even approach. Neither Netanyahu nor the pro-Israel community should hesitate to speak up for fear of giving anti-Semites ammunition. The prime minister’s plan to speak may be a tactical blunder but it is the willingness of Friedman to engage in this sort of incitement that is the real disgrace.

Read Less

Obama Doesn’t Worry About Israel’s Survival. That’s Why We Should.

In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

Read More

In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

Here’s the quote:

I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.

“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. … I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. … You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”

It’s nice that the president admires Israel’s achievements. But his complacence about its military achievements combined with his patronizing concern about its democratic and civic traditions is the sort of left-handed compliment that tells us more about his animosity for the Jewish state’s government than his fidelity to the alliance between the two allies. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that the subtext of these comments—Hamas’s genocidal intentions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions—make Obama’s blasé confidence about Israel’s ability to defend itself deeply worrisome.

The president is, of course, right to note that Israel has a formidable military. In particular, Israel’s dedication to technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile defense system have both saved many lives in the last month’s fighting with Hamas and provided a substantial long-range benefit to its American security partner. But his complacency about its security situation is hardly reassuring.

Israel remains under siege by hostile neighbors in the form of terrorist states on both its northern (Hezbollah) and southern borders. Both remain committed not just to Israel’s destruction but also the genocide of its Jewish population. While Israel is in no current danger of military defeat, the spectacle of Hamas forcing the majority of Israelis in and out of bomb shelters for a month encouraged the Islamists and their supporters to believe their cause is not yet lost. The fact that their efforts are being cheered on by a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism fueled by hatred of Israel also ought to leave any true friend of Israel worried.

Even more to the point, the principal sponsor of those terror groups—Iran—is working hard to gain nuclear capability, a (to use Obama’s own phrase) “game changing” factor that could destabilize the entire Middle East, threaten the security of the U.S. as well as endanger Israel’s existence. But despite paying rhetorical lip service to the effort to stop Iran, Obama has spent the last years hell-bent on pursuing détente with Tehran. The weak interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. last fall undermined the sanctions that had cornered the Iranians and discarded virtually all of the West’s leverage. If the Iranians are currently playing hard to get in the current round of negotiations (now in the equivalent of soccer’s injury time as the deadline promised by Obama for talks has been extended), it is because they know the president’s zeal for a deal (and an excuse to abandon his campaign promises to stop Iran) outweighs his common sense or his resolve.

The bulk of Friedman’s interview with Obama concentrated on the disaster in Iraq and related troubles. But here, as with many domestic problems and scandals, the president’s priority is to absolve himself and his policies. The world is, he seems to be constantly telling us, a complex and confusing place where all of our possible choices are bad. There’s some truth to that, especially in places like Syria and Iraq. But what comes across most in his account of America’s declining affairs is that this is a president who is overwhelmed by events and has little understanding of them. The best he can do is to spew clichés about his bad options and to blame others.

Obama’s chief whipping boy in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the world leader with whom he has quarreled the most in his years in office. Despite the events of the last month that have proved again that any territory Israel hands to the Palestinians will become a terror base, Obama continues to obsess about the need for Netanyahu to make territorial concessions that will create the possibility of, as the Israeli says, 20 Gazas in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject such mad advice but Obama dismisses their common sense as merely being a case of a lack of vision. Despite his talk about supporting Israeli democracy he has been doing everything possible to thwart the will of Israel’s voters by undermining Netanyahu. Israelis want peace but understand that subjecting themselves to terror governments won’t bring the conflict to a close.

Obama also believes that the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t Hamas. This conveniently ignores the fact that it is Hamas that plunged the region into war and whose hold on power there is being guaranteed by American pressure on Israel to restrain its counter-attacks on Islamist rocket fire and terror tunnels. The problem is, Obama says, that Netanyahu is “too strong” and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak.” That explains Obama’s constant attacks on Israel and his praise for the feckless—and powerless—Abbas. If he were serious about supporting democracy, he’d be wary of the autocratic Abbas and his corrupt PA gang and understand that asking Israel to further empower a Palestinian leadership that won’t make peace is not the act of a friend.

Even if we take the president’s assurances of his friendship for Israel at face value, this interview confirms what has been obvious since January 2009. This is a president who believes Israel’s security is not his priority or even a particular concern. Rather, he wants to save Israel from itself and acts as if it has not already made several offers of peace that have been consistently turned down by the Palestinians. Though Obama is right that Israelis won’t allow their country to be destroyed, his apathy about the deadly threats it faces from Iran and its terrorist proxies, cheered by a chorus of anti-Semitic haters, does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. The world has gotten less safe on his watch. The Israeli objects of his pressure tactics do well to ignore his advice. Friedman’s interview gives those who do care about the Jewish state’s future even more reasons to worry.

Read Less

Friends, Enemies, and Columnists

Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

Read More

Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

Like the Israeli left that our Tom Wilson rightly depicted as being stuck in an Oslo time warp, Friedman’s problem is that his predictions of Israeli doom have proved as foolish as his best-selling effort to convince us that technology would trump religion, prejudice, and nationalism in the Arab world. He gives away the game when he concedes, “I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will.” He then follows this snippet of realism by claiming that Israel must find a way to get out of the West Bank, peace partner or not. But the reason why the overwhelming majority of Israelis have rejected another willy-nilly withdrawal regardless of consequences is that they have no interest in repeating what happened in Gaza in 2005 when Ariel Sharon did just that.

Friedman has a history of trying to delegitimize supporters of Israel. As I wrote here in 2011, his efforts to depict the ovations that Netanyahu received that year from Congress as being “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” reinforced a central myth of anti-Semitism about Jews and money. To use the same logic employed by Friedman today against Adelson, one could say that by doing so, the columnist was showing himself to be an ally of Hitler’s spiritual descendants. But Friedman’s umbrage at his critics then has not tempered his subsequent writings using the same sort of invective.

The problem here is not just that writer’s hypocrisy and his lack of intellectual integrity. The much-heralded exchange between Adelson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about what to call the West Bank was merely an attempt to level the rhetorical playing field on which the Israelis and the Palestinians are located. In doing so, the man whom Friedman denounces as “crude” was actually showing a greater grasp of nuance than the columnist who poses as a Middle East expert.

Israel’s friends in this country have every right to speak up and ask potential candidates to speak clearly about the Middle East, especially when so many, like Christie, clearly have no real grasp of foreign policy or the details of the conflict with the Palestinians. In a political landscape filled with foreign-policy blind men, a one-eyed pundit like Friedman likes to play the king. Having reflexively denounced Netanyahu and all those who support him as enemies of peace for so long, the decision of the Palestinians to walk out of the negotiations—a stance that is, for all intents and purposes, a fourth “no” to peace in the last 15 years—Friedman refuses to draw conclusions from events that have contradicted his past positions. Nor does he recognize any distinctions between those who back Israel’s democratically-elected government and a settler movement that is horrified by Netanyahu’s embrace of the two-state solution. In writing in this manner, Friedman tells us nothing about who is a friend or an enemy of Israel, but a lot about his own lack of intellectual rigor.

Read Less

Asking About the Palestinian Culture of War

Almost all of the focus in the mainstream media on the Middle East peace process tends to be on the decision taken by only one of the parties involved in the negotiations. The perennial question from pundits and even veteran kibitzers like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman is whether or not the Israelis are ready to take risks in order to achieve peace. That was the conceit of his latest column, “Israel’s Big Question,” and if it seemed familiar to readers, it was no accident. Friedman has been writing the same column for decades in which he asks Israelis whether they will leave the West Bank in order to retain both the Jewish and democratic identities of their nation. If they don’t, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative fails, Israel’s doom is, he says, sealed.

There are two problems with his reasoning and they are the same that apply to every other stale Friedman article on the subject that has been published since the Clinton administration. One is that Israel has already tried to trade land for the promise of peace and failed. The Palestinians turned down three offers of statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. And there is every indication that they will turn down a fourth offer of up to 90 percent of the West Bank that is being mulled by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. Israelis have made the decision to take risks and make peace several times in the last 20 years and seem prepared to do it again if real peace—which means the end of the conflict rather than merely a pause in it—is on the table.

But the part of the equation that Friedman and the rest of the foreign-policy establishment always ignore is whether the Palestinians are ready to make peace. They’ve made it clear they won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and won’t give up the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees. But Friedman’s assumption—as well as that of many of Israel’s critics—is that if the Israelis are sufficiently forthcoming those problems will disappear. Instead, they should be asking what it is about the political culture of the Palestinians that makes such intransigence not merely possible but inevitable. The answer comes in two separate stories that touch on what it is that both the PA’s negotiators and Hamas believe. Both make for instructive reading for those who treat the question of peace as one that is solely to be decided by the Israelis.

Read More

Almost all of the focus in the mainstream media on the Middle East peace process tends to be on the decision taken by only one of the parties involved in the negotiations. The perennial question from pundits and even veteran kibitzers like the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman is whether or not the Israelis are ready to take risks in order to achieve peace. That was the conceit of his latest column, “Israel’s Big Question,” and if it seemed familiar to readers, it was no accident. Friedman has been writing the same column for decades in which he asks Israelis whether they will leave the West Bank in order to retain both the Jewish and democratic identities of their nation. If they don’t, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative fails, Israel’s doom is, he says, sealed.

There are two problems with his reasoning and they are the same that apply to every other stale Friedman article on the subject that has been published since the Clinton administration. One is that Israel has already tried to trade land for the promise of peace and failed. The Palestinians turned down three offers of statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. And there is every indication that they will turn down a fourth offer of up to 90 percent of the West Bank that is being mulled by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. Israelis have made the decision to take risks and make peace several times in the last 20 years and seem prepared to do it again if real peace—which means the end of the conflict rather than merely a pause in it—is on the table.

But the part of the equation that Friedman and the rest of the foreign-policy establishment always ignore is whether the Palestinians are ready to make peace. They’ve made it clear they won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and won’t give up the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees. But Friedman’s assumption—as well as that of many of Israel’s critics—is that if the Israelis are sufficiently forthcoming those problems will disappear. Instead, they should be asking what it is about the political culture of the Palestinians that makes such intransigence not merely possible but inevitable. The answer comes in two separate stories that touch on what it is that both the PA’s negotiators and Hamas believe. Both make for instructive reading for those who treat the question of peace as one that is solely to be decided by the Israelis.

In Gaza, the Hamas government of the strip has apparently rejected the textbooks provided for schools by UNRWA, the United Nations agency that serves Palestinian refugees and their descendants. UNRWA has hired Hamas terrorists as staffers and has been rightly accused of helping to perpetuate the conflict by not seeking to resettle refugees so as to keep them in camps as props in the long Arab war against Israel. But while the textbooks they’ve published for Gaza schools apparently accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization and the illegitimacy of Israel, they are also seeking to encourage non-violence. The Hamas education ministry is particularly angry since the books emphasize the examples of peaceful protests. As the Times of Israel reports, Education Minister Mu’tasim Al-Minawi had the following objections:

The vast majority of examples [in the books] refer to [Mahatma] Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Helen Suzman, the Soweto Uprising, the Magna Carta and Apartheid, even though Islamic-Arab-Palestinian alternatives exist,” Al-Minawi said. “There are many models which could be used which are closer to the students’ understanding.”

But perhaps worst of all, the books focused on “peaceful resistance as the only way of achieving freedom and independence.” The entire eighth grade curriculum, Al-Minawi lamented, is “not dedicated to human rights but to domesticate the psyche of the Palestinian pupil, fostering negative feelings toward armed resistance.”

This tells us that Hamas is educating the children of Gaza not just to hate Israel and Jews but also to reject the Western frame of reference about human rights, even in the context of support for anti-Israel activism, which was clearly the intention of the UNRWA curriculum.

Also instructive is the mini-controversy inspired by Saeb Erekat, the man who represents the Palestinians in peace talks with the Israelis. Earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference, Erekat told his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni that asking him to recognize the Jewish state was impossible since it would force the Palestinians “to change their narrative” about their history. Not satisfied with that, he claimed that his family—and the rest of the Palestinians—has a prior claim over the land to the Jews since they are descended from the biblical Canaanites and were there when Joshua Bin Nun “burned my hometown Jericho.”

The patent absurdity of this claim is such that even anti-Israeli academics have been slow to pick it up. Suffice it to say that there is no evidence that Palestinian Arabs have any connection with the inhabitants of the country prior to the Arab conquest that occurred in the seventh century C.E.

This can be dismissed as irrelevant to the problems of Israelis and Palestinians today. Like the debate about whether a separate Palestinian Arab identity is a 20th century invention, it is a moot point. Like it or not, the Jews returned to the land and aren’t leaving. By the same token there are millions of Arabs there who call themselves Palestinians and their aspirations must also be taken into account if the conflict is ever to be ended.

But if even Erekat—whom we are told by the media and the U.S. government is a man of peace—is determined to cling to a historical narrative that is based in rejection of Jewish rights to any part of the country, then what hope is there for peace?

Both Fatah and Hamas continue to educate their peoples in a culture that is not only steeped in hatred of Jews and Israel but in a worldview in which the rejection of Zionism is integral to Palestinian identity. The question Kerry, Friedman, and others who continue to hound Israelis to do what they have already tried several times to do—make peace—should be asking is when will the Palestinians give up their culture of hate and embrace one that would give peace a chance? Both the Hamas education ministry and Erekat show us that that such a decision is nowhere in sight.

Read Less

Friedman’s Immoral Intifada

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

Barack and Bibi Can’t Do It Alone

It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

Read More

It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

On Iran, Friedman is right to note that Iran would never have even bothered to come to the negotiating table had not Israel posed a credible threat of force. Even more to the point, the U.S. and the Europeans would never have imposed tough sanctions on Iran had they not needed to create a viable diplomatic alternative to the prospect of an Israeli strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. However, the problem with the cool/crazy negotiating theory is that if President Obama is actually more interested in détente with Iran than in ending the nuclear threat and pushing back against the ayatollahs’ sponsorship of international terrorism, then the whole idea amounts to nothing. Iran has good reason to think that Obama’s zeal for a deal at almost any price is what is driving Western diplomacy. They’ve shown repeatedly that they discount Western threats and think Obama is a paper tiger. Attaining nuclear capability has become integral to the regime’s identity, which is why they’ve successfully insisted on protecting their “right” to enrich uranium even though the West had all the leverage in the talks.

As for the Palestinians, Friedman’s argument is familiar but has been repeatedly discredited. Had the Palestinians genuinely wanted peace they would have accepted any of the past deals of statehood offered by the Israelis. But they haven’t and even the so-called “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority have shown no willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. If the latest round of talks with the Palestinians promoted by the administration is stuck in neutral it is not because of Israel’s positions on settlements or Jerusalem but because, as most serious observers have long understood, for a variety of reasons (including the fact that Hamas rules Gaza) the PA leadership is simply incapable of making peace.

Similarly, the notion that Israel’s functional alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran can somehow morph into friendly relations involving trade is another example of how a supposed realist like Friedman is prone to engage in magical thinking. Though the two countries have a common foe, the Wahabi ideology of the Saudi monarchy makes any open relations with Israel impossible in the foreseeable future. As with Iran and the Palestinians, all the imagination and openness that Obama and Netanyahu can conjure up can’t transform the other side of the equation. Contrary to Friedman, Israel’s presence in the West Bank has little to do with the problems of the Middle East. As Jeffrey Goldberg rightly noted on Monday, the crises in Syria, Egypt, and the Iranian nuclear threat would exist no matter where Israel’s borders were placed.

Like most liberal thinkers on foreign policy, Friedman tends to overvalue the impact of technology and economics and undervalue the hold of religious fanaticism and cultural obstacles to peace. By focusing almost exclusively on the decisions that Israel or the West might make, they strip the Arab and Muslim worlds of any agency in their own fate or in their decisions on the conflicts they continue to pursue. Though the main irritant in the U.S.-Israel relationship comes from President Obama’s embrace of a policy of feckless appeasement, Friedman is right that the two nations can still work toward a common goal. But even if that happened, analysts who refuse to think seriously about the hold of ideology on the positions and goals of Iran and the Palestinians don’t have much that is of value to offer the discussion. 

Read Less

The Misleading Fayyad Blame Game

The political demise of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to drive much of the discussion about the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process in the media. Thus, it’s no surprise that Fayyad’s No. 1 fan at the New York Times would weigh in today on the paper’s op-ed page to perform his own postmortem on the death of “Fayyadism.” Thomas Friedman, who modestly takes credit for coining the term, writes today that there is plenty of blame to go around for his favorite’s failure. He rightly notes that both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party and their Hamas rivals always wanted to get rid of Fayyad–the factor that I wrote last week was the main reason Fayyadism was doomed from the start. But Friedman also puts forward a theory about the American and Israeli responsibility for Fayyad’s failure.

According to this line of argument, which is rapidly being incorporated into the catechism of Israel-bashers, the cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by Congress as well as the withholding of various revenues by the Israelis precipitated Fayyad’s end. In this telling, without the cash to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, Fayyad’s reform agenda and administration rapidly collapsed, allowing his enemies to force him out. This narrative holds that it was these cuts, which were implemented to punish the PA for its decision to go to the United Nations to pursue independence rather than to negotiate for it in peace talks, were counterproductive and ultimately responsible for the exit of the only Palestinian leader who could be said to care about his people or peace.

But while this way of looking at things is convenient for those who always prefer to blame the Israelis and the pro-Israel community in the United States for everything that happens in the Middle East, it is completely illogical.

Read More

The political demise of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to drive much of the discussion about the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process in the media. Thus, it’s no surprise that Fayyad’s No. 1 fan at the New York Times would weigh in today on the paper’s op-ed page to perform his own postmortem on the death of “Fayyadism.” Thomas Friedman, who modestly takes credit for coining the term, writes today that there is plenty of blame to go around for his favorite’s failure. He rightly notes that both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party and their Hamas rivals always wanted to get rid of Fayyad–the factor that I wrote last week was the main reason Fayyadism was doomed from the start. But Friedman also puts forward a theory about the American and Israeli responsibility for Fayyad’s failure.

According to this line of argument, which is rapidly being incorporated into the catechism of Israel-bashers, the cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by Congress as well as the withholding of various revenues by the Israelis precipitated Fayyad’s end. In this telling, without the cash to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, Fayyad’s reform agenda and administration rapidly collapsed, allowing his enemies to force him out. This narrative holds that it was these cuts, which were implemented to punish the PA for its decision to go to the United Nations to pursue independence rather than to negotiate for it in peace talks, were counterproductive and ultimately responsible for the exit of the only Palestinian leader who could be said to care about his people or peace.

But while this way of looking at things is convenient for those who always prefer to blame the Israelis and the pro-Israel community in the United States for everything that happens in the Middle East, it is completely illogical.

As even Friedman admits, Fayyad was adamantly opposed to the PA’s UN gambit that was nothing more than a way to evade peace talks since Abbas was unable and/or unwilling to ever make a deal with the Israelis. By placing the full force of U.S. policy on the same side as Fayyad, the Obama administration, Congress and Israel were backing up the PA prime minister, not undermining him. The PA remains completely dependent on foreign aid from the West, and using this leverage was the only way for President Obama and the Israelis to convey to Abbas that he should listen to Fayyad rather than make a grand gesture at the UN that would do nothing for the Palestinian people.

Fayyad was, of course, completely right. Abbas’s end run around the U.S.-sponsored peace process did nothing for the Palestinians. Though, after more than a year of effort, they got the UN General Assembly to pass a symbolic measure that upgraded the PA’s observer status at the world body, that did not bring them the independence that could only be won by ending the conflict with Israel.

But instead of admitting that Fayyad was correct, the Fatah Party blamed him for the collapse of the kleptocracy that was funded by foreign money. Palestinian woes were not the fault of Fayyad’s austerity policies but the fruit of a system in which no-work and no-show jobs for a vast army of Fatah backers was the backbone of the West Bank’s economy. For all of Fayyad’s much-praised efforts to improve the PA’s government and to create economic growth, he remained unable to change that fundamental fact of Palestinian life. The so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel as a result of this debate also fizzled.

Friedman acknowledges that there is no hope for the Palestinians so long as “there is no place” for a man like Fayyad in their government. But he fails to draw the proper conclusions from this point. The Fatah party that had no use for a person who was an obstacle to their corrupt practices sabotaged Fayyad. But the reason why they could get away with this is that Fayyad had no political constituency of his own. That was not just because he was more of a technocrat than a politician. The lack of any appreciable support for Fayyad demonstrates that the Palestinian political culture remains hostile to his message of development and coexistence. Though left-wing critics of Israel continue to pretend that Palestinians want peace, terror-oriented groups like Fatah and Hamas can count on a virtual monopoly of public support in both the West Bank and Gaza.

While Friedman admits that Arab dissatisfaction with autocrats like Hosni Mubarak or Mahmoud Abbas won’t inevitably lead to liberalism, he still holds to the idea that if Fayyad had been given enough foreign support, he might have prevailed. In fact, he did have the support of the U.S. and Israel, but there isn’t enough money in the United States or Israel to buy Fayyad a loyal base of Palestinian supporters. Blaming the pro-Israel community in the United States—Friedman’s favorite whipping boy that he alleges has “bought” Congress—for seeking to hold the PA accountable for its actions is absurd.

If the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is dead, it is not because some Israelis and Americans have not tried hard enough to help a friendly Palestinian. It is because that favored Palestinian hadn’t the support at home to keep him going. Until there is a sea change in Palestinian culture to allow a Fayyad to succeed, no amount of U.S. aid or Israeli diplomatic concessions will create a viable partner with whom the Jewish state can make peace. 

Read Less

Obama’s Bad Brotherhood Bet

For the last few months, conservative critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have obsessed about its failure in Libya. The fiasco in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans including our ambassador deserved more media scrutiny and Republicans are right to continue to demand answers about it. But the unfolding disaster next door in Egypt is a far greater indication of the way the president has blundered abroad than even that tragic episode. Obama’s decision to force the Egyptian military to accept a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and Washington’s subsequent embrace of Mohamed Morsi’s regime has materially aided the descent of the most populous Arab country into the grip of an Islamist party. The Brotherhood regime is determined to extinguish any hope of liberalization in Egypt and its drive to seize total power there is a direct threat to regional stability and Middle East peace.

Rather than using the leverage that the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt gives it, the administration has loyally stuck to Morsi despite his seizing of powers that are comparable to those of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his efforts to violently repress the widespread dissatisfaction with his government. There is no sign that anyone in the State Department or the White House realizes that the U.S. bet on the Brotherhood is a disaster, but yesterday’s column by one of the leading peddlers of conventional wisdom on foreign policy ought to concern Morsi. If the Islamists have lost Thomas Friedman, then there is at least a little hope that their campaign to swindle American liberals into backing them is going to eventually crash.

Read More

For the last few months, conservative critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have obsessed about its failure in Libya. The fiasco in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans including our ambassador deserved more media scrutiny and Republicans are right to continue to demand answers about it. But the unfolding disaster next door in Egypt is a far greater indication of the way the president has blundered abroad than even that tragic episode. Obama’s decision to force the Egyptian military to accept a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and Washington’s subsequent embrace of Mohamed Morsi’s regime has materially aided the descent of the most populous Arab country into the grip of an Islamist party. The Brotherhood regime is determined to extinguish any hope of liberalization in Egypt and its drive to seize total power there is a direct threat to regional stability and Middle East peace.

Rather than using the leverage that the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt gives it, the administration has loyally stuck to Morsi despite his seizing of powers that are comparable to those of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his efforts to violently repress the widespread dissatisfaction with his government. There is no sign that anyone in the State Department or the White House realizes that the U.S. bet on the Brotherhood is a disaster, but yesterday’s column by one of the leading peddlers of conventional wisdom on foreign policy ought to concern Morsi. If the Islamists have lost Thomas Friedman, then there is at least a little hope that their campaign to swindle American liberals into backing them is going to eventually crash.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Friedman did something we haven’t seen much of in that newspaper: tell the truth about the Brotherhood’s intentions and its ideological drive to transform Egypt. While the paper’s news pages and fellow columnists like Nicholas Kristof have bought into the baloney the Brotherhood has served up to foreign journalists about their moderation and desire for democracy and progress, Friedman made it clear that their tyrannical impulse is no aberration. Even more important, he made it clear that the Obama administration’s apparent belief that they can reinvent the modus vivendi that formally existed between the U.S. and Mubarak with Morsi is a terrible mistake.

As Friedman notes, the Brotherhood has prioritized the cleansing of non-Islamist aspects of Egyptian culture over its supposed hope to reboot the economy. The banning of the Belly Dancing Channel on Egyptian TV made for a comic lede for Friedman’s column, but it is no joke, as it illustrates Morsi’s desire to turn a multi-faceted society into another Iran.

Yet as right as Friedman is about the current situation, his advice about the Brotherhood having to change or fail misses the point about a movement that has no intention of ever allowing power to slip from its hands. Friedman is right that the Brotherhood’s version of political Islam will sink Egypt into poverty. The problem is that they are no more willing or capable of becoming more democratic or open-minded about non-Islamist culture than they are of ever accepting peace with Israel.

Friedman praises what he claims is an Obama administration decision to convey their concerns about the direction of Egypt privately rather than publicly. He also supports an apparent decision to invite Morsi to Washington for a visit where he can try to charm the U.S. into keeping the flow of American taxpayer dollars into his government’s coffers.

But the more time the U.S. takes in conveying the message that it will not back an Egyptian government intent on an Islamist kulturkampf, the less chance there will be that it can influence events in Cairo. We already know what a bad bet Obama has made in backing Morsi and the Brotherhood. It may already be too late to reverse the damage that was done by the president’s feckless embrace of the Islamists. If, as Friedman acknowledges, the direction the Brotherhood is taking Egypt, and by extension the region, is one that can lead to chaos, tyranny and violence, an American decision to cut Morsi off can’t come too soon. 

Read Less

Why Israel-Bashers Love Hagel

With President Obama still letting Chuck Hagel’s putative nomination as secretary of defense hang in the wind, it’s not clear whether the former Nebraska senator’s stock is up or down. But so long as he remains in the running, critics of Israel are going to keep doing everything they can to keep his name in play. Today’s column on Hagel by the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman cuts to the heart of their motivation.

As far as Friedman is concerned, Hagel has two qualifications for high office: his distaste for Israel and a willingness to make nice with Iran and Hamas. That makes sense to those who share his distaste for the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel alliance that prevents the Obama administration (egged on by kibitzers like Friedman) from pressuring the Jewish state to make pointless concessions that undermine its security. It also fits in with the desire of those who want a nuclear Iran to be contained or accommodated rather than forestalled, and for the U.S. to embrace Hamas the way it has the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. But these are good reasons why Hagel’s views—which Friedman rightly characterizes as out of the mainstream—ought to disqualify him from leading the Pentagon.

Read More

With President Obama still letting Chuck Hagel’s putative nomination as secretary of defense hang in the wind, it’s not clear whether the former Nebraska senator’s stock is up or down. But so long as he remains in the running, critics of Israel are going to keep doing everything they can to keep his name in play. Today’s column on Hagel by the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman cuts to the heart of their motivation.

As far as Friedman is concerned, Hagel has two qualifications for high office: his distaste for Israel and a willingness to make nice with Iran and Hamas. That makes sense to those who share his distaste for the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel alliance that prevents the Obama administration (egged on by kibitzers like Friedman) from pressuring the Jewish state to make pointless concessions that undermine its security. It also fits in with the desire of those who want a nuclear Iran to be contained or accommodated rather than forestalled, and for the U.S. to embrace Hamas the way it has the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. But these are good reasons why Hagel’s views—which Friedman rightly characterizes as out of the mainstream—ought to disqualify him from leading the Pentagon.

Friedman thinks it’s “disgusting” that many friends of Israel hold it against Hagel that he attacked what he called the “Jewish lobby” in language that resonated with specious charges of dual loyalty that rightly bring to mind anti-Semitism. It’s hardly surprising that Friedman would think calling Hagel to account for this is a “smear” since he has been guilty of the same tactic in his quest to delegitimize those Americans who oppose his stands on Israel.

Just a little more than a year ago, Friedman disgraced himself in a column where he used the same meme made popular by Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer when he said the only reason that Congress cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiance of President Obama was because they were “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” As I wrote at the time:

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Though Friedman tried to backtrack a bit from this scandalous canard, his explicit support for Hagel’s use of the same charge shows that he is an unrepentant supporter of the pernicious Walt-Mearsheimer thesis.

But there is more to Friedman’s support of Hagel than his desire to see a secretary of defense with an attitude about Israel and its backers. He is also hopeful that Hagel will act as a brake on any U.S. effort to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and that he will persuade the president to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Friedman makes the false argument that the U.S. needs Iran’s good will to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. But he fails to understand that stopping the Islamist regime in Iran is the prerequisite for stability in the region.

President Obama pledged in both 2008 and 2012 that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear, but there has never been much secret about his desire to avoid a confrontation over the issue. He wasted most of his first term on a feckless effort to engage Tehran and was slow to adopt serious sanctions. Another round of dead-end diplomacy that only gives the Iranians more time to achieve their nuclear ambition won’t solve the problem. The appointment of Hagel would be a signal to both Iran and the world that the president wasn’t going to go to the mat on the issue.

That is a dangerous development that could only make Iran more intransigent and set the stage for violent upheaval in the region that will damage American interests. Such non-mainstream views about Iran and Hamas are exactly why Hagel ought not to be nominated. Friedman’s open advocacy for appeasement as well as his rationalization for the dual loyalty slur should make it even more obvious than before how disastrous this appointment would be.

Read Less

Illusions About Egypt’s Islamist Future

We won’t know the outcome of the referendum on Egypt’s proposed new constitution that will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power until after next weekend’s second round of voting. But those betting on the Brotherhood not ensuring that there will be a majority for its confirmation or accepting a negative vote if one is allowed haven’t been paying much attention to the way the group operates or thinks. In the less than two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has moved to seize total power, the latest move coming when President Mohamed Morsi effectively assumed powers comparable to those held by the now imprisoned dictator. Though there has been a courageous effort by the judiciary as well as groups of citizens to stop the Brotherhood, the Islamists have combined ruthless suppression of dissent—including killings of demonstrators that ought in principle to render Morsi vulnerable to the same charges that he is pressing against Mubarak—with a clever mobilization of party cadres to keep their opponents off balance and on the defensive.

This rapid and efficient consolidation of Islamist hegemony in Cairo took a lot of observers by surprise. Many of us had some hope that the Arab Spring would bring democracy to an Arab world where it is largely unknown. But by now only those unwilling to face reality are still pretending the Brotherhood are just a bunch of Muslim democrats. Not surprisingly, Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed page’s resident Middle East expert, is among that group. In a column that is obtuse even by his standards, Friedman speculates that it is just as likely that Egypt will wind up a functioning multi-ethnic democracy like India as a dysfunctional Islamic state like Pakistan. It says a lot about the Times these days that such a foolish and ignorant column is what passes for foreign policy expertise at the paper. But the real problem here is not just one more dumb Times column but the fact that Friedman’s rosy view of the Brotherhood’s democratic potential dovetails with the Obama administration’s ill conceived embrace of the Morsi government.

Read More

We won’t know the outcome of the referendum on Egypt’s proposed new constitution that will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power until after next weekend’s second round of voting. But those betting on the Brotherhood not ensuring that there will be a majority for its confirmation or accepting a negative vote if one is allowed haven’t been paying much attention to the way the group operates or thinks. In the less than two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood has moved to seize total power, the latest move coming when President Mohamed Morsi effectively assumed powers comparable to those held by the now imprisoned dictator. Though there has been a courageous effort by the judiciary as well as groups of citizens to stop the Brotherhood, the Islamists have combined ruthless suppression of dissent—including killings of demonstrators that ought in principle to render Morsi vulnerable to the same charges that he is pressing against Mubarak—with a clever mobilization of party cadres to keep their opponents off balance and on the defensive.

This rapid and efficient consolidation of Islamist hegemony in Cairo took a lot of observers by surprise. Many of us had some hope that the Arab Spring would bring democracy to an Arab world where it is largely unknown. But by now only those unwilling to face reality are still pretending the Brotherhood are just a bunch of Muslim democrats. Not surprisingly, Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed page’s resident Middle East expert, is among that group. In a column that is obtuse even by his standards, Friedman speculates that it is just as likely that Egypt will wind up a functioning multi-ethnic democracy like India as a dysfunctional Islamic state like Pakistan. It says a lot about the Times these days that such a foolish and ignorant column is what passes for foreign policy expertise at the paper. But the real problem here is not just one more dumb Times column but the fact that Friedman’s rosy view of the Brotherhood’s democratic potential dovetails with the Obama administration’s ill conceived embrace of the Morsi government.

The obvious enormous differences between the culture and the nature of the Indian state and that of Egypt (which Friedman pays lip service to but then ignores) are so great as to make any discussion of the subject rather one-sided. Suffice it to say that even in the best case scenario for Egypt it will fall far short of India at its worst. But even if we leave this idiotic comparison aside, what has happened in Egypt in the past several months ought to have sobered up anyone still prepared to buy into the idea that the Arab Spring had anything to do with a movement for Arab democracy.

Those who blame President Obama for Mubarak’s fall are giving Washington too much credit. The old regime was doomed and no amount of American backing could have saved it. Where the Obama administration can be faulted is in its lack of interest in helping genuine Egyptian democrats during the president’s much-vaunted outreach to the Arab and Muslim world in his first year in office.

But having backed away from Mubarak, rather than seeking to strengthen the Egyptian military as the only bulwark against the Islamists, Obama did his best to undermine them. Since Morsi’s election, Washington has clearly sided with the Brotherhood and done virtually nothing to hold it accountable for its betrayal of the revolution that brought it to power.

Like Friedman, the State Department is also peddling sunshine about Morsi and the Brotherhood. The result is that instead of a friendly dictator who supports our interests and stability in the region, we now have an unfriendly government on Cairo that is allied with Hamas and opening lines of communication with Iran while still accepting billions in U.S. aid.

The outcome of the constitutional referendum may be foreordained, but it may be the last chance Egyptians will have to stop the imposition of Islamist rule. The opposition to the Brotherhood might have benefited from strong U.S. pressure on Morsi to back down on his putsch, but it never happened. Like Tom Friedman, the president and Secretary of State Clinton are still pretending that Islamism and democracy are compatible. They aren’t and that is a reality that will haunt American Middle East policy for decades to come. 

Read Less

James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Read More

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.

Read Less

Mistaking Tom Friedman for America

If Israel were to lose mainstream support in the United States, it would be a grievous blow to the nation and place the wisdom of its political leaders in question. But the problem for the Israeli left and their supporters in the United States is that while they may think Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government deserve to lose American support, there is no evidence this is taking place. Indeed, every indication, including the desperate attempts of the Obama administration to pander to pro-Israel opinion as part of its election year Jewish charm offensive, indicates that there is no reason to believe most Americans think ill of the Jewish state or view its policies as being responsible for the failure of the peace process.

But that didn’t stop Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past head of the Reform movement in the United States, from writing in Haaretz today that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.” What does Yoffie, a dedicated liberal as well as a stalwart believer in Zionism and Israel, have to back up this startling assertion? Believe it or not, he thinks a typically nasty column about Israel by Tom Friedman in the New York Times (whose purpose was to denigrate Mitt Romney and bolster support for President Obama) is reason for Israelis to start soul searching. Even Yoffie concedes that “the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.” If that is so, then why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible?

Read More

If Israel were to lose mainstream support in the United States, it would be a grievous blow to the nation and place the wisdom of its political leaders in question. But the problem for the Israeli left and their supporters in the United States is that while they may think Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government deserve to lose American support, there is no evidence this is taking place. Indeed, every indication, including the desperate attempts of the Obama administration to pander to pro-Israel opinion as part of its election year Jewish charm offensive, indicates that there is no reason to believe most Americans think ill of the Jewish state or view its policies as being responsible for the failure of the peace process.

But that didn’t stop Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past head of the Reform movement in the United States, from writing in Haaretz today that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.” What does Yoffie, a dedicated liberal as well as a stalwart believer in Zionism and Israel, have to back up this startling assertion? Believe it or not, he thinks a typically nasty column about Israel by Tom Friedman in the New York Times (whose purpose was to denigrate Mitt Romney and bolster support for President Obama) is reason for Israelis to start soul searching. Even Yoffie concedes that “the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.” If that is so, then why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible?

There’s no question that Yoffie and other critics of the Netanyahu government are unhappy with the current situation. The overwhelming majority of Israelis, most of whom once enthusiastically backed the peace process, have lost interest in chasing after the Palestinians and begging them to accept a two-state solution. Having turned down three offers of an independent state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, and having refused even to negotiate since then, the Palestinian Authority has proven it is unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The status quo is not ideal for either side, but when compared to the danger of a withdrawal from the West Bank that might replicate the terrorist state in Gaza, its understandable that standing pat rather than inviting such a disaster seems to be the consensus opinion.

So while most Israelis would happily accept a two-state solution that would involve territorial withdrawals in exchange for an end to the conflict, they understand there is little chance of that happening anytime soon. This is a judgment shared by most Americans and their leaders; the polls showing U.S. support for Israel are still strong. The efforts of both Republicans and Democrats to compete for pro-Israel votes confirm this is true.

That leaves inveterate Israel-bashers like Friedman gnashing his teeth at a reality that neither he nor any of his fictional cab driver sources predicted. Friedman was so angry about the bipartisan support for Netanyahu that he indulged in an anti-Semitic stereotype to falsely claim AIPAC purchased a standing ovation from Congress for the Israeli last year. The idea that he represents American public opinion is ridiculous, though perhaps not so comical as Yoffie’s fawning description of him as “the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.” Nor can he claim Friedman’s position represents a change from the past, as he has been blaming Israel for the lack of peace since before the Oslo process began.

Yoffie worries that unless Israel is “seen at all times as aggressively pursuing peace,” disaster looms. That is a position that has some merit. He rightly concedes the possibility that the perception that it is not pursuing peace is unfair. But given PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s continued refusal of Netanyahu’s invitations to talk, blaming Israel for not wasting more time chasing after him is not a serious argument.

The Reform leader’s real excuse for writing this piece seems to be the op-ed article published by the Times a couple of weeks ago by settlement leader Dani Dayan which ignored the question of how to govern the million Palestinians in the West Bank in the absence of a peace agreement. But as Yoffie knows, Dayan’s views don’t represent those of most Israelis or even the government.

Until the Palestinians decide to seek peace, there is little Israel can do. The last 20 years of peace processing has shown that neither settlement freezes nor even territorial withdrawals will buy Israelis the peace they long for. Castigating them for not repeating those mistakes or reinforcing the false notion that a failure to do so is undermining U.S. support for the country does no one any good.

Read Less

Friedman’s Unilateral Delusion

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman tries to come to grips with reality when he acknowledges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vanquished all of his domestic foes and has built a government with an overwhelming majority and the support of the country’s electorate. Friedman can’t help but be snide about what is to him a disheartening turn of events. He notes that “there are Arab dictators who didn’t have majorities that big after rigged elections.” But at least he has the sense to admit “Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them.”

The prime minister’s priority will be to keep the country unified in the face of the nuclear threat from Iran. And rather than spend too much time chasing after the fantasy that the Palestinians will agree to make peace, most Israelis hope he will use his huge majority to enact electoral reform, an idea that has the potential to diminish the influence of the ultra-Orthodox and thereby resolve the problem caused by that sector of the population not doing their fair share of military service. However, Friedman and other Netanyahu critics have other ideas. Not surprisingly, they want Netanyahu to use his power not to pursue his own ideas but to implement an unrealistic peace scheme of their devising.

Read More

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman tries to come to grips with reality when he acknowledges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vanquished all of his domestic foes and has built a government with an overwhelming majority and the support of the country’s electorate. Friedman can’t help but be snide about what is to him a disheartening turn of events. He notes that “there are Arab dictators who didn’t have majorities that big after rigged elections.” But at least he has the sense to admit “Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them.”

The prime minister’s priority will be to keep the country unified in the face of the nuclear threat from Iran. And rather than spend too much time chasing after the fantasy that the Palestinians will agree to make peace, most Israelis hope he will use his huge majority to enact electoral reform, an idea that has the potential to diminish the influence of the ultra-Orthodox and thereby resolve the problem caused by that sector of the population not doing their fair share of military service. However, Friedman and other Netanyahu critics have other ideas. Not surprisingly, they want Netanyahu to use his power not to pursue his own ideas but to implement an unrealistic peace scheme of their devising.

The bait that Friedman wishes to use to catch Netanyahu is the prospect that he will become a historic figure. Friedman backs the idea promoted by Ami Ayalon in a recent Times op-ed that Netanyahu will join Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion as the most significant figures in modern Jewish history. I’m sure Netanyahu wouldn’t mind the comparison, but he’s too smart to be flattered into doing something foolish.

Ayalon’s scheme is a reconfigured version of Ariel Sharon’s unilateralism experiment in which he thought he could bypass a hopelessly stalled peace process by simply withdrawing from territories that Israel didn’t want to keep and thereby ridding the country of the burden of governing the Palestinians against their will. It sounded like a good idea at the time in part because Sharon’s toughness gave him some credibility when he warned that if the land given up were used to attack Israel, he would undo the measure.

But after Israel withdrew every single settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza, the Palestinians turned the place into one big missile launching pad that pounded southern Israel for years. With Sharon incapacitated by a stroke and replaced by the ineffectual Ehud Olmert, Israel waited years before responding to the attacks. But the problem was not just that the Israelis waited too long before hitting back. It was that, contrary to Sharon’s formulation, not only did the Palestinians not keep the quiet; the international community gave Israel little or no credit for the withdrawal.

Far from the move undermining criticisms of Israel, like the Oslo Accords more than a decade earlier, the withdrawal only seemed to legitimize attacks on the Israelis as the possessors of “stolen property.” Nor did the pullout create more support for Israel’s right to self-defense even after territory they gave up was used for attacks.

That’s why Ayalon’s plan, endorsed by Friedman, to duplicate the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank has no support among Israelis. Granted, Ayalon says after stating it will not keep any land on the wrong side of the security fence and starting to remove settlers, Israel should keep its army in the West Bank until a peace deal with the Palestinians is signed. Friedman claims this “would radically change Israel’s image in the world” and “dramatically increase Palestinian incentives to negotiate.” But it would do nothing of the kind.

So long as Israeli troops are in the West Bank, the international chorus of critics will continue to assail the “occupation” and declare that Jews have no right to live in the heart of their ancestral homeland. And rather than serve as an incentive for the Palestinians, unilateral withdrawals will merely confirm their opinion that if they wait long enough the Israelis will either lose heart and surrender, or the West will hand them their victory on a silver platter without any effort.

The vast majority of Israelis would gladly trade most of the West Bank for a real peace, but the Netanyahu majority is the product of a widespread realization that until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, there isn’t going to be peace. Until that sea change happens, Israelis are prepared to hunker down and wait while continuing to build their own economy and hopefully resolve some other tricky domestic problems. Friedman may deprecate that as merely “doing nothing,” but Netanyahu was elected to avoid the mistakes of his predecessors, not to duplicate them.

Read Less

Friedman’s Clueless Middle East Twofer

After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

Read More

After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

Friedman advises Palestinians to take up Barghouti’s plea for “non-violence” (which according to Friedman includes the throwing of lethal rocks at Israelis as well as a campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state) but to accompany it with specific maps showing what peace terms they will accept from Israel. On the surface that makes sense, because as Friedman says, Israel would then be faced with a tangible peace proposal that it would likely accept. Yet Friedman ignores the reason why the Palestinians have never made such a practical proposal and are unlikely to do so now.

The problem from the Palestinian point of view with Friedman’s advice to throw rocks wrapped in maps showing possible territorial swaps is that to do so means recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. And that is something no Palestinian leader has ever had the courage to do no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn or how many settlements would be uprooted.

Let’s remember that Barghouti’s mass murder spree took place in the immediate aftermath of an Israeli peace offer that was not much different from the scheme Friedman now thinks the Palestinians will accept. PA leader Yasir Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offers of a state in 2000 and 2001 and answered it with a terror war that cost more than 1,000 Israelis their lives courtesy of killers like his Fatah cohort Barghouti. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas walked away from another such offer in 2008. With the Islamists of Hamas now joining Abbas in a new coalition, the odds that the PA will be able to accept a similar offer are zero.

Yet Friedman still thinks the Palestinians can make Israelis “feel morally insecure” about holding onto territory by another bout of rock throwing. But the reason why Israelis don’t “feel morally insecure” is because, unlike Friedman, they aren’t prepare to ignore the results of two decades of Middle East peace processing during which they have traded land and received terror instead of the peace pundits like the columnist promised. He’s right that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes the Palestinians won’t make peace because he “thinks it’s not in their culture.” The problem for Friedman is they have already proven many times that it isn’t.

What makes this discussion so pointless is that the Palestinians don’t need a change in tactics. They don’t have to throw rocks or promote boycotts even if those activities are more attractive to their foreign supporters than suicide bombings. All they have to do is negotiate. Netanyahu has already said he’d accept a two-state solution and, as Friedman understands, the vast majority of Israelis would support him if he were presented with a deal that ended the conflict. Just as in 1977 when Egypt’s Sadat went to Jerusalem, the Israelis are ready to deal. The problem is not whether the Palestinians realize how best to make Israelis “morally insecure” — a point that is as meaningless today as it was 35 years ago — but that, unlike Sadat, they aren’t actually willing to live in peace alongside the Jewish state.

The other whopper in Friedman’s column is his second suggestion: a proposal that Israel assist in the creation of a viable secular Palestinian state in the West Bank that would promote a free-market economy that would be a model to the Middle East. He thinks this is essential, because if violence erupts, the new Islamist leadership in Egypt will exacerbate it.

For years, Friedman has been promoting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and “Fayyadism” as the coming wave of Palestinian politics. But Fayyad’s name isn’t mentioned once in Friedman’s column. That’s because the moderate, who is a favorite of both the U.S. and Israel, has no constituency among his own people and is being chucked out of office by Abbas to appease his new Hamas partners. Israel would like nothing better than a free market-trading partner in the West Bank led by a man such as Fayyad as opposed to another Islamist wasteland such as currently exists in Gaza. The problem is the Palestinians prefer Hamas to Fayyad or the advice of the clueless Friedman.

Read Less

Failed Middle East Theories? Look in the Mirror, Tom Friedman

Thomas Friedman’s rants about foreign policy on the op-ed page of the New York Times are generally predictable if not particularly insightful. But today’s installment is original in one respect. In it he references an article in the National Review by respected conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson gives a laundry list of American foreign policy failures in the Middle East and concludes that maybe America should just realize that all of the existing theories about the Arab and Muslim world are fatally flawed. Hanson is generally right, but what rings false about Friedman’s praise for the piece is that in doing so he fails to acknowledge his own support for some of those failed approaches. He also slyly tries to include one other aspect of American policy in the list of failures that was conspicuous by its absence from Hanson’s article: support for Israel.

It’s true that, as Hanson points out:

Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan.

But in endorsing this sobering judgment, Friedman fails to note that he has served for the last 20 years as a faithful advocate for the foreign policy “realism” that he criticizes. Nor does he have the guts to point out that his best-selling “flat earth” theories about how economic concerns will trump those of religion and nationalism in the 21st century have been shown to be as laughably out of touch with the reality of the Middle East as any other.

Read More

Thomas Friedman’s rants about foreign policy on the op-ed page of the New York Times are generally predictable if not particularly insightful. But today’s installment is original in one respect. In it he references an article in the National Review by respected conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson gives a laundry list of American foreign policy failures in the Middle East and concludes that maybe America should just realize that all of the existing theories about the Arab and Muslim world are fatally flawed. Hanson is generally right, but what rings false about Friedman’s praise for the piece is that in doing so he fails to acknowledge his own support for some of those failed approaches. He also slyly tries to include one other aspect of American policy in the list of failures that was conspicuous by its absence from Hanson’s article: support for Israel.

It’s true that, as Hanson points out:

Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan.

But in endorsing this sobering judgment, Friedman fails to note that he has served for the last 20 years as a faithful advocate for the foreign policy “realism” that he criticizes. Nor does he have the guts to point out that his best-selling “flat earth” theories about how economic concerns will trump those of religion and nationalism in the 21st century have been shown to be as laughably out of touch with the reality of the Middle East as any other.

But even more dishonest is his decision to try and throw in the one element of American foreign policy that Hanson does not denounce: the alliance with Israel. According to Friedman, America’s unwillingness to strong arm Israel into making concessions on territory to Palestinians who have already demonstrated their complete disinterest in making peace on any terms is also undermining our foreign policy. But no other theory about how America should approach the Middle East has been proven to be false as conclusively as Friedman’s blind faith in “land for peace.”

Even worse, in summarizing our refusal to “tell the truth” to countries in the Middle East, he makes the following generalizations:

But we don’t tell Pakistan the truth because it has nukes. We don’t tell the Saudis the truth because we’re addicted to their oil. We don’t tell Bahrain the truth because we need its naval base. We don’t tell Egypt the truth because we’re afraid it will walk from Camp David. We don’t tell Israel the truth because it has votes. And we don’t tell Karzai the truth because Obama is afraid John McCain will call him a wimp.

The United States may be guilty of a great many faults in the Middle East but let’s not pretend that America’s views have been kept a secret. Pakistan is well aware of American public opinion of its double game on terrorism. The Saudis know Washington is dubious about their ability to maintain an oil-fueled oligarchy. The same can be said of Bahrain and the Afghan government is under no misapprehension about American doubts about its future. And certainly after three plus years of Barack Obama in the White House, Israel is aware (not withstanding Obama’s election year charm offensive aimed at Jewish voters) that he takes a dim view of the Jewish state’s position on the territories.

In adding Israel to that list, Friedman once again slips in offensive language that is redolent of the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about The Israel Lobby. In December, Friedman earned the scorn of the Jewish world for falsely claiming that the Congressional ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Here, he seems to be repeating that anti-Semitic slur by alleging that the votes of the pro-Israel community — a vast bi-partisan force that encompasses the overwhelming majority of all Americans — has prevented the U.S. from placing enough pressure on the Jewish state.

But a different twist on that phrase shows why Hanson rightly did not include Israel in his formulation. It is the “votes” of Israelis — which makes it the one true democracy in the Middle East — that makes it the exception to his rule in which the lack of shared values prevents the United States from establishing a coherent relationship with the other countries in the region.

We can debate just how effective a U.S. policy of democracy promotion can be but the one thing that the alliance with Israel proves is that its absence makes a long-term commitment to a nation a shaky proposition. While American Middle East policy has been a mess, Thomas Friedman’s contributions to that legacy as well as his smears of Israel’s supporters deserve prominent mention in any list of such failures.

Read Less

Friedman’s Slur Swap Changes Nothing

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

Read More

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

The interesting thing about Friedman’s rant and his subsequent clarification is not so much his dim view of the Republicans, Netanyahu or even his litany of Israeli sins that, at least in his view, justify American abandonment of Israel. Rather, it is the easy way in which a person who claims to be an ardent supporter of Israel slipped into the traditional themes of Jew-hatred.

Friedman rightly says that dissent against particular Israeli policies does not make him an enemy of the Jewish state. But what we are talking about here is not political give and take but engaging in rhetoric that seeks to smear the state, undermine its right of self-defense and brand those who do back it as acting against America’s best interests. Such rhetoric is anti-Semitic in nature and purpose.

Friedman may think the use of the offending phrase distracted readers from his argument, but he’s wrong about that. At the core of his piece — which contained the astounding suggestion that a left-wing campus such as the University of Wisconsin at Madison is more representative of American opinion than those elected by the people to Congress — is a belief that Israel must be put in its place and that those Americans who speak up for it are supporting a bad cause. He claims his “deep concerns” about Israel’s future and its democracy are well-intended. However, his resentment of Israel’s democratically elected leaders as well as his frustration with the support they are given by both Republicans and Democrats here is enough to blur the distinctions between such a friend of the Jewish state and its enemies. The applause that he has gotten from leftist foes of Zionism speaks volumes about how his writing has now crossed the line from friendly criticism of Israel to delegitimization.

What really ticks Friedman off is Israel’s decision to ignore his advice. That is something the Times columnist cannot abide. While he may not wish to see it destroyed, he clearly believes it should be punished for its temerity.

It remains to be seen whether his attempt to explain himself will allow Friedman to worm his way back into the good graces of liberal Jewish groups that have been paying him generous honorariums for speaking engagements for the last two decades. I wouldn’t bet against it. If groups do continue to honor Friedman in the future, it will be proof that even dabbling in anti-Semitism isn’t enough to wean some Jews from their worship of the Times and its liberal icons.

Read Less

Where Are Our Pro-Israel Leaders?

This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

Read More

This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

Once upon a time, William F. Buckley banned Pat Buchanan from the pages of National Review and in essence drummed him out of the conservative movement for such accusations. Today, where are the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee, and all the Jewish “defense” organizations?  Where are all the Jewish groups which have given Klein and Friedman awards, demanding them back? Where are Jewish Democrats in Congress, who have no doubt wined and dined both Klein and Friedman in a thousand dinner parties, and congressional leaders from Nancy Pelosi to Harry Reid? And what about our other supposed moral leaders, religious, intellectual, or political?

It’s a good question. Klein subsequently clarified that he didn’t mean to suggest that Americans have previously been sent to war to protect Israel. He said he thought his commas made that clear. That, however, doesn’t actually answer Abrams’ objection, which was the suggestion that American Jewish neoconservatives want Americans to be sent to war in Iran to protect Israel. Klein also said he wants Jews to uphold our tradition of “tolerance and understanding in a world too often hateful and barbaric.” In the next paragraph, he calls Abrams “a feckless shmuck.”

I’ll leave it to Abrams to decide if the latter comment deserves a response, but in his defense of Tom Friedman, Klein adds: “The reaction from assorted Israel First/Likudnik bloviators to Tom Friedman’s comment has been absurd.” Here are three quotes about the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis of the Israel lobby, which Friedman was echoing:

  • “[P]ortrays the Israel lobby as a nebulous, all-powerful force subverting America’s interests for the sake of Israel.”
  • “But their announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument—a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs.”
  • “Mearsheimer and Walt are a classic example of pundits hatching a thesis and then hacking away at the facts to make them fit.”

The first was Jonathan Chait, writing in the New Republic. The second was David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker. The third was Daniel Lazare, writing in the Nation. According to Klein, are these fellows “Israel First/Likudnik bloviators”? The fact remains that the mainstream left does not believe in the Walt/Mearsheimer view of the world, and that dissent from Friedman’s and Klein’s nonsense is not evidence of dual loyalties.

But that begs Abrams’ question: Where is everyone? Why would the reaction to this deeply paranoid assault on the loyalty of American Jews be to quibble over the placement of a comma–or worse, silence? Siding with Friedman and Klein just because you share their dislike of pro-Israel conservatives is as yet the clearest example of politicizing the issue and turning Israel into a partisan wedge.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.