New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is out with another attack on Israel. And this one’s a doozy.
He slanders Members of Congress and the nefarious “Israel lobby” by writing, “I sure hope that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Elliot Abrams destroys this line of reasoning here.
Mr. Friedman then lists a number of areas of confusion for young, liberal American Jews as might be found at – in his example – the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Allow me to address these poor, confused, afflicted, fictional souls:
“It confuses them to read that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia last Wednesday, was quoted as saying that the recent Russian elections were ‘absolutely fair, free and democratic.’ Yes, those elections — the ones that brought thousands of Russian democrats into the streets to protest the fraud. Israel’s foreign minister sided with Putin.”
Did Tom Friedman criticize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for characterizing the lead-up to Iran’s fraudulent 2009 election as “very vigorous debate and dialogue”? Because that “vigorous debate” was between three candidates hand-picked by Supreme Leader Khamenei. Did Mr. Friedman criticize Secretary Clinton for saying that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had “lost his legitimacy” as if he ever had any? So . . . only American top diplomats get to occasionally look like fools by playing by the idiotic rules of international diplomacy? Maybe it’s just that Mr. Friedman agrees with Mrs. Clinton’s politics generally and he does not agree with Mr. Lieberman’s politics – or with Mr. Lieberman’s boss. Nah, it couldn’t be THAT prosaic, could it?
“It confuses them to read that right-wing Jewish settlers attacked an Israeli army base on Tuesday in the West Bank, stoning Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the army removing ‘illegal’ settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.”
“It confuses them to read, as the New Israel Fund reports on its Web site, that ‘more than 10 years ago, the ultra-Orthodox community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated buses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009, more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as dress modestly.’”
As the New Israel Fund exists to make Israel look bad to the outside world, it shouldn’t surprise them. And as those buses only carry the self-selected group that chooses to live in those communities, one has to wonder why it requires such international chest-thumping. That said, on the merits, of course, there are real problems in the ultra-orthodox community and the state of Israel will, in fact, need to address these problems.
“It confuses them to read a Financial Times article from Israel on Monday, that said: ‘In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.’”
Each of those charges is entirely false and misleading. The law does NOT “impose penalties on Israelis advocating” boycott. It allows Israelis to sue for damages. It’s called tortious interference and we have the same laws here in the U.S. The law does “subject the supreme court to greater political oversight” but context is important here. Currently, the Israeli president – a largely ceremonial position with no real political power and no say in legislation – appoints the members of the high court. The new bill would require the Israeli parliament to vote on appointments – just like our Senate does here. So, Mr. Friedman, the only thing confusing people is your ideologically motivated mischaracterization of what Israel is doing.
“And it confuses them to read Gideon Levy, a powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, this week that ‘anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray. … What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.’”
Okay . . . only a dwindling minority of Israelis read Gideon Levy. Or Haaretz. And for precisely the reason illustrated by this quote.
“So while Newt is cynically asking who are the Palestinians, he doesn’t even know that more than a few Israelis are asking, ‘Who are we?’”
And this puts the lie to Mr. Friedman’s angst over the future of the State. Israelis are free to ask “who are we?” And they are free to answer. Mr. Friedman may not like the answer, but Israelis even have the right to disagree with the estimable Thomas Friedman, Lord High Protector of the Gray Lady.
Americans have, in our history, had moments where we wonder who we are. Are we a vassal of England or a free country? Are we aligned with Britain or France? Are we a slaveholding nation or a free country? Are we north and south, or one nation? Are we an empire or a world power? (That’s been asked more than once.)? Is our culture one of traditional self-restraint or unfettered self-indulgence? In times of war, how do we deal with those in our open society who disagree with our course of action? (That’s also been asked more than once, and we’ve gotten it dramatically wrong more than once.)
What I can’t stand are self-righteous nags like Thomas Friedman who pay lip-service to the real threats faced by Israel and then criticize every move the Jewish state makes to face those threats – all the time ignoring America’s illustrious history of screwing up the very same decisions. And we didn’t screw them up because we’re bad or evil or anti-democratic. We screwed them up because they’re very very very very hard to get right. Especially with know-it-alls like Thomas Friedman sitting on the sidelines, pen and paper in hand, ready to loudly note the errors, the things that look like they might be errors, and the non-errors that violate his fantasy of how things ought to be in a perfect world.