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Thomas Friedman, the court Jew

The columnist’s attacks on the Israeli government are an indictment of him, not Israel.

Author and “New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Credit: Twitter.
Author and “New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Credit: Twitter.
Bobby Rechnitz
Bobby Rechnitz is a Los-Angeles based philanthropist and real estate developer who serves as chairman of the Golda Meir Commemorative Coin Committee and the Abraham Accords Roundtable.

“Court Jews” have existed throughout the history of the Diaspora. They were Jews who rose to positions of power and influence under the rulers of the nations in which they lived. Unfortunately, most of the court Jews did not use their power for the good of their communities. Thus, the term took on a derogatory connotation.

There were, however, a few court Jews who stood up to their rulers on behalf of the Jewish people. One of the most famous cases was Don Isaac Abarbanel. In the 15th century, the Spanish monarchs offered him untold riches and power if he would betray his fellow Jews at the time of the expulsion from Spain. He refused.

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is no Abarbanel.

Of course, today is not directly comparable to the expulsion from Spain. But we do live at a time in which the Jewish people’s greatest enemies are once again plotting to destroy and annihilate the object of their deranged hatred.

While the Iranian nuclear centrifuges spin mercilessly towards weapons-grade material, Friedman is being used to pressure the State of Israel’s democratically elected government.

Instead of pushing back against the idea of “reassessing” the U.S.-Israel relationship at such a crucial time, Friedman is allowing himself to be used in order to broadcast extremist messages against the Jewish state. In particular, that the current Israeli government is a threat to the country’s democratic system.

This is especially absurd because Israel is a remarkable story of democracy.

Seventy-five years ago, something unique in the history of the Middle East was created: A full-fledged Middle Eastern democracy with freedom and equality for all. Even more astonishing, and far too often overlooked, it was fashioned by people who, for the most part, had no experience of democracy in the lands of their birth.

If we look around the world at other states founded around the same time—whether in Asia, Africa or elsewhere—Israel comes off looking very good in comparison.

However, as in other democratic nations, Israel’s democracy is an ongoing process. The balance and separation of powers is an issue in all democratic nations around the world, even the U.S. This is what Israel’s judicial reform controversy is about.

Ever since the “judicial revolution” of the 1990s, the Israeli system has given far too much power to the judiciary. Slowly but surely, it has been placed far above the elected legislature and government.

Of course, there needs to be a system of checks and balances, but who is checking and balancing the excesses of the judicial system? At the moment, no one.

Judicial reform is about redressing this imbalance. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said, solutions will be found on which there is a national consensus.

Instead of noting this complexity, Friedman simplistically portrays the reforms as a slide into authoritarianism.

That he has done so around the same time that the Jewish world took immense pride in hearing Israeli President Isaac Herzog address Congress, and in the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, is a sad indictment of the columnist.

Friedman has frequently traveled to Israel over the years, speaking with leaders at the highest levels of Israeli politics. He knows and understands the issues far better than his simplistic and facile presentation of them.

This, unfortunately, had led many in Israel to believe that Friedman is nothing more than a court Jew. They no longer respect his opinion.

After writing about backroom machinations in the Biden administration regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship, Friedman tried to interest the Israeli media in his reports. He claimed his message came straight from President Joe Biden. This took place a day after Biden met with Herzog and two days after Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone conversation.

Embarrassingly, Friedman was only able to speak on Israel’s least-watched news program.

No doubt, the Biden administration will continue to believe that, as a Jew at The New York Times, Friedman’s is an important voice for the Jewish people and the Israeli government.

This is far from the truth. In the Israeli corridors of power, his credibility has rapidly diminished.

Yes, Friedman will continue to be used by those opposed to the Netanyahu government and by the Israeli far-left in general. But he does not and will not have any real influence over government decisions.

This could change in the future, but only if Friedman uses his access to the Biden administration and his pulpit at The New York Times to describe the real history, complexity and miracle that is the Jewish state.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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