Once again (Sept. 5), New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has offered his wisdom for a solution to the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He claims that “far-right Jewish supremacists,” also known as the “right-wing zealots” who lead the Netanyahu government, pose “an internal Israeli Jewish threat” that obstructs the two-state (Israel and Palestine) solution that Friedman has long craved. Israel’s government, he insists, is not normal.
Friedman’s discomfort with Israel is hardly new. It dates back to his undergraduate years at Brandeis University. He joined a left-wing Jewish advocacy group that favored a two-state solution along pre-1967 lines that would deprive Israel of biblical Judea and Samaria (Jordan’s “West Bank”). As The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Friedman became an incessant critic of Israel. He chastised Israelis for ignoring the plight of Palestinians, absurdly linking their violent uprisings, which he labeled “non-lethal civil disobedience,” with the American civil-rights struggle.
As a columnist, Friedman has been free to write as he wishes about Israel’s failings in the Times. Insisting that there was “no hope for peace without a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank,” he has equated Jewish settlers with Palestinian suicide bombers. With Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, he preposterously warned that if Israel did not “freeze all settlement activity,” it “could become some kind of apartheid-like state” in control of 2.5 million Palestinians. Indeed, “scary religious nationalist zealots” might lead Israel unto the “dark corner” of a “South African future.” To satisfy him, Israel “must freeze all settlement building in the West Bank,” thereby permitting Palestinian control of its biblical homeland.
To be sure, Friedman is hardly alone among Times critics of a Jewish state. It has a long history, dating back to 1928, when Joseph Levy became the first Times reporter in Palestine. For Levy, following murderous Arab riots, Jews were the problem, and he became the conduit for anti-Zionist critics to express their views in his newspaper. Although Levy was the first Times critic of the idea—no less reality, of Jewish statehood—he was hardly the last. A bevy of Jerusalem bureau chiefs, columnists and reporters have followed in his footsteps.
Among them, Anthony Lewis lacerated settlers as “Jewish zealots” and linked Israel to South African apartheid. Nicholas Kristof blamed a violent Palestinian intifada on former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. After two Palestinians exploded bombs in the heart of Tel Aviv, killing 22 Israelis, a Times reporter noted that “Israeli forces have carried out numerous operations of their own.” Palestinians, wrote columnist Roger Cohen, “are dehumanized through Israeli domination, settlement expansion and violence.” Times editors insisted that “peace can only come from an end to Israeli “occupation”—of its biblical homeland.
In his unrelenting laceration of Israel for depriving Palestinians of their own state, Friedman has ignored history and reality. There already is a Palestinian state, known as the Kingdom of Jordan, in historic Palestine. Sliced off from Palestine after World War I by British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill as a gift to the Hashemite King Abdullah, it has a majority Palestinian population. There is no reason for another Palestinian state.
Friedman is free to come down on “far-right Jewish supremacists,” “right-wing zealots” and the loathsome Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu that “has to be stopped.” He seems oblivious to the reality that Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. It may be decades of New York Times laceration of the world’s only Jewish and democratic state, with Thomas Friedman leading the way, that has to be stopped.