(January 21, 2023 / JNS) Unrelenting laceration of Israel has long been the hallmark of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It began when, as a Brandeis University student, he joined Breira, a left-wing group demanding that Israel relinquish biblical Judea and Samaria, restored to the Jewish state during the Six-Day War, and recognize Palestinian national aspirations in that land.
Years later, when he became Times Jerusalem Bureau chief, Friedman seldom missed an opportunity to criticize Israel. He labeled it an “occupying power” while dismissing Palestinian terrorist attacks as merely a “poke in the ribs.” He identified the violent intifada with the American struggle for civil rights. Returning to the United States as a Times columnist, he warned that without a two-state (Israel and Palestine) solution, Israel would “be stuck with an apartheid-like, democracy-sapping permanent occupation”—of its biblical homeland.
Friedman’s decades of criticism of Israel laid the groundwork for his recent Times diatribe (Jan. 18). He imagines that “a new Israel is emerging,” with “many ministers having the audacity to be hostile to American values” and that “nearly all are hostile to the Democratic Party,” as though its embrace is a requirement for Israeli political leaders.
Friedman urges President Biden to “wade right in” to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu and his “extremist coalition from turning Israel into an illiberal bastion of zealotry.” It seems oddly intrusive (except to Friedman) that an American president (to say nothing of a Times columnist) should tell an Israeli prime minister how to lead his country.
But, Friedman laments, “the Israel Joe Biden knew is vanishing and a new Israel is emerging.”
How so? “Many ministers” (none is identified) “are hostile to American values, and nearly all are hostile to the Democratic Party”—as if Israeli government officials must be bound to Thomas Friedman’s political preferences.
Friedman suggests that President Biden try hard—while displaying “tough love”—to “nudge things onto a healthier path.” High among the “things” that Friedman cites is the determination of the Netanyahu government to “radically alter the situation in the West Bank”—biblical Judea and Samaria—by “effectively annexing it.” Thomas Friedman may not like it, but the likelihood that Biden—or any American president—could persuade Israel to relinquish its biblical homeland is nil.
Friedman becomes a speechwriter for Biden, who must lacerate Netanyahu for “riding roughshod over American interests and values,” as though Israel, or any country, is obliged to genuflect to the United States. First on Biden’s (or Friedman’s) list is whether Israel’s control of its biblical homeland is “a matter of temporary occupation or of an emerging annexation.” The obvious answer eludes Friedman: Israel does not “occupy,” nor will it “annex,” its promised land.
There is also the issue of the Temple Mount, the ancient Jewish holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City. In Friedman’s rendering, Biden must warn Netanyahu that his “extremist ministers” may “change the status quo on the Temple Mount,” which prohibits Jewish prayer. That might “destabilize” Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the Abraham Accords, which formalized diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab countries.
That Jews are the victims of discrimination on the Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples once stood but they are prohibited from praying, is ignored by Friedman.
Friedman’s self-appointed role as Biden’s adviser is predictable. His laceration of the Jewish state has a long history. Israeli leaders are unlikely to pay attention to Friedman’s fantasies. But he can find comfort in The New York Times, where unease with the Jewish state and its leaders is deeply embedded. Back in November he wrote: “The Israel we know is gone.” Alas, the Friedman we know is still here. Decades of unrelenting criticism suggest that he, not Netanyahu, may be the zealot.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016,” selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.
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