As the lighthearted expression goes, the future is one of the hardest things to predict. That did not stop New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman from offering grim prophecies about Israel and the incoming Israeli government coalition in a piece entitled “The Israel We Knew Is Gone.” There’s nothing lighthearted about the future he foresees for the Jewish state. But his bleak predictions, presented as unalterable facts, are not backed up by reality.
Friedman leads off his piece by steering the reader towards the conclusion that Benjamin Netanyahu will soon preside over a parade of right-wing horribles whose very existence dooms not just the new coalition but Israel itself.
Once Friedman’s Halloween-like portrayal of Netanyahu’s team is lodged in the reader’s brain, he goes on to suggest that Israel’s “rowdy” new government is just a trial run for what we can expect in the U.S. in 2024. In other words: Be afraid America, be very afraid, because what happens in Israel doesn’t stay in Israel. Inevitably, Friedman frets, right-wing madness will spread to our liberal shores.
Apparently, members of the Israeli government must pass muster not just with Israeli voters but also with members of Congress, Biden administration gatekeepers and newspaper columnists like Friedman. But in reality, Israel, like the U.S., gets to choose its own leaders through free and fair elections.
Friedman then leaps to the conclusion that if Jews on American campuses share his distaste for even two members of the new Israeli government, they will turn their backs on Israel once and for all.
Jews on college campuses have enough trouble these days, suffering cancel culture if they speak up in favor of the Jewish state or fail to defend the Palestinians in or out of the lecture hall. Progressive politics isn’t cafeteria-style, in which you get to pick and choose which issues you support. If you back Israel over the Palestinians, you subject yourself to being shunned in a way that hearkens back to the Salem witch trials. Friedman’s remarks just add fuel to that fire.
Friedman then claims that several Arab countries entered the Abraham Accords just because “they wanted to trade with Israel.” Not, as Seinfeld would say, that there’s anything wrong with that. More importantly, the Arab nations made peace with Israel because they’re tired of pointless, expensive hostilities and they recognize a common enemy in Iran.
Friedman ought to have more respect for the courageous Arab governments that normalized their relations with Israel, and for those who may have quietly supported it from behind closed doors. One hopes more countries will do so as time goes on, despite Friedman’s apparent belief that those Arab countries are only in it for the money.
Friedman is also concerned that members of Congress will be “fleeing” from reporters asking about support for Israel. While Israel has many stalwart friends in the U.S. Capitol on both sides of the aisle, some Congress members have seldom been models of courage when it comes to speaking up for the Jewish state. Nothing new there.
A lot of folks on both sides in the aisle here in the United States don’t love every single member of Congress or every single Biden cabinet member. But they aren’t turning in their passports and ripping up the Constitution.
Friedman quotes Moshe Halbertal, a Hebrew University philosopher, and argues that Israeli hawkishness towards the Palestinians has created a mentality in which Israelis now view every Israeli Arab as a potential terrorist. There is no basis for this accusation, and Friedman offers nothing to back it up.
Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to keep its citizens safe—all of its citizens. In fact, that may be a leader’s most important job. It is also why voters brought Netanyahu back to power. They know that he stands for security and not weakness in the Middle East, which is still the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.
Friedman has a deep distaste for Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, and appears to be using Ben-Gvir’s statements as a way to attack Israel’s new government in its entirety. I too am uncomfortable with some of Ben-Gvir’s past comments and actions. I hope that he has matured and moderated his views, as he claims. However, this discomfort doesn’t mean I surrender my love and staunch support for the State of Israel. I don’t agree with some of President Joe Biden’s policies, and I abhor comments made by the “Squad.” Yet I remain an American patriot.
Similarly, I abhor Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’s anti-American comments, his financial rewards to those who harm and murder Israelis and his statements on the Holocaust. Yet I would still work with Palestinians and their leaders to try to improve their lives and forge peace between them and Israel.
We don’t burn everything down just because we disagree, however strongly, with the views of some of those in power.
Friedman doesn’t have to love Netanyahu or his coalition partners. It would behoove Friedman, however, to allow the future to play out before coming to such dark and drastic conclusions. His doomsaying is not fair to Israel’s voters, Israel’s new administration or Israel’s young and impressionable supporters here in the United States.
The right approach is for the White House, Congress and Thomas Friedman to let Netanyahu govern and criticize him as he governs, rather than condemn him and the State of Israel in advance. I believe Netanyahu is the right man for the job at this very complicated and dangerous time, and that the Israel we know will continue to thrive, prosper and be a light unto the world. Time will tell who is correct.
A version of this article was originally published by Arab News.