In its coverage of Israel, The New York Times has long had an “occupation” obsession. For Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley, Israel’s “occupation”—of its biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria—is a repetitive theme. But he writes in the shadow of Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who for decades has repetitively inserted “occupation” into his critical musings about Israel.
Friedman’s recent three-column opinion article (July 15), titled “Keys to a Jewish Democratic Israel,” is a lengthy reiteration—with a new twist—of his favorite refrain. As always, he casts himself as the wise (Jewish) journalist who knows what is best for the Jewish state.
For Friedman, as for Kingsley, the despicable core of the problem is Israeli “occupation.”
Accordingly, Israelis must choose between a state that is Jewish and democratic—requiring it to relinquish biblical Judea and Samaria, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, to Palestinians—or a state retaining its biblical homeland that will not be democratic.
For Israel to comply with Friedman’s fantasy and remain a “viable democracy,” it must abandon its “occupation” of West Bank Palestinians under a “military code” with “far diminished rights and opportunities.” Friedman generously concedes that “this occupation” differs from South African apartheid, but it is “an ugly cousin and morally corrosive to Israel as a Jewish democracy.”
West Bank “occupation”—in translation, the presence of Jews in their biblical homeland—also poses “an existential threat” to Israel, he writes. (He does not define what that “existential threat” might be.) Special blame is reserved for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a two-state solution “impossible by installing Jewish settlers deep in the West Bank.” In fact, they began to install themselves following Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, which restored the “promised land” of Judea and Samaria to the Jewish people.
Friedman conveniently ignores embedded Palestinian resistance (often expressed in violent terrorist attacks) to any Jewish state anywhere. He offers the necessary solution: “For Israel, peace with Saudi Arabia is the big prize. It opens the door to peace with the whole Sunni Muslim world and access to an immense pool of investment capital.” But Israel can only secure peace—and investment capital—by relinquishing its biblical homeland to Palestinians. For Friedman, money can assure Israel’s capitulation to his delusion.
Guided by former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, Friedman fantasizes that in return for the opening of a Saudi commercial trade office in Tel Aviv, Israel would halt settlement construction and preserve the two-state “solution” that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected.
But that was only the beginning. The next step would be “the end of Israeli occupation” as the prelude to “a peace deal with the Palestinians.” In return, the Saudis would promise to open an embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv and an embassy to the Palestinians in Ramallah. In translation: In return for the relinquishment of its biblical homeland, Israel would gain an Arab embassy. For Friedman, that is a worthy exchange.
To his credit, Friedman seems to understand that his fantasy is far remote from reality: “I would not expect Israel to jump at any of these proposals.” But he evidently believes that if Israeli Arab political parties insist that they would only enter a Jewish-led government if it agreed to negotiate with Palestinians according to Friedman’s absurd guidelines, Israel would comply—and be prepared to sacrifice its biblical homeland.
This is hardly a new idea. Decades ago, as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Friedman embraced left-wing laceration of Israel for occupying “Palestinian” land. The only problem was that it had been Jewish land ever since David was anointed the first king of ancient Israel. In his memoir, From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989), Friedman conceded that he was “raised on a Judaism without land.” He recognized that Palestinians did not emerge as a self-identified “people” until the First Intifada (1987), while dismissing Palestinian terrorism that killed thousands of Jews as merely “a continual poke in the ribs.”
Friedman concludes (absurdly) that “only Saudi Arabia and Israeli Arabs can save Israel as a Jewish democracy.” He seems oblivious to the reality that Israel has been a Jewish democracy ever since May 14, 1948, when the modern-day Jewish state was born. By now, it should be obvious, even to Thomas Friedman, that Israel can save itself.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel” and “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016,” which was recently selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book” for 2019.