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Thomas Friedman’s fury

The columnist seems unaware of the fact that Israel’s prime ministers are under no obligation to take his advice.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 23, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 23, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Jerold S. Auerbach
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016) and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book for 2019.”

Nothing riles New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman more than an Israeli government with the audacity to disregard his opinions and demands. His laceration of the Jewish state stretches as far back as his undergraduate years at Brandeis University. There, he was a member of Breira, a left-wing Jewish advocacy group that favored a two-state solution along the pre-1967 lines, thereby removing biblical Judea and Samaria (previously Jordan’s “West Bank”) from Israeli control. Friedman has been an unrelenting critic of Israel ever since.

In a March 8 diatribe, Friedman fancifully warned that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pursuing a “judicial putsch to crush the independence” of Israel’s judiciary. He urged American Jews “to choose sides on Israel,” but not any side—only Friedman’s.

“Every rabbi and every Jewish leader in America,” he wrote, must speak out to affirm his fury. Friedman’s preferred Jewish leader seems to be Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous, who recently delivered a sermon titled “The Tears of Zion,” urging her congregation to challenge Netanyahu’s “illiberal, ultranationalist regime.” Only Netanyahu, it seems, is worthy of rabbinical laceration.

Given Friedman’s rants, Brous’s was mild criticism. In what he no doubt viewed as his nastiest insult, Friedman not only blamed Netanyahu for embracing “more and more ultranationalist and ultrareligious parties,” but also claimed that the prime minister “has come to embrace the Trumpist playbook,” whatever that means.

Friedman ignores the fact that, for Israel, former President Donald Trump was the most supportive American president since Harry Truman recognized the fledgling Jewish state back in 1948. Trump acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and affirmed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocating the American embassy there from Tel Aviv in May 2018. Would that Friedman’s preferred presidents, whoever they may be, had done as much for Israel.

In Friedman’s indictment, Netanyahu is guilty of “radicalizing his base, attacking Israel’s legal, media and academic institutions” and “inciting his loyalists against centrist and left-wing Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.”

Nor was that all. Netanyahu’s governments, wrote Friedman, have “sought every way possible to avoid the peace process with the Palestinians.” As it happens, it is the Palestinians who have rejected every opportunity for negotiations with Israel, as well as every Israeli offer of statehood and peace.

Friedman is also enraged that Netanyahu’s (unidentified) “team” has also “dismissed liberal American Jews” (like Friedman), choosing instead “to focus their energies on building support for Israel with Republicans and their evangelical base.” To Friedman, this is a shanda—a disgrace. He appears unaware of the fact that Israeli prime ministers are not obligated to take his advice.

“Alas,” Friedman laments, “most American Jewish organizations and lay leaders”—with the exception of “the powerful right-leaning Jewish lobbying organization” AIPAC—“are not built for this kind of existential fight inside Israel.” Instead, they do “whatever Netanyahu tells them.” Friedman prefers the opinion of a trio of Israeli writers who warned in The Times of Israel of “a political leadership that is undermining our society’s cohesion and its democratic ethos.”

To be sure, Friedman has hardly been the only Times journalist to lacerate Israel. Ever since the birth of Jewish statehood, a bevy of Jerusalem bureau chiefs and columnists—many of whom, like him, were Jewish—have joined the chorus of criticism. Indeed, at times it seemed as if that was an actual job requirement.

Friedman is currently ideologically partnered with current Times Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley, who seems incapable of writing an article without reference to Israeli “occupied” territory—that is, biblical Judea and Samaria. Times Jerusalem reporter Isabel Kershner has also adopted this misnomer.

None of them have attempted to explain why Benjamin Netanyahu, their favorite Israeli villain, is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history. Perhaps it is they, not Netanyahu, who deserve reproach for their unremitting hostility.

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.

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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