OpinionMiddle East

Thomas Friedman’s Middle East vision

The columnist, it seems, cannot imagine that Israeli leaders would not embrace his solution to end the war with Hamas in Gaza.

“New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman after receiving his honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on June 3, 2007. Photo by Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90.
“New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman after receiving his honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on June 3, 2007. Photo by Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90.
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.”

No American journalist comes close to matching the unrelenting criticism of Israel by Thomas L. Friedman. It began decades ago when, as a student at Brandeis University, he co-chaired a “Middle East Peace Group” that discounted repeated PLO terrorist attacks as “clearly not representative of the diverse elements of the Palestinian people,” as though that mattered to murdered Israelis. Beginning his career with The New York Times reporting in Lebanon, he quickly turned against Israel and buried “every illusion I ever held about the Jewish state.”

Once he was relocated to Jerusalem, his unrelenting criticism and fixation on “Israeli occupation”—of its biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria (previously, Jordan’s “West Bank”)—pervaded his coverage. He dismissed Palestinian terrorist attacks as merely a “continual poke in the ribs” that would end if Israel “would only vacate the territories and allow a Palestinian state to emerge there.” Not surprisingly, Israel has been unwilling to relinquish its biblical homeland to satisfy him.

Several days ago (April 27), Friedman followed a different path to the same result. He poses “a single giant choice” for Israel—between a government commitment “to work toward a Palestinian state with a reformed Palestinian Authority” (that shows no sign of reform) and “the biggest bridge to the rest of the Muslim world Israel has ever been offered.” This, he believes, could spark hope that “the conflict with the Palestinians will not be a ‘forever war.’” That, however, is for Palestinians, not Israelis or Friedman, to decide. He finds it “disturbing and depressing” that there is “no major Israeli leader today in the ruling coalition, the opposition or the military who is consistently helping Israelis to understand that choice” between “a global pariah or a Middle East partner.” Friedman, it seems, cannot imagine that Israeli leaders would not embrace his solution.

The columnist realizes “how traumatized Israelis are by the vicious Hamas murders, rapes and kidnappings” in the terrorist assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Nor is he surprised that seeking revenge, they “can’t see or care about” Gazans—even children—who have lost their lives “as Israel has plowed through to try to eliminate Hamas.” He also understands why many Israelis “just want revenge.” But in his familiar laceration of Israelis for not listening to his suggestions, it is “pure insanity” that military and political leaders have permitted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pursue a “total victory.” Israel’s “indefinite occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank” would be “a toxic military, economic and moral overstretch.” It is easy for Friedman to believe that Israelis should settle for less, inevitably allowing Hamas to strike again.

Indeed, it is not sufficient that Israel would return control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas. In Friedman land, Israel should not only exit from Gaza, leaving the way for Hamas to launch more hideous attacks; it should also terminate the “occupation” of its biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria. The result would be a Palestinian state comprising Gaza and Jordan’s long-gone (since the Six-Day war in June 1967) West Bank that would sandwich Israel between two Arab countries, one of which—Gaza—is unlikely to embrace Israel as a good neighbor. It is doubtful that Friedman would find Israeli support for his absurd proposal.

Thomas Friedman does not seem to understand that Israel is not “stuck” in the West Bank. Five hundred thousand Israelis now live in their biblical homeland by choice, whether for ideological or affordability reasons. He is, to be sure, free to fantasize about what is best for Israel. However, the Jewish state is unlikely to pay attention to what has been one of its unrelenting critics for nearly 50 years.

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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