More on Anthony Lewis, Tom Friedman and the Moon at Camp David

on 20 Comments
I asked Jerome Slater, the author of a groundbreaking paper on the ways
in which the Times has failed to inform Americans of the human right crisis
in Palestine, to respond to my post this a.m. on
Anthony Lewis, the former Times columnist. His comments follow.

Since Lewis's retirement, there have been three Times columnists who regularly discussed Israel and its policies: Abe Rosenthal, William Safire, and Thomas Friedman. Rosenthal and Safire were straight Likudish propagandists, therefore worse than useless. Friedman is sometimes critical of Israeli policies, but on the whole he has been part of the problem of the uninformed and uncritical U.S. media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Friedman was particularly disastrous on the 
responsibility for the breakdown of the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the
summer of 2000 and the outbreak of the
Palestinian intifada several months later.
During the 2000-2003 period Friedman
wrote some twenty-five columns claiming
that at the 2000 Camp David U.S./Israeli/
Palestinian summit conference, Barak offered
a generous peace settlement
to Arafat, who turned it down, made no
counteroffers, and ordered a violent
uprising, thereby proving that he had no
interest in a compromise settlement with
Soon after the failure at Camp David, however,
a number of Israeli, American, and
European scholars (including me), journalists,
and officials who were directly involved
in the events of 2000 began demolishing every
part of this mythology; it is no longer
regarded as intellectually respectable by informed
observers, including a number of
high-level Israeli officials who participated in the negotiations.

Nonetheless, Friedman evidently remained unaware
of, or chose to disregard, his critics,
for he regularly repeated his uninformed, irresponsible,
and sometimes even inflammatory rhetoric.Given the
importance of the Times in general, and Friedman in
particular, in molding elite public opinion and perhaps
even influencing governmental policy, the
consequences of Friedman’s mythology have been
I covered some of this in my article. 
The one comment I'd add is that the headlines on Camp David blaming Arafat 
remain one of the most important events of the last few years. My pro-Israel
friends often reflect this view: Arafat rejected a generous offer. Though I'm
not well-informed on this issue, I'd note that Clayton Swisher's book, published
by Nation Books, is extremely impressive. And let us not forget:
The Times also did wonderful journalism on this subject, a famous
piece by Deborah Sontag:

A potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in  Israel and
to some extent in the United States.
It says: Mr. Barak
offered Mr. Arafat the moon at  Camp
David last summer. Mr. Arafat 
turned it down,
and then ”pushed the button” and chose the path of
violence. The
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble,
at least for the forseeable future.
But many diplomats
and officials believe that the dynamic was far more
complex and
that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole
responsibility for the breakdown of the

peace effort. There were missteps and
successes by Israelis, Palestinians and

Americans alike over more than seven
years of peace talks between the 1993
Oslo interim
agreement and the last negotiating sessions in  Taba,

Egypt, in January.Mr. Barak did not offer Mr. Arafat

the moon at Camp David.

    Leave a Reply