Friedman Beat Goldstone to Gaza/Lebanon Comparison

on 22 Comments

I’m glad to see that Mondoweiss is posting relevant pieces of the Goldstone Report chunk-by-chunk — bite-sized morsels from the hundreds of pages of documents in the full report. But we didn’t need Goldstone to confirm that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strategy in Lebanon was a model for Gaza. That claim was made way back when the fighting was still going on — by a staunch friend and supporter of Israel, no less. But enough from me; res ipsa loquitur. I give you Tom Friedman of the New York Times as the Gaza War raged on January 13, 2009 (my emphasis):

Israel’s counterstrategy [in the summer of 2006] was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future. […] That was the education of Hezbollah. Has Israel seen its last conflict with Hezbollah? I doubt it. But Hezbollah, which has done nothing for Hamas, will think three times next time. That is probably all Israel can achieve with a nonstate actor. In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to "educate" Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

At the time, Friedman was undecided. But a year later it’s clear which of his options the IDF went for: To "educate" Hamas, as Friedman grotesquely characterized an assault that saw the destruction of universities and schools. With all the destruction and death of Friedman’s "education," it’s scary to even think about what an effort to "eradicate" Hamas might have looked like (as Friedman hints).

The column was problematic in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start. (Though the piece was a slight improvement over his nonsensical column of the week before, which was skewered brilliantly by Matt Taibbi.) First up was a glaring mistake where Friedman says the dovish Israeli approach of the late ’90s led to unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, both are very much under military occupation both outright and by siege, respectively. Another problem was the naivete of his prescription for healing the crisis:

Now [Israel’s] focus, and the Obama team’s focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?

It’s obvious now that Israel also had no intention of giving Hamas the opportunity of "building Gaza"; see the siege. But the most mind-numbing aspect of Friedman’s column was that he seemed to have bumbled his way into admitting that civilians were targets of the IDF operations in Lebanon and Gaza in an attempt to show them the price tag of supporting non-state resistance groups. Violence against civilians to effect political change is terrorism — and Friedman endorsed this "education" policy."It was not pretty, but it was logical," he wrote of Lebanon, The only one I saw who picked up on that irony was Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). The watchdog put out an Action Alert a day after the op-ed ran, trotting out a similarly callous Friedman quote from 1999:

The "logical" plan, as Friedman explained it, is to punish civilians in the hopes that this will force the political change you prefer. This is precisely the "logic" of terrorists. […] This pro-terrorism argument has been made before by Friedman, who advocated the same sort of terror against Serbs, writing (4/6/99) that "people tend to change their minds and adjust their goals as they see the price they are paying mount. Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let’s see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance."

It’s a quote he uses again and again — "Give war a chance." And it keeps winning him Pulitzers and other accolades like being named overwhelmingly Washington’s most influential columnist in a poll of "Congressional and political insiders" — representative of the "Beltway bubble." I’m not exactly sure why. I find his mind to be a literary black hole leading to dark and foreboding places, as Friedman himself might say. But since so many people buy into Friedman’s stuff, you’d think that when Goldstone makes the same claim — in less strident language — it might gain some traction. But the same Congress that picked Friedman overwhelming denounces Goldstone. Not to mention Israel’s response to the Goldstone Report.

This post originally appeared here at LobeLog. Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief.

22 Responses

  1. potsherd
    January 27, 2010, 7:41 pm

    Nothing is more despicable than the tone of moral superiority coming from a mass murderer. It is nothing but racism, laughing at the suffering of the inferior race.

  2. Donald
    January 27, 2010, 7:46 pm

    “But the same Congress that picked Friedman overwhelming denounces Goldstone. ”

    It’s the tone that explains the difference. Friedman is writing as a sympathetic person asking the question “What is Israel to do with its barbaric neighbors?” And his answer is that educating them with bombs is the way to go. Westerners lap up this sort of tough guy talk.

    But when Goldstone or others make exactly the same point about Israel’s actions, but do so in a condemning tone of voice (as befitting anyone who actually cares about human rights), then all of a sudden people realize what it sounds like to say that civilians are being targeted. So they switch into full blown denial mode.

    • Citizen
      January 27, 2010, 9:14 pm

      Wittyesque hasbara false choice-straw man: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?

      Post-Nuremberg, does any state regime have the right to do whatever it wants no matter the impact on the world outside itself? In other words, as Goering maintained,
      Might Makes Right?

  3. Rehmat
    January 27, 2010, 7:49 pm

    The result of a POLL taken amongst Israeli military officers, reported by Major Dr. Ruby Sandman in the “Israeli” military magazine – paints a totally different views than the Israeli HASBARA goons want the world to believe. The poll says that the impression within the Israel Occupation Force (IOF) is that the performance of IOF was inferior to that of Hizb’Allah. Here is the breakdown:

    Intelligence: IOF (6 points) vs Hizb’Allah (7 points)

    Strategy: IOF (5 points) vs Hizb’Allah (9 points)

    Leadership: IOF (6 points) vs Hizb’Allah (8 points)

    Pursuit of outcome: IOF (4 points) vs Hizb’Allah (8 points)

    Control: IOF (8 points) vs Hizb’Allah (6 points)

    Human management: IOF (9 poits) vs Hizb’Allah (5 points)

    Supplies: IOF (8 points) vs Hizb’Allah (5 points)

    Weapons: IOF (8 points) vs Hizb’Allah (5 points)

    Rehab. & Reconstruction: IOF (7 points) vs Hizb’Allah (8 points)

    Technology: IOF (9 points) vs Hizb’Allah (5 points)

    Poll: Israel vs Hizb’Allah
    link to

    • potsherd
      January 27, 2010, 8:12 pm

      This was the entire rationale for the aggression against Gaza. It was a rematch against a weaker opponent to convince themselves that they still did have the balls to kill.

  4. Tuyzentfloot
    January 27, 2010, 7:56 pm

    Friedman uses a strictly conservative framing. The strict father disciplining the unruly child. i wonder what it would take a conservative with good knowledge of the situation to say wait a minute, that won’t pass. There is logic in the ruler applying brute force to maintain/restore order. Suppose you accept that logic, when will you make the switch and say there’s something wrong? One track could be that the model “be good and you’ll be fine. Disobey and you’ll be punished” does not apply because the parent is abuseive and intends harm anyway, just does it more visible when you protest.

    • potsherd
      January 27, 2010, 8:11 pm

      It’s disgustingly hypocritical even to take that position.

      Who is Israel to arrogate to themselves the position of superiority?

      • Tuyzentfloot
        January 28, 2010, 4:31 am

        Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my description of conservative ideas, since I’m spelling out some prototypes that don’t provide a perfect match. But the issue matters.
        I believe Friedman is talking to the conservative person in people(why does everyone consider him a liberal anyway, because he’s green and free market?) and he appeals to many.

        Policies of brutal repression and war are commonly accepted in foreign policy thinking – it’s maintaining order, right? A progressive narrative that condemns repression and war just won’t catch on with people who accept this line of thinking.

        I’m asking what does it take for a fullblooded conservative (and not libertarian) to stop agreeing with Friedman’s story, maybe an odd question here since many people on here will loathe conservatives.

        The wider context for me is that I think it doesn’t take a radical progressive at all
        to be anti(political)zionist.

      • Tuyzentfloot
        January 29, 2010, 4:10 am

        I wonder if American conservatives , if not most Americans would catch on to the theme of “the land of refusal of opportunity” , as opposed to the American dream . It’s fairly well hidden but in Israel there always has been a deliberate policy of denying Palestinians the opportunity to build up something. The message has always been that there’s no future for Palestinians there and if you want to make yourself a future you’d better leave – and many people have left. Dedevelopment in the occupied territories is the more extreme manifestation of that but as far as I can tell it has always been present inside Israel as well. Making it hard to set up a private business, making it hard to go to higher education, and making it hard to do something with a higher education – no work for engineers, sorry. Cheap labor is what you can get, and even there there’s a preference for foreigners. Obviously no way to buy ground for a house either. While all the time painting a picture of equal right and opportunities. There are opportunities for palestinian doctors – let’s make a sitcom on that.

      • Tuyzentfloot
        January 29, 2010, 4:16 am

        From an article by J.Cook, quoting Yousef Jabareen: “The average in the Arab world [for female employment] is about 40 per cent. Only women in Gaza, the West Bank and Iraq — where there are exceptional circumstances — have lower rates of employment than Arab women in Israel. That gap needs explaining and the answers aren’t to be found where the minister is looking.”

      • Shingo
        January 29, 2010, 6:12 am

        That’s an excellent point Tuyzentfloot and to add insult to injury, Zionist hacks often criticize the Palestinians for their lack of achivements, while imposing conditions that are suffocating.

  5. potsherd
    January 27, 2010, 8:21 pm

    Today was the day that Isreal was going to do its big hasbara push against the Goldstone report, linking Goldstone with Hitler and making him responsible for the Holocaust.

    Things didn’t quite work out that way, though. Israel was hammered in the UN for the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, even by its usual supporters. link to

    The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said during the debate that any permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the 1967 borders and Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

    He also expressed concern over “Israel’s announcement of additional settlements in east Jerusalem” and called on the government to halt any activity that would encumber the peace process.

    French Ambassador Gerard Araud also condemned Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, and called it an “obstacle to peace”. He also declared Jerusalem the future capital of two states.

  6. potsherd
    January 27, 2010, 9:57 pm

    Today, Doctor Howard Zinn has died, an honest and fearless voice raised against the evils of nationalism and exceptionalism. While his strongest criticisms were directed against the US, he also had strong words for Israel.

    From “The Poisons of Nationalism”: link to

    True, Israel’s claim of “security,” given its geographical position, seemed to have more substance than the one made by the U.S. government, but it seemed clear to me that the occupation and subjugation of several million Palestinians in the occupied territories did not enhance Israel’s security but endangered it.

    I was reinforced in my view during a spirited discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict I was having with my large lecture class at Boston University. A number of Jewish students were fervently defending the Occupation, whereupon two young women who had been silent up to that point rose, one after the other, to say something like the following: “We are from Israel. We served in the Israeli army. We want to say to you who love Israel that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will lead to the destruction of Israel, if not physically, then morally and spiritually.”


    I have for a long time considered the nation-state as an abomination of our time–national pride leading to national hatred, leading to war. It always seemed to me that Jews, without a national territory, were a humanizing influence in the world. The charge against them by Stalin, that Jews were “cosmopolitans” was exactly what I thought the great virtue of Jews.

    Of course, there is no turning back the clock and it may be that an independent Palestine alongside an independent Jewish state is the best interim solution, but since the poison of nationalism will undoubtedly infect both states, the ideal of a democratic, secular community of Jews and Palestinians should remain a goal of all who desire lasting peace and justice.

  7. Richard Parker
    January 28, 2010, 1:04 am

    Potsherd thanks for your link to the UN debate link to
    which I can find reported nowhere else.
    But what I did find was a nauseatingly sentimental report about Shimon Peres lecturing the German parliament about the Holocaust (in Hebrew, which most Germans understand perfectly)
    link to
    and also an hilarious article about a hip-hop Auschwitz survivor, also in Germany:
    link to
    Pity the IDF reps didn’t get their day in court to defend themselves; I was looking forward to doing a very personal demolition job on that.

    • potsherd
      January 28, 2010, 10:32 am

      I one point, I read that the US representative was also critical of Israel in the debate, but I can not find this remark again.

      Mysterious disappearances.

  8. Richard Parker
    January 28, 2010, 1:06 am

    Also a gem was Ali Gharib’s quote here from Tom Friedman’s NYTimes column
    at: link to
    regarding the 2006 attack against Lebanon, when Friedman managed a perfect justification for state terrorism:
    Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future. […] That was the education of Hezbollah.

    Friedman also perpetuated a major lie in the opening to the same article:
    What Hezbollah did in 2006 — in launching an unprovoked war across the U.N.-recognized Israel-Lebanon border, after Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from Lebanon — was to both upend Israel’s longstanding peace strategy and to unveil a new phase in the Hezbollah-Iran war strategy against Israel.

  9. Richard Parker
    January 28, 2010, 1:13 am

    Hamas basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, the IDF, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militarists — to restrain the IDF militants in the future. […] That was the education of the IDF.
    Thomas Friedman in the New York Times
    link to
    with two ‘purely cosmetic’ name changes.

  10. Richard Parker
    January 28, 2010, 2:11 am

    Hamas: Rocket fire at Israel was aimed at soldiers, not civilians.
    link to

    The article does not explain Hamas’ statement, in any way, but may explain so many Israeli reports of random Gazan rockets into the Negev, the desert adjacent to Gaza.
    Obviously, Israel has a large, and very secret, military presence all along the Gaza/Israel border, and doesn’t tend to announce any breaches of the security 0f its military facilities.

    More details of the Israeli breach of the ceasefire, on November 4th 2008:
    Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip late last night near the town of Deir al-Balah. The Israeli military said the target of the raid was a tunnel that they said Hamas was planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers positioned on the border fence 250m away. Four Israeli soldiers were injured in the operation, two moderately and two lightly, the military said.

    One Hamas gunman was killed and Palestinians launched a volley of mortars at the Israeli military. An Israeli air strike then killed five more Hamas fighters. In response, Hamas launched 35 rockets into southern Israel, one reaching the city of Ashkelon.
    In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said the group had fired rockets out of Gaza as a “response to Israel’s massive breach of the truce”.
    “The Israelis began this tension and they must pay an expensive price. They cannot leave us drowning in blood while they sleep soundly in their beds,” he (Fawzi Barhoum) said.
    link to

  11. Shingo
    January 28, 2010, 6:05 am

    That amazign thing is that when a Zionist hack like Friedman states the obvious, no one in the Israeli amen corner bats an eyeld, but when the same accusations are made by an Israeli critric, they are anti Semitic blood-libels made by those who don’t want Israel to exist.

  12. pabelmont
    January 28, 2010, 1:30 pm

    Shingo’s comment (That amazign thing is that when a Zionist hack like Friedman states the obvious, no one in the Israeli amen corner bats an eyeld, but when the same accusations are made by an Israeli critric, they are anti Semitic blood-libels made by those who don’t want Israel to exist. ) is right on.

    The other thing to notice is that states with expensive armies, fancy weapons, and a dislike of their own side’s military casualties (Israel, the US are notable examples) come easily to the conclusion — apparently contrary to international law, per Goldstone — that “collateral damage” is OK when they use massive weapons against proper military targets near civilians — or against civilians or civilian infrastructure themselves, without proper military targets.

    The whole idea of punishing civilians (possibly made illegal under Geneva IV as collective punishment) has a long history — Hiroshima, Dresden, Nazi bombing of London, Gazan resistance people rocketing Israeli towns without clear military targets, etc. — follows the idea of the utility of torture (dear to USA, Israel, and many other state’s police and military): let’s be horrible and the other side will learn of it and give up the fight. This may be good strategy but the legal and moral issues remain.

  13. Jeffrey Blankfort
    January 28, 2010, 4:15 pm

    Back in 1982, when Friedman was a working journalist and not the fatuous apologist for Zionism and global capital as he has since become, he objected when the NY Times softened his accurate reporting of Israel’s devastating bombing of Beirut during Israel’s second war on Lebanon.

    In the article cited from January 2009, he refers to Hezbollah as having “launched” the 2006 war by its attack on an Israeli patrol along the Israeli-Lebanese border. If that is Friedman’s minimum criteria for starting a war, then Israeli has been guilty of initiating scores of wars against Lebanon, unless murdering civilians from the air, or firing missiles into Lebanese villages from across the border are exempt from his calculations.

    There was a day, when the Times ran the columns of Anthony Lewis, when criticism of Israel was permissible by a Times’ columnist and Lewis did it frequently. But that day is long past, as we see, with both it and the foreign desk, with that proud father of another Israeli soldier, Ethan Bronner, writing the lyrics, being actively part of Israel’s hasbara team, not to mention the presence of neoconman David Brooks and that darling of the liberals on Sundays, Frank Rich.

    • Shingo
      January 28, 2010, 4:25 pm

      Excellent point you raised Jeffrey.

      What Israel and the Us regard as acts of war are actions Israel carries out regularly, and with impunity. The fact that Israel gets away with it (because of it’s military suiperiority) leads many Israeli propagandists (i.e Witty) to assume that these acts are nothing out of the ordinary and thus benign.

      This is why Israel can blockade Gaza (an act of war), carry out a raid that violates a ceasefire and kills 6 Palestinians (also an act of war), and yet, Israelis propagandists still claim that Hamas started the war.

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