Worried, Tom Friedman tries to establish red lines on criticism

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I still haven’t picked up Thomas Friedman’s wild column the other day, in which he sees everything from the Israeli point of view and justifies the slaughter of the Gaza war as, This is a tough neighborhood. The good news in the column is that Friedman acknowledges the rising tide of criticism of Israel, he sounds like Howard Kohr of AIPAC a year back, the amazing Predicate for Abandonment speech. He is fearful of the political consequences. Why else would he lump in Oliver Stone and David Cameron, and ignore what Israelis say are fascistic trends in their society? Friedman:

there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel — to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain’s prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli “prison camp” and Turkey’s prime minister telling Israel’s president, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” You see singers canceling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war — never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.

I’m not here to defend Israel’s bad behavior. Just the opposite. I’ve long argued that Israel’s colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don’t think Israel’s friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.

But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. 

This is crazy. Israel turned Gaza into a prison because of an election it didn’t like. Israel didn’t wait to see what plans Hamas had, it shut the place down, with the complicity of the U.S. Yes I know many Palestinians don’t accept Israel’s existence, which terrifies the Israelis, but there is not a word here about the Goldstone report.

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