It’s open season! Tom Friedman says Obama is ‘hostage’ to ‘powerful pro-Israel lobby’

Israel/Palestine
on 44 Comments

I always said that Walt and Mearsheimer were writing Jewish history. A day after the Washington Post at last referred to the powerful Israel lobby, look what came out from under the mustache in the Times today:

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.

An important moment, because Friedman is such a mainstream figure. Glenn Greenwald gets it:

Walt and Mearshiemer merely voiced a truth which has long been known and obvious but was not allowed to be spoken.  That’s precisely why the demonization campaign against them was so vicious and concerted: those who voice prohibited truths are always more hated than those who spout obvious lies.  That the foreign affairs columnist most admired in Washington circles just expressed the same point demonstrates that recognition of this previously prohibited fact has now become mainstream. 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

44 Responses

  1. annie
    September 18, 2011, 12:18 pm

    the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel

    force. how illuminating. not sure i would agree w/friedman this is as a result of the lobby’s ineptitude tho.

  2. James
    September 18, 2011, 12:32 pm

    what were these folks saying about w & m back when?

    it would be nice to roast a few of them who are now able to come out and call a spade a spade..

  3. chet
    September 18, 2011, 12:50 pm

    Not even a hint about AIPAC influence on the Sun. political shows.

    Actually, apart from Zakaria and the briefest of mentions on Meet The Press and Face The Nation, TV has ignored the UN vote.

    • Tzombo
      September 18, 2011, 1:55 pm

      Which in itself is pretty telling about the power of AIPAC…

  4. Richard Witty
    September 18, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Thanks for the appreciative comments on Thomas Friedman.

    Sadly, the aspects that were positive were your interpretation of his advocacy for the Walt/Mearsheimer hypothesis, with no distinction between the minimalist and non-dramatic observation of political factors at play in their work and the maximalist conspiratorial.

    Both inferences are in their London Review of Books article, and to a lesser extent in the book.

    The difference between observation and punitive political weapon, suppression, is in the follow-up, in the language used, in the identification and significance of subsequent observations.

    As I stated before, the observation scope of the Walt/Mearsheimer work was basically common knowledge for decades, accepted. The edge of it was in its extension.

    • annie
      September 18, 2011, 1:41 pm

      Thanks for the appreciative comments on Thomas Friedman.

      could you elaborate on what you are thankful for. as usual all we heard was the complaint, your specialty wrt anything phil writes. nag nag nag.

    • Donald
      September 18, 2011, 1:44 pm

      “Thanks for the appreciative comments on Thomas Friedman.”

      It’s hilarious when you do this–Phil is pointing to Friedman because Friedman is at the heart of the establishment and if he is now acknowledging the reality of the Israel Lobby, then it shows that the MW thesis is going mainstream. But you noticed Phil commenting on Tom Friedman who you like in an approving way and that’s what you like to see, so you thank him.

      “As I stated before, the observation scope of the Walt/Mearsheimer work was basically common knowledge for decades, accepted.”

      This is a half-truth. It was common knowledge, but if you pointed it out you were labeled an anti-semite.

      “The edge of it was in its extension.”

      The center of it was in the middle. The perimeter was on the outside. The growth occurred on the boundary. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and a stitch in time saves nine. Mimsy were the borogroves…

      • Richard Witty
        September 18, 2011, 2:15 pm

        Donald,
        If you read my post, you’d note that I observed the very same thing, that Phil’s only interest in Friedman, was relative to whether that small tent conclusion, that litmus test.

        “Edge” means the knife – part, the damaging part, the “damaging part of their conclusion was the extension of an observation into a contempt, a conspiracy, an active urging of suppression”.

        If you said “AIPAC is a powerful lobby”, very few would accuse you of anti-semitism. When you say “the Israel lobby suppresses free speech and is in disloyal opposition to America’s “TRUE” interests”, then you are in a different territory.

      • ToivoS
        September 18, 2011, 5:50 pm

        RW addresses Donald and writes When you say “the Israel lobby suppresses free speech and is in disloyal opposition to America’s “TRUE” interests”.

        He says no such thing. You just made that up.

      • Donald
        September 18, 2011, 10:20 pm

        “If you said “AIPAC is a powerful lobby”, very few would accuse you of anti-semitism. ”

        Actually, Richard, if someone said something like that several years ago he or she probably would be accused of anti-semitism. Anyone who was interested in this subject back then was acutely aware of it–I always felt I had to walk on eggshells when speaking of the subject to anyone, afraid that someone not familiar with Israel’s human rights record and the lies told about it would automatically think I was crazy, and on this subject that meant “anti-semitic”. And I can’t think of any lobby that has had quite as much power as this one–the overwhelming majority of people in Congress genuflect to Israel and claim to do so because we have shared values, and they don’t mean a shared history of stealing land from brown people. They can get away with this because until very recently nobody in the mainstream would question them on this. Chomsky and Finkelstein would, but they’re on the fringe. Carter’s book, and then the MW book really brought the leftwing critique of Israel to the attention of the mainstream–that’s why they (both Carter and MW) were subjected to so much abuse when their books came out. They were breaking taboos, Carter by bringing the apartheid comparison into the mainstream, and M & W by pointing out how ridiculously biased our politicians are on the subject and why that was the case.

        As for “suppressing free speech”, the Lobby doesn’t have the power to do that. But accusations of anti-semitism are pretty powerful, rightly so. Anyone who really is an anti-semite should be called out. But that also means people can use the term to suppress perfectly valid criticism of both Israel and its lobby.

        As for America’s “true interests”, as a lefty I mostly avoid that phrase because the interests of some Americans aren’t necessarily the same as the interests of others. That’s true even among elites. I also avoid getting too deep into the perennial nasty debate between the Blankfort and the Chomsky advocates about why the US supports Israel. What is clear is that the Israel Lobby has pushed the US government to support Israel no matter what Israel does, and this probably isn’t good for Israelis in the long run or for us, but the most important point is that it means we are partly responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinians.

      • Richard Witty
        September 18, 2011, 10:24 pm

        Its true, I’ve been using commas today to indicate a voice, rather than a direct quote.

        Please forgive me that lapse.

        The point remains though. Its a point directed to Phil’s argument, moreso than Donald.

      • ToivoS
        September 19, 2011, 1:57 am

        RW try’s to explain: Its true, I’ve been using commas today to indicate a voice, rather than a direct quote.

        Total BS RW. You used direct quotes telling us what Donald said. It was totally wrong. You made it up completely. You are a fabricator. What is this “comma” nonsense. Fess up bud, you are, how to say this politely, a liar.

      • thankgodimatheist
        September 19, 2011, 6:22 am

        ““Edge” means the knife – part, the damaging part, the “damaging part of their conclusion was the extension of an observation into a contempt, a conspiracy, an active urging of suppression”.”

        If this is what you meant why didn’t you extend its edge in the first place and save us the trouble in case we cared?

    • libra
      September 18, 2011, 3:21 pm

      Richard, did you even read the title of Friedman’s article?

      “Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone”

      Rather than deal with that reality, far better to criticise Phil over some irrelevant fixation of yours using your own uniquely impenetrable version of the English language.

    • Shingo
      September 18, 2011, 5:46 pm

      Sadly, the aspects that were positive were your interpretation of his advocacy for the Walt/Mearsheimer hypothesis, with no distinction between the minimalist and non-dramatic observation of political factors at play in their work and the maximalist conspiratorial.

      James North, if you’re around, we need you to translate this from Wittish into English.

  5. Dan Crowther
    September 18, 2011, 1:35 pm

    It’s becoming acceptable to talk about the Lobby, because the Lobby has done its job. It has successfully painted the US into a corner and the US will have to jump off the cliff with Israel.

    Any lobbying effort is a scheme to limit the choices of the lobbied. We have reached that point with the Israel Lobby and the US government. The governments only options are to support Israel now and provide weapons and cover for their upcoming crimes – or, tell the American people that they have been lying to them for almost 70 years. I dont see the latter happening.

    • Sand
      September 18, 2011, 2:28 pm

      “…It’s becoming acceptable to talk about the Lobby, because the Lobby has done its job. It has successfully painted the US into a corner and the US will have to jump off the cliff with Israel…”

      It’s looking bad I must admit. Most Americans are in the dark about the I-Lobby, as well as what the Democratic Party has become, but overseas — the US is really looking like Israel’s puppet — which is just what Netanyahu wants it to look like.

      “…Any lobbying effort is a scheme to limit the choices of the lobbied…”

      I agree, but let’s look at our options seriously — both political parties (candidate) nomination process has been stitched up by the I-Lobby. E.g. Shelley Berkley as our next choice for a Democratic Senator — I feel sick. I dread to think who they’re thinking of to replace Lieberman – or is that yet another seat they are just going to hand over to the Republicans?

    • lysias
      September 18, 2011, 2:44 pm

      It has only painted the U.S. into a corner because our politicians are people of defective character who put being re-elected above the national interest or common morality.

      Of course, the fact that our politicians are people of this kind demonstrates that our method of choosing leaders is defective.

      • Dan Crowther
        September 18, 2011, 3:27 pm

        Sand and Lysias,

        In the words of the immortal George Carlin, “Forget about the politicians, they are only there to give you the idea that you have a choice……you dont, you have no choice – they own you.”

    • Charon
      September 18, 2011, 4:27 pm

      They’ll never tell the American people they have been lied too. Eventually the truth will come out anyways somehow. History is very difficult, if impossible, to re-write even given facts. For example, recent evidence conclusively refutes the conclusion to the 9/11 anthrax case. One of the victims sued to have it re-opened and it didn’t go anywhere. The official response from the Obama administration basically said “we’re sorry for what happened, but the public won’t trust us if we re-examine it so we’re not going to”

      If the US had the guts, they would approve Palestinian statehood next week. Don’t stall it, don’t veto, don’t even abstain. Approve it. Israel will respond to that as an act of war and all heck will break loose. If such a thing were to happen, the Israel-firsters would be silenced. The media would reverse their stance and demonize Israel. That’s all it takes. The house of cards would collapse. The lobby would be powerless. We don’t have to jump off that cliff with them, it is just more likely that we will to avoid a worst case scenario. A worst case scenario involving chemical weapons on Palestinians, nuking Iran, nuking Syria, nuking Turkey, and nuking our military bases if we try to stop them.

  6. annie
    September 18, 2011, 1:52 pm

    well this is funny. someone has highlighted this friedman column in a diary over @ dkos and amazingly skipped the zinger paragraph in phil’s first blockquote. wonders never cease.

  7. POA
    September 18, 2011, 2:14 pm

    Actually, if I had to label the hostages, it would be members of Congress and the State Department. I believe large numbers of them would not be on board with Israel and AIPAC if it was possible to advance politically without paying homage to the lobby and its taskmaster, Israel.

    But Obama??? A “hostage”??? Hardly. The term “hostage” implies an unwillingness, a forced captivity. Niether Obama, nor his Secretary of State, nor his Ambassador to Israel, are “unwilling” to prostitute themselves to whatever lobby, policy, or country that is willing to sponsor and subsidize their political ambitions.

    Obama isn’t a hostage, he’s a whore. There’s a huge difference. And AIPAC is simply his pimp, negotiating the terms with his trick, Israel.

    But hey, his Secretary of State is willing to crawl in the sack with this client, free of charge. And Israel keeps coming back for more.

    • Sand
      September 18, 2011, 2:59 pm

      “…Actually, if I had to label the hostages, it would be members of Congress and the State Department. I believe large numbers of them would not be on board with Israel and AIPAC if it was possible to advance politically without paying homage to the lobby and its taskmaster, Israel…”

      I think with the passage of time most of the top-tier careerists at the State Department who are not Zionists have been purged out of the department. Especially with what seems the inclusion of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) — brought in as in-house watchdog?

      >> “..The Office To Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism only being a “satellite office” of the State Dept. under Bush, but is now an integral part of the Hillary State Dept. on the 7th floor says Hannah Rosenthal, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. U.S. Department of State. also most notably former head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) from 2000-2005..” <<

      Also remembering this story back in 2010:

      Hostage to Events: In an exclusive interview, the State Department’s leading Iran expert discusses his *resignation* and why the Islamic Republic and the United States keep on talking past each other. Foreign Policy: Barbara Slavin [7/27/10]
      link to foreignpolicy.com

      John Limbert: “…A number of players with more skeptical views about the prospect of rapprochement with Tehran such as White House aide Dennis Ross and nonproliferation experts like Robert Einhorn and Gary Samore — appear to be driving U.S. policy now, and the president himself blames the Iranian government for failing to respond to his outreach…”

      “…Limbert, a scholar of Persian history and poetry and former Peace Corps worker in Iran who is fluent in Farsi and whose wife, Parvaneh, is Iranian, wrote a book about how to negotiate with Iran for the U.S. Institute of Peace. He is also the only American official who has met Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — during the hostage crisis before Khamenei became Iran’s president and then supreme leader…”

      His replacement: — “[Philo] Dibble to replace Limbert as State Department Iran official Foreign Policy: Josh Rogin [7/29/10]. “…According to his State Department bio, he was previously a DAS in NEA from 2003 to 2005, although he didn’t deal with Iran specifically…”

      A guy definitely in the vein of Dennis Ross. Example, on what he’s been churning out on the Iran desk:

      May 11, 2011 [PDF]
      link to foreign.senate.gov

    • seafoid
      September 18, 2011, 4:35 pm

      “Obama isn’t a hostage, he’s a whore.”

      It won’t be hopey changey for the 2012 reelection bid. I wonder what spin they’ll come up with.

  8. eGuard
    September 18, 2011, 2:44 pm

    And so timely, Friedman is.

    His “I told you so”-insurance. Could not be one week later could it. Why did not he warn us and them some time earlier?

  9. lysias
    September 18, 2011, 3:21 pm

    Meanwhile today’s Washington Post has an op ed piece in which Morton Abramowitz (former U.S. ambassador to Turkey) and Henri Barkey (professor of international relations at Lehigh University) call on the U.S. to support Israel against Turkey’s navy with ships of the Sixth Fleet. Obama must deal with Turkey-Israel crisis:

    Obama’s meeting with Erdogan on Tuesday is crucial. He can take a few important steps. He should immediately deploy 6th Fleet ships from Norfolk to the Eastern Mediterranean to signal that the United States will not tolerate even inadvertent naval clashes. He needs to make clear to Erdogan that the United States will not side with Turkey against Israel and that Turkey’s current strategy risks undermining regional stability.

    And why? Just because the Israel lobby’s power makes it politically impossible to do anything else:

    Washington is caught between two longtime allies. It cannot deal with the Israelis and Turks separately. Inaction is not a real option, as Israel could become a significant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, especially if the United States is defeated in its opposition to a General Assembly vote to create a Palestinian state. The situation will generate concern on Capitol Hill and give Republicans another opportunity to attack Obama for not defending American interests and Israel.

  10. seethelight
    September 18, 2011, 3:26 pm

    Poor Tom Friedman; so soon old and too late smart, as the Amish saying goes.

    Oscar Wilde probably had someone like Friedman in mind when he said: “the man states the obvious with such a sense of discovery.”

    • mudder
      September 18, 2011, 11:21 pm

      So true. Friedman blathers the obvious, only slanted to his views. Until he finds those WMDs in Iraq, it is best to ignore him.

  11. American
    September 18, 2011, 6:11 pm

    I can’t get as excited as Phil about this Friedman column.

    Friedman still writes for Israel and for those to whom Israel is their most important issue.
    So he mentions ‘the Lobby”, …congratulations…. but most of his readership already knows about the Lobby.
    And then he proceeds to trash Turkey and Egypt and blame them for conditions as ‘dark forces”.
    As he criticizes Netanyahu he pretends Israel was somehow intrinsically different, or under other leaders didn’t have the same agenda it has today.
    It wasn’t.

    Doesn’t do it for me. I think most people are tired of the sob story about poor Israel killing itself. But I guess some acknowledge is better than none.

    • RoHa
      September 18, 2011, 9:45 pm

      ‘And then he proceeds to trash Turkey and Egypt and blame them for conditions as ‘dark forces”.’

      So is Erdogan Darth Vader or is he Voldemort?

      • American
        September 18, 2011, 11:24 pm

        Maybe Erdogan is ‘V for Vengence’.
        Maybe a million Erdogan masks will go forth in the ME.

      • mudder
        September 18, 2011, 11:32 pm

        Ha! Friedman is Frodo Baggins. Erdogan is Dark Lord Sauron. Obama, of course, is the dwarf.

  12. Simone Daud
    September 18, 2011, 6:46 pm

    I think that it is very important that this kind of language regarding AIPAC and other lobbies become acceptable in polite company, and in public advocacy.

    This article by Friedman is kind off useful now from a pedagogical point of few. But its usefulness in public advocacy will be far more pronounces by the end of this week when the Palestinian UN bid fails it.

  13. hophmi
    September 18, 2011, 7:51 pm

    Oh Phil, why do you wallow in myth? There is nothing whatsoever new here. You’ve told yourself that the NY Times and the MSM never write about “the Lobby” so many times that you actually believe it. Tom Friedman has talked about all of this before. He is a Labor Zionist, always been critical of the right in Israel, always will be.

    And as usual, you take one line out of a long op-ed that focuses on the difficult strategic atmosphere Israel finds itself in and you make it look like Tom Friedman is saying something new. Friedman trope is as old as yours.

  14. santiphap
    September 18, 2011, 8:03 pm

    While Friedman can see the inevitability of the bleak future for the continued Israeli overlordship of Palestine and its one-sided relationship with the United States, he remains maddeningly silent when it comes to Israeli mendacity and duplicity with respect to an elongated, so-called peace process that is a cover for an illegal, expansionist land grab. Nor does he mention the lessons learned from the American civil rights struggle and the rule of law (a perspective and starting position that we as Americans speak from) that had to encompass not only the de jure impact of racist laws and policies but its maddening and pernicious de facto cousin. Now that Friedman has addressed the strategic and tactical aspects in this his most recent column, perhaps he’ll address the immorality of the Israeli position in a future column.

  15. MRW
    September 18, 2011, 9:20 pm

    Check the NYT comments. America is miles, miles ahead of the NYT.

    The comments aren’t even angry, just an ennui with Israel and the issue taking up so much oxygen we need for our own domestic problems.

    I’m telling you: contempt is next.

    • Philip Weiss
      September 18, 2011, 9:28 pm

      yes m i am about to do post on this. it’s pretty astonishing.

      • Shingo
        September 18, 2011, 9:38 pm

        Philip and MRW,

        Check out the comments here in response to Koch’s pro Israeli op-ed. Very similar responses.

        link to nydailynews.com

      • Whizdom
        September 18, 2011, 10:17 pm

        Astonishing, 10/10 comments critical of Koch. None in support.

      • American
        September 18, 2011, 11:18 pm

        I have seen the same comments and even worse in the least likely places , CSMonitor, The Economist, WSJ– for a long time now.
        One reason why every time I hear some Israeli mouth piece go on and on about how the American public supports Israel I know they know they are lying thru their teeth and just trying to repeat the lie enough so someone will believe it.

        The thing about it is, these critics aren’t your run of the mill anti semitic Stormfront types just out to bash Jews, they are talking from a very angry and disgusted domestic and foreign policy political view about Israel and those who support it in the US.

      • MRW
        September 19, 2011, 1:00 am

        You’re right. Shingo. Wow. The cap’s off this bottle.

        Oh god, I’m praying Bibi goes to Brooklyn. And Geller shows up (to remind everyone of Norway). And “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” Koch struts his Obama has to vote for Israel stuff. And Fox News films it, then broadcasts it all across the nation.

    • American
      September 18, 2011, 10:52 pm

      “I’m telling you: contempt is next”

      I don’t know if you would call it contempt but here’s an example of small town USA opinion on Israel in the comments section of a small W. Va. newpaper. I look at small town papers regularly just to see what’s being said about certain things. Most typical comments below were “Didn’t take him long to get bought”(talking about McKinley’s visit to Israel) and “People are seeing Israel for what it is now”. You can see the same line of comments on Israel in papers from the Southern Pines in NC to Akin SC to Springfield Mo. to Stuart Va..
      Washington may not give a damn what anyone’s opinions are as the State Dept spokeman said, but the non establishment rabble out in the real world is not as stupid as they think.

      link to news-register.net

      • annie
        September 19, 2011, 12:55 am

        thanks american, i’ll check out your link.

      • MRW
        September 19, 2011, 1:21 am

        That’s military troops country, American. Wheeling, W. VA. :0)

Leave a Reply