Friedman line, ‘Congress is bought and paid for by Israel lobby,’ is shot heard round the world

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman, photo by Josh Haner

The last time Tom Friedman shocked the American Jewish community was in 1982 when he said that Israel’s bombardment of Beirut was “indiscriminate.” The word was disputed by his copy editors, but Friedman prevailed, and it made his career. The ponderous pontiff has now outdone himself with his laser shot at the Israel lobby in yesterday’s column, writing the “standing ovation [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby”

The line is a shot heard round the world. Max Blumenthal has some of the hysterical responses here, I’m hopping on his list.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post says the line has stirred a “firestorm.

You see, in Friedman’s eyes, the entire U.S. Congress is bought and paid for by a cabal of Jews.

I also received this from Cong. Steve Rothman’s office:

 in the New York Times this morning: Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish State of Israel, in his New York Times opinion piece today, is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the US. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the US-Israel relationship and its American supporters. I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology.

Elliott Abrams also demands an apology, to Congress. His analysis:

Members of Congress in a country that is two percent Jewish stand to applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu because they, like their constituents, support Israel and want America to support Israel. Many of those standing and cheering were from districts where there are no Jews or a handful of Jews, and where Evangelical churches form the strongest base of support for the Jewish state. Now perhaps Mr. Friedman means those churches when he refers so nastily to the “Jewish Lobby,” but I doubt it.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary lumps Friedman with anti-Semites:

To make such an assertion is not, as Friedman would have it, an expression of friendly concern, but a blow intended to delegitimize both the country and those who are devoted to its survival…. It is one thing for open Israel and Jew-haters to speak in this manner. For a writer such as Friedman–who regularly trumpets both his Jewish identity and his wish to be considered a friend of the Jewish state–to use such arguments is evidence of the depths to which opponents of both Israel’s government and its supporters will sink in order to undermine the alliance.

And Jim Lobe has this excellent response to the critics, including Abrams, here, on the question of what makes up the lobby, Christians or Jews. Excerpt:

And then Abrams writes something truly bizarre and, I think, quite dishonest. Having made his point about Christian support for Israel, he states

“Now perhaps Mr. Friedman means those churches when he refers so nastily to the ‘Jewish Lobby,’ but I doubt it. I think we all know what he means, and that is why he should withdraw the ugly remark fast.”

I’ve searched Friedman’s column several times and have yet to find the phrase “Jewish Lobby”. And, of course, the implication that he makes from this phrase which Friedman never wrote — “we all know what that means” — is much nastier than anything in the op-ed. If, after all, Friedman had used “Jewish Lobby,” he could be depicted as an anti-Semite (or a self-hater), but he didn’t use that phrase. He used the phrase “Israel lobby”, which, as stressed by Walt and Mearsheimer, includes some Jews and well as some non-Jews, including and especially Christian Zionists (an unfortunate number of whom are classically anti-Semitic in their views of Jews, but, as Irving Kristol pointed out 30 years ago, “it’s their theology, but it’s our Israel.”).

And while Abrams is right that polls of U.S. public opinion have long shown greater sympathy for Israel than the Palestinians, they have also shown time after time that majorities — and quite large majorities at that — prefer the U.S. to act as an honest broker between the two parties rather than to side with one or the other. In a comprehensive survey put out by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2010, for example, two-thirds of all respondents, including nearly half of all Republicans, took that position. An August, 2011, poll by Shibley Telhami and the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 61 percent of U.S. respondents said they believed the U.S. should not take either side. Abrams, of course, knows this very well, but it wouldn’t help his argument to say so.

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