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‘NYT’ touts an Israel apologist’s book

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The New York Times has run a glowing review of Matti (Israel is a tiny village on the side of a volcano”) Friedman’s new book by Jennifer Senior. Barbara Erickson published a critique of the Times review on the site, TimesWarp, and gave us permission to rerun it. –Editor.

The New York Times this week touts Israeli-Canadian writer Matti Friedman‘s book, a war memoir and military analysis based partly on the author’s experience in southern Lebanon in 1998. The reviewer, Jennifer Senior, finds it all without blemish, calling the work “top-notch,” “persuasive” and “elegantly written.”

We learn that Friedman was stationed in a military outpost during the 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, that it was a dangerous place for Israeli soldiers, that Hezbollah was gaining in strength and that Israeli troops struggled to avoid the mistakes commonly made in the fog of war.

There is much to question in the way Senior puts forth the context of the conflict—the conflation of Hezbollah with ISIS, for instance, and the emphasis on Israeli losses over the far more numerous Lebanese casualties—but a more fundamental issue here is the fact that the Times has chosen to highlight this particular author.

Friedman is an apologist for Israel and has made some extreme statements. At the end of the 2014 war on Gaza, for instance, he wrote that criticism of Israel revealed “a hostile obsession with Jews” and added, “Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality.”

Two months later Friedman wrote in The Atlantic that a number of journalists had the Gaza war story wrong because many were cozy with humanitarian aid workers who had bought into the Palestinian narrative over the Israeli one. The reporters had been “co-opted by Hamas,” he wrote, and they were prone to “a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills.”

In her review, Senior mentions these two articles, saying that they generated “a small tempest of controversy,” which was mitigated by Friedman’s “temperate and careful” voice. It is difficult to understand how his comments can be taken as temperate or careful, however. They seem strangely deluded. Hamas, for instance, has received almost universally bad press in the mainstream media.

With Friedman’s tendency to find virulent anti-Semitism lurking in every critique of Israel, it is also odd that Senior takes his claims that Lebanese “loathe Jews” at face value. She fails to question this conclusion even though he reports that Lebanese everywhere extended him a warm welcome.

Most egregious of all is the fact that the Times has ignored a number of excellent books by Jewish American and Jewish Israeli writers who are critical of Israel, while it has promoted Friedman’s book and others with a similar pro-Israel view, such as Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The aim, it seems, is to provide the facade of a united Jewish front in favor of Israel.

Here are a few of the many worthy Jewish authors writing about Israel and Palestine who have been snubbed by the Times:

  • Max Blumenthal, the author of Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013), which received the 2014 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Notable Book Award. It chronicles the Israel lurch to the far right and its crackdown on dissent. He also wrote The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015), a devastating and heartbreaking account of the 2014 attacks on the enclave.
  • Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book reveals how he liberated himself from his racist upbringing and discovered the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation.
  • Nurit Peled Elhanan, the sister of Miko and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her book, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education (2011), exposes the profound racism in Israeli school curricula.
  • Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish-American Woman in the Occupied Territories (2007, updated in 2014). Anna discovered that her past views of Israel were wrong during a visit to Palestine and became a committed activist on behalf of ending the occupation.
  • Jeff Halper, author of An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (2008) and War Against the People: Israel, Palestine and Global Pacification (2015). Halper has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes.
  • Ilan Pappe, historian author of numerous books on Israel and Palestine, most notably The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), which describes events during the 1947-48 war that left some 750,000 Palestinians exiled from their homes. Pappe was forced to leave Israel after frequent death threats and now teaches at Exeter University in England.

And then there is Michael Chabon, the author of numerous books on Jewish life and the recipient of as many honors. He recently announced that he is contributing a chapter to an anthology of 24 essays by leading authors writing on the occupation of Palestine. After visiting the West Bank, Chabon stated in an interview with the Jewish newspaper Forward that the situation in occupied Hebron was “the most grievous injustice that I have ever seen in my life.”

The New York Times listed Chabon’s novel Telegraph Avenue as a Notable Book of 2012, and his name has appeared often in its pages. It will be worth noting what kind of attention (if any) the coming book and its authors receive in the newspaper. It is not impossible that Chabon will soon join those Jewish writers meticulously ostracized from the pages of the Times for betraying the accepted boundaries of commentary on Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Barbara Erickson is a retired journalist living in Berkeley, California and a member of Friends of Sabeel-North America and Jewish Voice for Peace. She is the founder of TimesWarp, a blog that focusses on NY Times coverage of Palestine-Israel.

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10 Responses

  1. a blah chick on April 28, 2016, 12:27 pm

    “Israel is a tiny village on the side of a volcano”

    Really? And who told them to go plant themselves on the side of a volcano in the first place?

    • US Citizen on April 28, 2016, 3:10 pm

      This is a great question. so succinct. Thank you.

    • pabelmont on April 28, 2016, 5:35 pm

      ABC nailed it.

      And it is the USA’s job (and American Jews too, no doubt) to protect that “tiny village” and prevent it coming to harm when the volcano explodes!

  2. Ossinev on April 28, 2016, 1:06 pm

    WTF is an Israeli – Canadian. He is a Canadian who decided that despite the blessings heaped upon him and his family through being born and living in a great democracy his real duty was to go and join fellow members of his religious cult in their colony in the Levant as their tiny little weak but moral project is beleaguered on all sides by the horrendously all powerful local natives. No doubt he has kept hold of his Canadian citizenship and passport just in case the going gets tough or he just gets plain bored with the “unhappy and confusing reality” or freaked out with the embarrassing religious zealotry sprouting like rampant weeds all around him.

    Hypocritical P.O.S. = exactly the type of JSIL apologist which the NYT embraces.

    • US Citizen on April 28, 2016, 3:14 pm

      Another great response. To bad you can’t respond directly to his face. He and they always seem so smug. It beggers the mind that these fools just don’t get it and shows just how myopic and stupid they all are, especially the NYTs.

  3. pabelmont on April 28, 2016, 1:43 pm

    In his excellent review of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) “Spain In Our Hearts”, Adam Hochschild reports how a representative of Stalin in Republican (democratic, non-Franco, anti-fascist) Spain berated a newspaper reporter who told a (damaging) truth about the Republican forces:

    Yes, Koltsev answered cuttingly, those are the facts. How extraordinarily observant and truthful you are — You’ve done more harm than thirty British M.P.’s working for Franco. And then you expect me to shake hands with you. * * * You,as the French say, have lost an excellent opportunity to keep your mouth shut. // Koltsev and [Claud] Cockburn insisted that the duty of a committed journalist was to write whatever was necessary to win the war.

    And the NYT, which clearly adopts the Stalinist wisdom, regards itself, never doubt it, as “at war”.

  4. eljay on April 28, 2016, 2:03 pm

    … Israeli-Canadian writer Matti Friedman …

    According to Wiki:

    Friedman was born in Canada and grew up in Toronto. In 1995, he made aliyah to Israel and now he lives in Jerusalem.

    Sounds like he’s a Canadian-Israeli who is partaking in the unjust and immoral occupation and colonization of the Free City of Jerusalem.

  5. LoveIsrael on April 29, 2016, 9:38 am

    What a magnificent argument: The NYT is supporting this one Jew’s pro Israel book but look at how many books by Jewish authors who are critical of Israel they could have reviewed. I say let’s take that a step further. Let’s take a look at some of the many Arabs who support Israel. Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community supports Israel’s claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza and Jerusalem and opposes terrorism. Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a Muslim scholar, understands the text of the Qur’an to award the Holy Land to the Jews for all time, and he holds that Muslims can be convinced of this interpretation. Nemat Sadat, who left Islam the religion of his youth because of the hatred and persecution of gays in Muslim states writes that Israel should be awarded the Nobel Prize. Mohamed “Ed” Husain condemns terrorism and international sanctions of Israel. Tawfik Hamid, a self-described former member of the militant al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, writes that according to the Qur’an, God gave the Israelites the land of Israel as their promised land (Quran 17:104: And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel, “Dwell securely in the land of promise”). He explains the Quran went even further to consider the Promised Land as the permanent inheritance for the Israelites (26:59) “Thus it was, but we made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things (the Promised Land)” [10] He continued by saying, “No Muslim has the right to interfere with the gathering of the Jews in Israel, as this is the will of God himself” And just to match your six anti Israel Jews, Zuhdi Jasser is a strong supporter of Israel and condemns Hamas as well as the many repressive Arab governments in the Middle East. Thank you.

  6. James Canning on April 29, 2016, 12:48 pm

    Some critics of Israel’s insane illegal colonization programme in the occupied West Bank indeed are “anti-Semitic”. Others critics of this illegal programme are supporters of Israel.

  7. rosross on April 29, 2016, 8:25 pm

    Israel is not a ‘tiny village on the side of a volcano’ Israel is a colonial venture founded in egregious religious bigotry, so backward it can never have a place in a civilized world, where the indigenous people of the land European Zionists have colonised are treated as sub-human and slaughtered, men, women and children, if they dare to resist the vicious and murderous Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    Never let facts get in the way of propaganda is fascist Israel’s catch-cry.

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