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Tom Friedman needs to get an inoculation (attacking BDS) before he can say how bad Israel is

Today Thomas Friedman weighs in on the political crisis in Israel, and echoes the apocalyptic view of Haaretz writers and liberal Zionists; Israel is destroying itself, and its future as a Jewish state is at risk. Friedman makes only one reference to Israel’s Jewishness in the article and it’s negative:

Meanwhile, Israel sinks ever deeper into a de facto binational state controlled by Jewish extremists.

Friedman’s conclusion is being widely quoted. “For those of us who care about Israel’s future, this is a dark hour,” he writes.

It is just a matter of hours before J Street champions this article’s headline, “Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine,” as evidence of the peril that Israel is in as the homeland of the Jewish people — an alarm to an American Jewish audience that seems to be doing just fine as a minority in the U.S.

The first thing that must be said about Friedman’s column is that it is based entirely on reports from Israel, chiefly Haaretz, and a discussion with Moshe Halbertal of Hebrew University. Friedman can’t refer to the New York Times coverage of the crisis because the Times has booted this story. It has done little reporting on the murdering medic, Elor Azarya, whose shooting of a wounded Palestinian suspect captured on video on March 24 set off the crisis. It covered up the warnings of creeping fascism from former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and deputy chief of staff Yair Golan. It has shown little interest in documenting the extremism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice as Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Friedman’s column is very good on all these factual points. Though he leaves out the idea of a possible military coup, he does cite Lieberman’s idea of bombing the Aswan dam.

The second thing about this column is that it is very unfortunate that in order to maintain his establishment credentials and speak plausibly to Washington, Friedman must begin by getting an inoculation for his criticism of Israel by maligning BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Friedman states in his second sentence that the BDS campaign “is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique.”

That’s absurd, and a sad reflection on the endurance of the Israel lobby inside the establishment. BDS has drawn the support of many progressive organizations and leaders around the world because it represents the most effective non-violent means of pressuring Israel to change its behavior. If that means the end of Israel as a Jewish state — well, what does “Jewish state” mean anyway, when fully half the population under the government’s control isn’t Jewish? BDS supporters believe in “democracy.”

Friedman’s smear is obviously the establishment litmus test these days. Hillary Clinton says BDS is bad. So does President Obama, so does the French prime minister. But that will soon change. As Israel sinks further into its existential identity crisis, the few remaining liberals among the Jewish elites there will turn desperately to the world to pressure Israel, as Gideon Levy and Larry Derfner have already done. That pressure means boycott, divestment and sanctions. And if it also means the end of Israel as a Jewish state, that prospect will by then no longer be tragic to realistic Americans, including Friedman, who have glimpsed the paranoid Sparta that the Jewish democracy has produced.

James North and Philip Weiss

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22 Responses

  1. Mike Hite on May 25, 2016, 2:04 pm

    I wish someone in mainstream US media would write an article like this.

    Netanyahu steered US toward war with Iran – the result is a deal he hates

    Netanyahu preferred US military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, over Israeli ones, from the outset. His calculus was that the key fear that could drive the US debate to support military strikes on Iran was the timeline of Iran’s nuclear program — not Tehran’s support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Netanyahu exaggerated the imminent nuclear threat as much as possible. Remember how many times, over the years, he cited Iran as being only six months away from a bomb? He gave the impression that Israel was prepared to take matters into its own hands by striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, even without US backing. Initially, however, most analysts, including US officials, believed he was simply bluffing.

  2. annie on May 25, 2016, 2:10 pm

    he’s a coward for opening with a figleaf to israel’s big defenders. bds has nothing to do w/this story but he thinks it gives him some creds or something. sorry tom, trains left the station and there’s no turning back.

    • pabelmont on May 25, 2016, 3:41 pm

      poor boy, gotta show his credentials, gotta stay a member of the club, gotta protect clinton (and attack sanders) — even if doing so also protects the donald. sigh.

      circle the wagons, big-zion! tell all the boys that they gotta shape up or ship out. lotta power, that big-zion has.

      • jd65 on May 26, 2016, 11:04 am

        Yeah, pablemont. His cred is beyond question. In my mind, he’s basically of a piece w/ Brooks, Remnick, Beinart, etc. But Friedman is much more annoyingly glib to my mind. He’s also a much lazier pedestrian writer.

        I’ve likely posted this here before, but whenever Friedman comes up, I like sharing a couple of my favorite quotes on the man:

        Lawyer, writer for The Guardian newspaper and author Glenn Greenwald wrote this of Friedman’s writing:

        “He literally negates his own principal claim… in the very same column in which he advances it… But incoherence is the least notable aspect of this column.

        This is to say nothing of the warped imagery Friedman often uses of the invading U.S. as a “midwife” — as though Muslim countries are our little babies who need and pray for our parental imperial guidance out of their primitive wombs.

        If I had to pick just a single fact that most powerfully reflects the nature of America’s political and media class in order to explain the cause of the nation’s imperial decline, it would be that, in those classes, Tom Friedman is the country’s most influential and most decorated ‘foreign policy expert.’”

        And this from Rolling Stone’s political writer/reporter Matt Taibbi:

        “…This is Friedman’s life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee’s

[Re: Friedman’s method of creating an argument or making a point]: “It’s crazy, a game of Scrabble where the words don’t have to connect on the board, or a mathematician coming up with the equation A B -3X = Swedish girls like chocolate.”

    • genesto on May 26, 2016, 1:36 pm

      Hey, have a little sympathy for old Tommy Boy. He’ s just trying to come to grips with the fact that he has become totally irrelevant in the conversation. His inflated ego just can’t handle it!

  3. ckg on May 25, 2016, 3:41 pm

    You can always count on the Readers’ Picks comments to reveal the bias of the NYT on I/P. Here is the #1 Readers’ Picks comment:

    Ray Leonard
    Lancaster Pa 10 hours ago
    B.D.S protests seek to put economic pressure on Israel because moral arguments fail to persuade their leaders. It does not seek to destroy Israel, and once and for all stop conflating criticism with intent to destroy Israel. Economic sanctions work. It’s time the US government put real pressure on Israel to end its universally recognized illegal occupation of Palestine.

  4. Kay24 on May 25, 2016, 3:44 pm

    Unfortunately, his is one who is torn between reality and supporting a nation he is told he must protect (maybe from his young days). He is intelligent enough to realize what Israel is, and that what they are doing (occupation and land grabs) is WRONG. However, he knows that he cannot openly criticize it because he will either be attacked by angry zionists in the US, or get the cold shoulder from the media. He is yet another zionist tool in the punditry.

    One day one of them may grow a spine.

    • pabelmont on May 25, 2016, 9:17 pm

      For perspective, though, recall that the USA has supported (and in many cases installed) dictators all over the world. USA F/P is not all nice, the people we deal with are not all nice, and Friedman knows that. The people who are “players” are used to this and “inoculated” against bad feelings because of it. Think of Clinton admiring Kissinger. Makes a sort of sense.

      Israel is different in a way, in that it is “supposed” to be nice, moral — but isn’t. A sort of orphan (holocaust) who then killed his parents (old-fashioned Judaism & Palestinians) ??

      • Kay24 on May 29, 2016, 6:38 am

        Israel is devious, it pretends it is a victim, to justify its war crimes, and an on going occupation.
        It also steals land every time those they occupy dares to violently protest their occupation.

        Master plan.

  5. Mike Hite on May 25, 2016, 4:32 pm

    Article at the Forward by Gregg Roman the director of Middle East Forum, former party official in Yisrael Beytenu and served as an adviser in the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Roman states in his article that Lieberman is just what Israel needs right now.

  6. amigo on May 25, 2016, 6:23 pm

    This isn,t much but it is notable.

    “U.S. Says Israel’s New Government Raises ‘Legitimate Questions’

    In a very laconic statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman says Israeli coalition will be judged by its actions.

    Just hours after the signing of an agreement between the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, the U.S. responded to the expanding of Israel’s governing coalition. In a very laconic statement, the State Department said that the makeup of the new coalition raises questions about the direction of Israeli policy.”

    “We have also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history and we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in … and what kind of policies it may adopt.”
    read more:

    Btw , no paywall.

    • traintosiberia on May 26, 2016, 8:58 am

      Obama administration might as well can use this development to remind American citizens s that the advisers inserting themselves in the last Bush administrations were not only against Oslo peace process ,they actually worked towards dismantling the peace process .Obama administration as a parting shot to the GOP and Clinton type Democrat could as well remind the voters that the potential of a similar coup hasn’t diminished but remains very much a possibility

      The Neocon-Liberal Hawk Convergence is Worse Than I Thought)

      One hopes that Bernie supporters are reading the old and the new position papers of the neocons

  7. JWalters on May 25, 2016, 7:27 pm

    It seems to me Friedman’s title, being Friedman’s, and in the NYT, is an indicator of a shifting tide in the national discussion. It implicitly acknowledges a single state, and it acknowledges the irrational side of Israeli politics in the driver’s seat. I agree his absurd charge against BDS is probably a “balancing” act necessary to retain his perch in the establishment. But it’s hard to believe he didn’t have the approval of somebody powerful in the control room. Nothing to celebrate yet, but a hopeful sign. Perhaps some people at the Times are starting to tire of looking foolish on this whole story.

    • pabelmont on May 25, 2016, 9:26 pm

      JWalters: “it’s hard to believe he didn’t have the approval of somebody powerful in the control room.” Agreed.

      Some people think that NYT is a sort of meritocracy in which, for whatever reason, a lot of Zionists have prominent positions as editorialists and reporters, and their personal bias is what causes their writing to express bias (Zionism); personal bias rather than top-down direction. I am sure, however, that there is also top-down direction or pressure, quite possibly implicit, as well as personal bias, and although Friedman is “big” enough to get away with what he wrote — he probably had permission.

  8. wondering jew on May 25, 2016, 9:04 pm

    Talk of a military coup is not exactly nonsense, but not exactly sense either. Let us conjure scenarios of military vs civilian conflict. A defense ministry decision to stop the prosecution of azaria? This is really unlikely. A defense ministry decision to reoccupy gaza? That won’t happen under bibi’s current administration. An attack on iran? Didn’t someone insist on widening the circle of deciders? Wasn’t that reported as an important element in the nonattack?
    There was a type of coup in 67 when the army wanted war and eshkol counseled patience and he was forced to bring dayan into his cabinet.
    Floating the phrase military coup without any history is superficial.

  9. traintosiberia on May 26, 2016, 8:47 am

    If it were not BDS,something else would have supplied Friedman with an excuse like this one-Israel lives in a bad neighborhood ,or this – surrounding countries are crumbling and failing or the terrorists might soon set their eyes on Israel or Iran still rattling its sabre ,or even worse like America’s constant criticism of Israeli settlement polices doesn’t provide Israel with sense of security that a democracy needs to flourish

    • John O on May 26, 2016, 9:33 am

      The ‘bad neighborhood’ meme makes me laugh. It begs the question : “Why the +$*& did you set up house there??”

  10. on May 26, 2016, 11:19 am

    BDS as a tool to influence Israel’s policies, although a good start, is a wet noodle, chump change.

    Even if it isn’t realistic to think it will be employed any time soon by the U.S., the ante will have to be upped. The response to so much BDS opposition in the U.S. and in Israel should be: We tried to be reasonable and give you a reality check in a nice way. But I guess you didn’t get the message. Maybe it should have been more unvarnished in the first place.

    Here it is now: No country, even the U.S., has a right to exist. It exists because it has taken steps to protect itself. That’s what the U. S. has done. That’s what Israel should do, instead of hiding behind the U.S. and private supporters like AIPAC and the Israel Lobby.

    Here’s an existential threat to Israel: It has shown for decades it is unreasonable by not solving one of the greatest problems in the Middle East and threats to security worldwide, the Palestinian situation, in a way which recognizes the rights of and protects the Palestinians, thereby working toward Israel’s own long-term viability.

    Israel needs the stick as well as the carrot. Israel is feasting on carrots from the U.S. to the tune of billions and almost unlimited affirmation and media support. They have no incentive to work out a framework for resolution of the conflict, even one which will benefit it in the long run.

    It never will, unless we threaten (and I don’t mean bluff) to cut off most monetary aid, weapons sales, trade and other things until they give the Palestinians their rightful land, including pulling back the settlements. If we could accomplish anything close to that, the Palestinians wouldn’t be a problem and we could both sides transition to mutual reasonable security. I say reasonable because we can’t promise anyone, including our own citizens, total safety.

  11. jahan on May 26, 2016, 1:27 pm

    Two things Israel is a pretend democracy much like that of Iran. It is also a pretend Jewish State. Its values are the antithesis of those of Judaism.

    A state whose foundation is the continual breach of the Covenants, most particularly the 10th, can never ever be a Jewish state in the eyes of God.

  12. Talkback on May 27, 2016, 5:58 am

    In huge blow to Israel, Netherlands declares BDS ‘free speech

    Israel’s imoral attempt to undermine the human right of free speech in the whole world is a case for the UN human rights council.

  13. Ossinev on May 27, 2016, 9:33 am

    From the JP report:
    “In response to the Dutch move, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon lashed back and told The Post that there needed to be limits on the concept of freedom of speech.

    “Once free speech becomes a pretext for allowing hate speech, then it is no longer legitimate,” Nachshon said.

    “The statement of the Dutch Foreign Minister is puzzling and difficult to understand,” he added. “How can someone on the one hand be against hatred and boycott, but on the other hand justify people who advocate this hatred policy under the guise of freedom of speech?”

    Mummy , Mummy they are saying nasty things about me sob sob.

    Absolutely hilarious !

    • Citizen on May 27, 2016, 11:43 pm

      Nachshon obviously has no clue the whole point of free speech law is to allow one to say what the other doesn’t like.

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