Another Israel-related email released yesterday in the Wikileaks flood from the Clinton campaign shows former White House officials, now leaders of an Israel support organization in Jerusalem, discussing the Zionist bona fides of Jewish journalists Tom Friedman and Leon Wieseltier– and what they owe the Jewish state.
The Israel supporters in the email describe New York Times columnist Friedman as a “committed Zionist,” a “Jewish opinion influential,” and a “committed member” of the community who should be kept “inside the tent.” And you thought I talked too much about Jews!
The authors of these views aren’t nobodies. The email discussion was initiated in June 2015 — and ultimately shared with Hillary Clinton’s top foreign policy aide, Jake Sullivan — by Stu Eizenstat, the former deputy secretary of treasury who has served as ambassador to the organized Jewish community for the Clinton campaign. And he included Dennis Ross, the longtime White House peace processor.
Eizenstat and Ross are co-chairs of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem, a pro-Israel organization (which also opposes intermarriage). Eizenstat was alarmed by the news that former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren had harshly attacked journalists Tom Friedman and Leon Wieseltier in his 2015 book for being too critical of Israel. Eizenstat:
I want add the following, based upon Michael Oren’s remarkable attack on Tom Friedman and Leon Wieseltier, saying their criticisms resemble historical hatred of Jews.
1. Israel must NEVER become a partisan issue in the U.S. That is a real risk. Pew surveys indicate a significant drop in support from Democrats. This is NOT anti-Semitism, it is concern with Israeli settlement policies.
2. Likewise, we must NEVER lump in those, like Tom Friedman and Leon Wieseltier, who are committed Zionists, as being somehow the enemy, if they criticize Israeli policies. Israel has a robust democratic dialogue; the Diaspora is entitled to the same.
3. This represents the broader phenomenon of the collapse of the middle, both in US and Israeli politics. Those of us who love Israel and puts its security at the top of their agenda, must be able to find space for reasoned, balanced criticism… [etc]
Dennis Ross chimed in, “I agree with your thoughts.”
I find the attack on Tom and Leon be reprehensible. Your points below are extremely good and right on point.
But Avinoam Bar-Yosef, a former Israeli journalist who is the head of JPPI, begged to differ. He said that Tom Friedman and Wieseltier needed to cut Israel some slack because they are “Jewish opinion influentials.”
No doubt that Tom Friedman and Leon Wieseltier are committed members to the community and they should be encouraged to remain inside the tent… The problem is that many of the Israelis expect that when we are under too many unfair attacks by enemies, Jewish opinion influential like them, should at least show more understanding to the existential pressures we are going thru, and to differentiate between constructive criticism and a double standard approach toward Israel in general (as you and Dennis are expressing regularly). This is sometimes lacking in their writing.
Of course this kind of coercion goes on all the time inside the Israel lobby and the American Jewish community; and so far it’s been effective. American Jews have been led to believe that they hold the breathing tube for Israel, so don’t do anything to hurt us!
It’s rarely talked about in the press though. There has been a lot of talk in the presidential campaign lately about Russian influence over Trump; his former campaign manager Paul Manafort is reported to be under investigation for his ties to Russian businesses. These Clinton emails touch on the closeness of top Democratic officials with Israel; and the emphasis on Jewishness raises the old dual loyalty issue: what do American Jews owe Israel? Ross himself told a private synagogue audience this spring that American Jews “need to be advocates for Israel”– not for Palestinians. And Ross is the guy who was mediating supposed peace agreements!
The characterization of Leon Wieseltier is surely accurate. He speaks at AIPAC Israel lobby events. As for Thomas Friedman, I give him more credit. Friedman began his political life as an Israel booster, giving chalktalks to his classmates in St Louis Park, MN, during the Six Day War. He’s come a long way since; in 2011 saying that Congress is “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” in 2013 saying that George H.W. Bush lost his job by opposing the Israeli settlements; and this year saying the one state era is upon us. Which is not to say that he is not still a committed Zionist. I reached out to Friedman on twitter; haven’t heard from him.
Ross and Eizenstat’s JPPI describes itself in this manner:
The mission of the Institute is to ensure the thriving of the Jewish People and the Jewish civilization by engaging in professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry.
As for Michael Oren’s attack on Friedman and Wieseltier in his book Ally back in June 2015, the story was first in Haaretz.
Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claims that Jewish journalists are largely responsible for American media’s anti-Israel coverage and the “double standard” it applies in its coverage of the Jewish state. Oren also writes that the antagonism towards Netanyahu shown by Jewish journalists such as Thomas Friedman and Leon Wieseltier resembles historic hatred of Jews…
Oren dismisses the claim that “Jews control the media” as an anti-Semitic canard, but then proceeds to lend it credence by writing that it “reflects the disproportionate number – relative to their share of the U.S. population – of Jewish journalists.” He goes on to say that “the presence of so many Jews in print and on screen rarely translates into support for Israel. The opposite is often the case, as some American Jewish journalists flag their Jewishness as a credential for criticizing Israel. ‘I’m Jewish,’ some even seem to say, ‘but I’m not one of those Jews – the settlers, the rabbis, Israeli leaders, or the soldiers of the IDF.’”…
Pondering what could drive Jews to “nitpick” at what he describes as their own “nation-state”, Oren claims that some “saw assailing Israel as a career enhancer – the equivalent of Jewish man bites Jewish dog – that saved several struggling pundits from obscurity….