In a New York Times column three days ago, Tom Friedman embraced the protesters across the Middle East as a sign of democratization. He slams the “bad guys” in Iran for shooting protesters.
These movements are authentic and inspiring, but their chances of taking power remain remote, largely because their biggest opponent — the Islamic republic of Iran — is ready to arrest and kill as many democracy demonstrators as needed to retain its grip on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, not to mention at home. Iran’s clerical regime has emerged as arguably the biggest enemy of pluralistic democracy in the region today…
Iran has used its Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Syria and its Popular Mobilization Forces militia in Iraq to try to snuff out all their bottom-up secular democratic movements — while also crushing the biggest secular-democracy uprising in Iran itself in 40 years.
Amnesty International says that Iran has killed at least 208 demonstrators since it began cracking down November 15.
The numbers are not much better from Israel’s violent response to the Gaza protests over the last 20 months. Human rights agencies have characterized Israel’s live-fire policy as a violation of humanitarian law. The United Nations found last March that Israel killed 183 civilians who posed no threat to Israel and wounded another 6000 people. Amnesty International said Israel was pursuing a deliberate policy of maiming civilians, causing untold physical and psychological damage, and called for a world-wide arms embargo on Israel. The casualties have included journalists and paramedics.
Those protests are aimed at breaking Israel’s 12 year siege of Gaza, which has rendered the strip unlivable, and granting Palestinians equal rights to Israeli Jews.
Tom Friedman wrote a column defending the killing of unarmed protesters by Israel. He blamed the “tragic” waste of life on Hamas for ordering the demonstrations and said that the demonstrators should have approached the fence with olive branches and called for the two-state solution.
At Temple Emanu-El in September, Friedman went further and defended Israel’s killings as an “easy” call:
You know, my whole life, I’ve seen both sides do really bad stuff… On the question of the Gaza border, that’s the easy one though. Israel has a right to defend itself. “You charge the border, we’re going to take you down.” And I’ve never had any illusions about that.
He linked his stance to his defense of Israel’s “extremely aggressive tactics” against Hezbollah in 2006 and the way that you need to behave in a bad neighborhood:
There actually are only two non-Muslim tribes that have survived as independent entities in the Arab world. And they’re called the Jews and the Kurds. And the reason the Jews and the Kurds they’ve survived in that giant sea is that they will at the end of the day play by the local rules. And the local rules are what I call Hama [Syria] rules, and Hama rules are no rules at all. The message Israel sent in 2006 to Hezbollah is… You will not outcrazy us. [laughter in audience] So it’s that kind of neighborhood. I don’t celebrate that…
[Shooting Gaza demonstrators] Those are the easy ones for me. The harder ones for me are expropriation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, really ugly stuff… limiting science courses in Palestinian universities… limiting their telephone service. There are just a lot of daily indignities that go on that really aren’t pleasant, aren’t necessary and aren’t the matter of just standing at the border me and you defending myself. I think we should distinguish that.
I am all with you on the Gaza border. I see you Gaza border and I raise you one. I told you on the Lebanon war I was in a completely different place from the Israeli press corps let alone the world press corps…
It’s an advantage coming to Israel from the Arab world. I have no illusions.
But when Iran uses the Hama rules, Friedman condemns Iran for behaving like its Arab neighbors? Huh? It’s an obvious double standard.
The reason for that double standard is obvious. In that Temple Emanu-El discussion, Friedman described himself as a Zionist from the time he was 12 and said that if the Jewish state is at genuine risk, he will have its back. Though he worries that the next generation of Times columnists won’t be committed to Israel.
One note: Author Abigail Pogrebin, who moderated Friedman’s talk, is a liberal Zionist. Why is she koshering the militaristic and intolerant attitudes of Tom Friedman and Daniel Gordis? Pogrebin says at that panel that young people may be “very simplistic” or “ill-informed” in thinking of Israel as a human rights violator and “oppressor.” This is the liberal Zionist oxymoron: when push comes to shove, they embrace neoconservatives.
Thanks to Donald Johnson.