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Tom Friedman condemns Iran for shooting protesters, but finds it ‘easy’ to defend Israel for doing same

Media Analysis
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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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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7 Responses

  1. Misterioso on December 6, 2019, 1:07 pm

    Friedman is an easily seen through, gutless Zionist propagandist hack.

    He and his ilk had an easy ride for decades. Most Americans sympathized with “Israel” and viewed it as a gallant little resurrected “Jewish state” in the “Holy Land” fending off hordes of murderous Arabs. It was America’s sacred duty to support “Israel” financially and protect it in the geopolitical arena. Well, the ugly truth is now on the table. Ever increasing numbers of Americans and peoples around the world, especially youth, including righteous Jews, are quickly waking up and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians. They see “Israel” as the thoroughly documented fascistic, racist, expansionist, brutal/illegal occupier and ethnic-cleanser of indigenous Palestinians it is and always has been. Zionists are in shock, desperately striking out when “Israel” is criticized for its crimes and spewing forth easily revealed lies, including bogus accusations of anti-Semitism. Well, it’s only going to get worse for them, much worse.

  2. Maximus Decimus Meridius on December 7, 2019, 9:02 am

    “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.”

    Other than the idiot Tom Friedman – whose perile rants are undeserving of serious analysis – I haven’t got a clue who any of these people are. However, I think you are right. There is no such thing as a ‘liberal’ Zionist. Zionism is about – and must be about – promoting the interests of one group of people at the expense of another, at almost any cost. There is simply no way round this. ‘Liberal’ Zionists might use cuter language or prefer more genteel spokespeople, but they do not seriously oppose any of Israel’s wars, sieges and murders, because they cannot. They just hope we won’t notice. But we do.

    On a side note, I’d say that just as ‘liberal’ Zionists always reveal themselves as little different from ‘hardcore’ Zionists, I’d say that generally, political ‘centrists’ inevitably shift towards the right – look at Macron in France or Tony Blair in Britain. Perhaps no real ‘shifting’ was involved, and that was their natural home all along.

  3. Vera Gottlieb on December 7, 2019, 2:33 pm

    This two-faced hypocrisy is sickening. Good for the goose but not for the gander?

  4. pgtl10 on December 7, 2019, 6:52 pm

    Tom Friedman said there are two only non-Muslim tribes in the Middle East that are independent: Kurds and Jews.

    1. Kurds are largely Muslim and not independent.
    2. He’s implying that all Arabs are Muslim. I’m not. Pretty racist of him.
    3. He forgot Persians, Turkish, Armenians etc…
    4. Most Jews in Israel are from Europe.

    Lastly Friedman doesn’t worry for the State of Israel. Palestinians have no real military that can conquer Israel. What Friedman fears is the loss of the system that allows him privileges over Palestinians because they are not Jewish. He supports Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza because them uppity Palestinians need to know their place and not threaten his privileges and power.

    • Talkback on December 8, 2019, 3:46 pm

      Tom Friedman: “Israel has a right to defend itself. “You charge the border, we’re going to take you down.””

      What is Friedman trying to teach us, if he is not a racist hypocrit? Everyone who crossed the borders into Palestine since 1919 without the consent of its people should be taken down. And that would be the right to defend Palestine.

    • wondering jew on December 8, 2019, 4:30 pm

      Most Jews in Israel were born in Israel. As far as countries of origin, it is approximately 50-50 regarding origins in Europe versus origins in Middle East and other nonEuropean origins. From wikipedia: “Nearly half of all Israeli Jews are descended from immigrants from the European Jewish diaspora. Approximately the same number are descended from immigrants from Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia. Over 200,000 are of Ethiopian and Indian-Jewish descent.”

      • Donald on December 10, 2019, 6:12 pm

        Fair points on the origins of Israeli Jews.

        But on the original point, Friedman is an apologist for the killing of unarmed protestors. It is amazing how much of that is done on the pages of the NYT and so far as I can tell, most of its readers just pass right over it.

        In fairness, maybe most readers don’t waste time reading the opinion pieces. If so, good for them. They are making sensible life choices. But the ones who do read Friedman and others and don’t notice how racist he is are people who should stop and think about what they are reading.

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