Thomas Friedman, who is usually wrong about the Mideast, has blundered again. His column in today’s New York Times, “A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast,” misinterprets the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal — and also once again shows how Friedman has been afraid to take a stand on Israel’s planned annexation of up to 30 percent of West Bank Palestine.
Friedman has it backwards. The deal, which merely ratifies already existing cooperation between the UAE and Israel, is no “earthquake” — but it did, at least for now, both reduce the chance for unrest in Palestine and avert a huge crisis in U.S. support for Israel, particularly within the Jewish community. Friedman himself recognizes that:
If Israel had annexed part of the West Bank it would have divided every synagogue and Jewish community in America, between hard-line annexationists and liberal anti-annexationists.
Today, he recognizes that annexation was “a looming disaster” for “the American Jewish community.”
Let’s pause and look at Friedman’s pathetic record in recent weeks. He is the most influential foreign affairs columnist in the world, and especially revered in many of those U.S. Jewish homes. He made his name covering the Mideast, since 1980. But he did not publish a single word against Israel’s annexation until the United Arab Emirates and Donald Trump bailed him out yesterday. Friedman is an intellectual coward. He behaved exactly like the Israel lobby’s flagship organization, AIPAC, which similarly issued no warnings against annexation, but jumped immediately to endorse the UAE-Israel agreement.
Friedman’s column includes more evidence of his journalistic malpractice. After he notes that the proposed annexation was “a very pro-Israel plan” — a view he kept quiet about until now — he added,
(I wonder if Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a pro-settler extremist himself, encouraged Bibi [Netanyahu] to think he could get away with this.)
Friedman “wonders?” The whole point of being an influential journalist is that you can reach anyone on the phone who you want. He had no trouble yesterday getting immediate first-hand reaction from Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador, and from Ari Shavit, the writer.
Surely Friedman has sources in Israel who could have provided telling details about U.S. ambassador Friedman’s ‘pro-settler extremism?’ The Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposes Friedman all the time.
Thomas Friedman has made worse mistakes about the Mideast in the past. He enthusiastically endorsed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and unlike many of the one-time cheerleaders, he has never said he was wrong or sorry. “I would do it again,” he said. He gushed over Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed, and scarcely backtracked after the Crown Prince ordered the awful murder of the dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
But there are encouraging signs that Friedman’s influence continues to drop. The reader comments to today’s column, for example, run heavily against him. The top-rated reader response to Friedman, from “Russell in Oakland,” got straight to the point:
So Israel announced a plan to commit a crime, annexation of West Bank land, and then agrees to ‘peace’ with a country that, as far as I can tell, it wasn’t in a war with in exchange for not committing that crime. For the moment.
The tragedy is that Friedman continues to squat on journalistic real estate that could be occupied by someone intelligent who isn’t afraid to write what they thought.