Media Analysis

Thomas Friedman is wrong again — this time about the UAE-Israel deal

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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. 

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l of 2 A phony Peace Deal!! “Expert: Israel and UAE Deal Is Being Falsely Characterized as a Peace Deal” TRUTHOUT, August 14/20   EXCERPT:”In a deal brokered by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to fully normalize relations after years of secretly working together on countering Iran and other issues. Under the deal, Israel has also agreed to temporarily halt plans to annex occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank,… Read more »

2 of 2 “President Trump announced the UAE-Israel deal on Thursday in an Oval Office event, flanked by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his former bankruptcy lawyer; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.” AMY GOODMAN: “The Palestinian Authority rejected and denounced the trilateral deal and recalled its ambassador to the UAE. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted Israel may still annex the West Bank. PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [Translated] “‘There is no change in my plan to apply… Read more »

1 of 2 “Don’t be hoodwinked by Trump’s UAE-Israel ‘peace deal’: It’s a sham” by Medea Benjamin & Ariel Gold, Salon, August 15/20 EXCERPT: “HUGE breakthrough today,” crowed Donald Trump on Twitter as he announced the new peace deal between Israel & the United Arab Emirates. The deal makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state & the third Arab nation, after Egypt & Jordan, to have diplomatic ties with Israel. But the new Israel-UAE partnership… Read more »

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“…To add insult to injury, while the deal had been couched in terms of a commitment by Israel to suspend annexation of Palestinian territories, in his Israeli press conference announcing the deal, Netanyahu said annexation was ‘still on the table’ and that it was something he is ‘committed to.'”

Thomas Friedman has always been a ridiculous figure. Readers might enjoy: As far as the UAE-Israel deal, here is some some perspective: Israel and some of the rich Arab states in fact have a good deal in common, far more than is commonly supposed. To start with, there’s money. The rich Arab states get theirs from oil and other hydrocarbons. Israel gets its money through an immense inflow of public and private subsidies and… Read more »