Newt. Mitt, Bibi, Vladimir...and Tom
There may seem little reason to contribute to the vast wastage of ink that constitutes Thomas L. Friedman's writing career with supplemental criticism, but all it takes for bad journalism to prevail is for readers to do nothing. This week's installment of wearisome pontification sees our protagonist commenting on several events unrelated except insofar as they involve Israel or Israelis.
Naturally, a simple journalist needs a simple motto: "I love both Israelis and Palestinians," he declares, as if that statement means anything, "but God save me from some of their American friends." Predictably, the article goes on to decry Israel's American friends only.
Among them, one Newt Gingrich, who apparently demeaned the Republican Party in looking to "grovel for Jewish votes," because everyone knows the Jews control Iowa. Presumably Friedman is supporting Ron Paul for the GOP nomination, because he stands bravely against the Israel lobby, which, don't you know, "bought and paid for" Netanyahu's standing ovations in Congress.
"America's role," Friedman laments, "is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its ATM and shut up." Since Friedman is unfamiliar with nuance, perhaps we might fill in the gaps: there is a difference between applauding "whatever" an ally does and taking into account, as Romney put it (in an interview Friedman himself quotes), "what our allies think is best." This is, of course, in contrast to the prevailing policy of mistreating our allies and, at best, remaining silent about our adversaries. Judging by his column -- which complains of Israel's American friends but says nothing of how the friends of the Palestinian Arabs are "loving them to death" -- Friedman endorses this current posture.
Meanwhile, the childish notion that Israel views America as its ATM ignores two critical realities: first, the purpose of aid to Israel -- much of which takes the form of loan guarantees -- is variegated, and includes paying off war debts, buying American military wares, bolstering missile defense, funding Israel's unparalleled intelligence contributions to the US, paying for its security expertise, and supporting what is for the US effectively a permanent aircraft carrier without a single American soldier, as well as a significant economic partner. Second, it dismisses Israel's real view of America: as an indispensable friend, without whose support, incidentally, it could not make any territorial or strategic concessions.
Turning back to Newt, Friedman interprets his debate statement that the Palestinian Arabs are an "invented people" as implying that they are not "entitled to their own state," which is not a straightforward extrapolation of Gingrich's claim. As for Friedman's concern with a hypothetical possibility of ethnic cleansing' by eviction, of West Bank Palestinian Arabs, he showed no such concern when the same policy was implemented against Gaza Jews.
Noting that Netanyahu's ovations were courtesy of the Israel lobby, Friedman asserts that Israel's prime minister would receive a less hospitable welcome from students at any given university, an undeserved gift of credence to a demographic rarely representative of the mainstream opinion on anything. Jewish students, meanwhile, would stay away because they are "confused," not, lest you think, because they are ever intimidated for supporting Israel on campus.
Tiresome as this is becoming, it is worth closing with some final observations. Friedman insists that he appreciates that Israel is a democracy in a hostile region, but demands a cessation of sycophancy toward Vladimir Putin (because Israel has always had the luxury of choosing its friends), at the same time as, it would seem, calling for a reconsideration of US aid to Israel and condemning the Israeli government's concern over foreign support for various NGOs which seek to erode Israel's legitimacy and standing. As for the concern regarding calls for greater political oversight -- that is, by elected representatives -- over the Supreme Court, again Friedman appears uninterested in or downright ignorant of the bizarreness of a self-appointing judiciary with the power of review in a country without a formal constitution.
Jonathan Neumann is the Tikvah Fellow at Commentary