Thursday, August 02, 2012

Thomas Friedman attacks Adelson, Netanyahu, AIPAC and the Israeli hard right

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Certain people have more credibility than others when talking about certain subjects. For example, if Warren Buffet says that rich people should pay more taxes, nobody would accuse him of fomenting "class warfare". 
That is because he will be the one that ends up paying all those taxes and he will have to endure the frosty reception from his fellow billionaires at social functions. In short he is credible when he speaks about rich people and their duties to society.
This brings me to a recent column of Thomas Friedman's in the New York Times, entitled, "Why Not in Vegas?", where he attacks with unusual ferocity, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli hard right, the casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, who is bankrolling Mitt Romney, and AIPAC itself.
First Buffetwise, let us set out Thomas Friedman's credentials in making this attack. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:
Friedman is Jewish. He attended Hebrew school five days a week until his Bar Mitzvah(...) He became enamored of Israel after a visit there in December 1968, and he spent all three of his high school summers living on Kibbutz Hahotrim, near Haifa. He has characterized his high school years as "one big celebration of Israel's victory in the Six-Day War." Friedman studied at the University of Minnesota for two years, but later transferred to Brandeis University and graduated summa cum laude in 1975 with a degree in Mediterranean studies. (...) After Brandeis he attended St Antony's College at the University of Oxford on a Marshall scholarship, earning an M.Phil. in Middle Eastern studies.(...) Friedman joined the London bureau of United Press International after completing his Master's degree. He was dispatched a year later to Beirut, where he lived from June 1979 to May 1981 while covering the civil war there. He was hired by The New York Times as a reporter in 1981, and redispatched to Beirut at the start of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. His coverage of the war, particularly the Sabra and Shatila massacre, won him the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (shared with Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post).(...) In June 1984, Friedman was transferred to Jerusalem, where he served as the Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief until February 1988. That year he received a second Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, which cited his coverage of the First Palestinian Intifada.
So, not only is Thomas Friedman Jewish, but he has studied the Middle East in depth, lived there, speaks the languages and can be considered knowledgeable and committed by any standard I can imagine.  Whether you agree with him or not, (I rarely find myself reading off the same page as he does, especially on globalization) he is someone fully qualified to speak about the relations between Israel and the USA. 
Here is a snippet of what he wrote in the New York Times:
I have one question and one observation about Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel. The question is this: Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return. Really, Vegas would have been so much more appropriate than Jerusalem. They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas.(...) So how about all you U.S. politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own. 
This is not the first such attack. In December of 2011 he wrote the following about the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu's appearance before the US Congress in the New York Times:
I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away. I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused. 
Many gentile readers will say to themselves that Friedman can get away with saying such things and using such unvarnished language because he is Jewish. That isn't so.  Exactly the opposite really. Many Jewish people, especially older ones, seem convinced that all gentiles are latent antisemites, just waiting to turn and rend them, so Friedman's attack would be considered just par for the course if it came from a gentile. From a Jewish person it stings.
The Jewish people have a long and perfectly justifiable reluctance to wash their community's dirty linen before strangers. Thomas Friedman, is not a secular Jew in the sense that Noam Chomsky is, Friedman is an observant Jew who participates actively in the life of his synagog and by speaking out so forcefully against the government of Israel and AIPAC, he is drawing a moral line in the sand which he may well suffer in defending, even among, or especially among, people close to him. It is necessary to understand this in order to properly value his stand.
Here is how his earlier article was treated in Commentary Magazine:
(...) let’s address one of the primary slanders at the heart of his piece: that the standing ovations Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received last spring were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Rather, they were the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans–Jew and non-Jew alike–think of Israel as a friend and ally.(...) The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.
Why are Jewish Americans like Thomas Friedman and Peter Beinart,  exposing themselves to such abuse?
In my opinion this is because, in the world's most ancient prophetic tradition, Friedman and others like him, can see a nightmare scenario about to unfold in the Middle East, a war that may spread unpredictably throughout that entire region and even beyond, perhaps sucking in great powers on opposing sides, a war with a domino effect that may well push the entire world economy off the edge and into a full blown great depression, with unforeseeably sinister social consequences; a disaster that will affect the lives of every American, especially the most vulnerable, and will bring the curse of all humanity on the heads of those seen to have caused it. 
Someone credible has to speak out.
I consider Thomas Friedman a brave and patriotic American and I salute him. DS

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