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Defending Thomas Friedman

Having just written a book denouncing The New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman—slated for release by Verso in November—I now find myself in the awkward position of having to defend him.

What has necessitated the turn of events is yesterday’s opinion piece on the Israeli Ynet News site by Giulio Meotti, contributor to The Wall Street Journal and author of a book portraying Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian terrorism as the victims of a new Holocaust — despite the fact that Palestinian civilians have since the time of the original Holocaust managed to perish at a far higher rate courtesy of Israeli military maneuvers.

Yesterday’s article, entitled “The Thomas Friedman myth”, is itself mythical in nature but does contain various grains of truth, such as:

His 1989 book ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem’ has been a best-seller, as was ‘The world is flat.’”

As for Meotti’s revelation that “The famous columnist has always been a militant of the Palestinian cause”, I can only offer kudos to Friedman for deftly disguising his militancy via allegations that Palestinians are “gripped by a collective madness”.

Meotti claims that “Friedman has always defended Yasser Arafat and failed to draw attention to his evident connections to terrorism”. This would certainly explain Friedman’s 2004 eulogy for the Palestinian leader, in which he complains that a Google search of variations of the terms “Yasir Arafat and Palestine and education” produces no results while a search of “Yasir Arafat and martyrdom and jihad” results in a situation in which “the matches go on for pages”. Meotti’s assessment that “Friedman then demonized Ariel Sharon” is meanwhile quite compatible with the 2006 commemoration Friedman produces on the occasion of Sharon’s incapacitating stroke: “Wanted: An Arab Sharon”.

Moving on to Meotti’s analysis of Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal be based on the pre-1967 borders plus current Jewish settlement patterns, we learn that “For the first time now, the four digits (1967) have become formal American policy” and that this constitutes “a Friedman victory”. This allegation merits a four-digit response:

  1. 1967 plus hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers does not add up to four digits.
  2. Friedman’s 1967 victory might more appropriately refer to his high school experience, which he describes as “one big celebration of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War”.
  3. Friedman has consistently supported a scenario in which the majority of Jewish settlers remain in place, despite simultaneously describing the settlements as “idiotic” and “rapacious”—which is perhaps why Meotti employs quotations marks in the sentence: “Friedman also ‘criticized’ the Israeli settlers, an entire population group that loyally serves in the army, pays its taxes and defends the state, demonizing them in global columns”.
  4. The global columnist’s diligent campaign to recuperate Palestinian land is additionally called into question by his infamous assessment that “I believe that as soon as Ahmed has a seat in the bus, he will limit his demands”.

As for Friedman’s argument that Israel should withdraw from occupied territory “not because Israel is wrong, but because Zionism is a just cause that the occupation is undermining”—i.e. by increasing the likelihood that Palestinians will “throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel”—Meotti nonetheless accuses Friedman of “Zionicide” rather than democricide.

Thanks to accusations that Thomas Friedman is a raving critic of Israel, Friedman himself starts to appear reasonable in comparison. So let me be the first to defend him.

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