Friday, December 16, 2011

The New York Times: All the News That's "Unfit" to Print about Israel: Why Bibi Declines to Pen an Op-Ed & Why Tom Friedman is Wrong: Again & Again & Again

A common refrain amongst New York Times cognoscenti (including a healthy smattering of liberal American Jewry): "Have you read Friedman's piece today in the Times?" The knowing smiles, cooing and then the tsk, tsking about how Israel is falling into the abyss of fascism, theocracy and how the settlements are the root of all evil. Followed by the obligatory Bibi-bashing. Except it turns out that Friedman is wrong in his presumptions, misreads Israel and the Middle East time and again, yet never tires of smugly "informing" Israelis about what's really best for them, and what they should do to achieve peace and save their soul.  Because that's what friends do for each other.
 He's been writing virtually the same article for several years now. Never mind that realities in the Middle East change on a dime. But for Friedman, time stands still. It's the settlements, Israeli intransigence, and of course, Bibi that is to blame for the ongoing impasse.
But Friedman reached a new low this week when he averred:

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. 

This now puts him somewhere between Patrick Buchanan:
"Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory."  1990

and Walt and Mearsheimer: The Israel Lobby  2006

The plainer, more mundane truth is that the U.S. Congress and the American people, support Israel by overwhelming majorities because of shared values like democracy and religious sensibilities and shared experiences like victimization by jihadist movements, including terrorism. See Walter Russell Mead: Why AIPAC Is Good For The Jews — and For Everyone Else & The Israel Lobby and Gentile Power

I’ve shared my opinion that AIPAC is powerful less because of the money and energy that its (mostly Jewish) members bring to the table than because of the widespread sense in Washington that being pro-Israel is the popular position in the United States, and that if AIPAC blasts you as anti-Israel, the charge tends to stick.  If you think US Middle Eastern policy should be less pro-Israel, attacking and bemoaning AIPAC won’t get you anywhere.  There’s not even much point in trying to persuade the Jews; American Jews tend to be more liberal on US-Israel policy than most gentiles already.  It’s the 98 percent of Americans who aren’t Jewish that you need to persuade; if the broad American majority ever decides that backing Israel as much as we do is a bad thing, then policy will gradually but decisively change — no matter what AIPAC does or how much money it works.

Of course, Friedman isn't the only Times journalist with a major ax to grind when it comes to Israel. Roger Cohen continues to pen articles lambasting the Jewish state: Israel Isolates Itself
 Nicholas Kristof keeps blaming Israel for its predicament: Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?
and the editorial board has turned Bibi-bashing into a spectator sport, making it unsurprising that

Also, see Herb Keinon's piece below
david in Seattle

His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river.

For the past several years, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, that guru for American Jewish liberals, has shown that he doesn’t really understand Israel or the region.
His misunderstanding of Israel is evident in his underlying assumption that appears in his columns repeatedly: that were Israel to just leave the settlements, peace would flow like a river.

Well, Israel uprooted all 21 settlements from Gaza in 2005, but instead of peace, received an unending barrage of missiles in return.
The settlements are a consequence of the conflict, not its cause. The PLO, if anyone has forgotten, was established in 1964, three years before the Six Day War and any thought of a West Bank settlement.

As for Friedman’s failure to understand the region, readers need look no further than his breathless “Postcard from Cairo” columns at the outset of the Arab Spring last February. To have read Friedman then was to believe this was 1989 all over again, and that Hosni Mubarak would be deposed and replaced by the Egyptian version of Vaclav Havel.

In one piece, he castigated Israel for not being more supportive of the protesters in Tahrir Square. “The children of Egypt were having their liberation moment,” he wrote, “and the children of Israel decided to side with Pharaoh – right to the very end.”

Wrong. Israel wasn’t supporting Pharaoh, but rather deeply concerned that following the Egyptian revolution, Sinai would turn into a terrorist base, the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline would be a constant target of attack, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo would be ransacked, and the Muslim Brotherhood – and Salafists to their right – would win the country’s parliamentary election.

Now, in his latest piece on Israel that appeared Wednesday entitled “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir,” Friedman demonstrated that he also doesn’t know America.

In a line that could have come straight from the pens of AIPAC-bashers Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Friedman wrote that he hoped Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he loathes, understood that the standing ovation he got in Congress earlier this year was not for his politics, but rather one that was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

That’s right – that wicked, despicable Israel lobby.

According to Friedman, anybody who supports Israel must be on the nefarious Jewish lobby’s payroll. Otherwise, how could they dare? Maybe Friedman should consider the possibility that the ovation was the result of America’s elected officials – in tune with the feelings of their constituents – seeing in Israel a plucky little country that shares their own basic values and is trying to survive in an awfully bad neighborhood.

Maybe Friedman should consider that the ovation was the result of politicians understanding that this conflict is not about one settlement, or one Jerusalem neighborhood, but rather over the Jewish people’s right to a homeland.

No, that can’t be. In fact, writes Friedman – always concerned about Israel’s soul – were Netanyahu to go to the University of Wisconsin, many students, including Jews, would stay away because they are confused by Israeli policies: the current spate of right-wing Knesset legislation, the segregation of women on buses, the settlements.

And then came the kicker. Friedman’s proof that Israel is merrily heading down the path toward the abyss is that radical left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy says so.
Dubbing Levy a “powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz,” Friedman quotes from a recent Levy column: “What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”

Friedman’s use of an extremist such as Levy to prove his point is akin to taking the writings of America-bashing left-wing linguist Noam Chomsky as proof that America is bad.

The problem with Friedman and those sharing his sentiments about Israel is that they take an exception and make it the rule.

This school of thought takes a sex-segregated bus in Mea She’arim and turns the whole country into Iran; takes rocks thrown by bad, misguided youth at an IDF base and turns Israel into a country on the brink of civil war; and takes the government’s refusal to bail out a failing commercial television station as putting Israel on the fast track to Soviet Russia.

What is needed is some proportion. The burning of mosques by Jewish hooligans is deplorable, but it is no more representative of the country – or the direction it is going – than Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ burning of a Koran in May was a reflection of America. Friedman should know this.

Netanyahu to ‘New York Times’: Take a hike

Prime minister "respectfully declines" to pen an op-ed piece for 'NYT' citing newspapers negative spin on Netanyahu government.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is refusing to pen an op-ed piece for The New York Times, signaling the degree to which he is fed up with the influential newspaper’s editorial policy on Israel.

In a letter to the Times obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer – in response to the paper’s request that Netanyahu write an op-ed – wrote that the prime minister would “respectfully decline.”

Dermer made clear that this had much to do with the fact that 19 of the paper’s 20 op-ed pieces on Israel since September were negative.
Ironically, the one positive piece was written by Richard Goldstone – chairman of the UN’s Goldstone Commission Report – defending Israel against charges of apartheid.

“We wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Bibiwashing’ the op-ed page of The New York Times,” Dermer said, in reference to a piece called “Israel and Pinkwashing” from November. In that piece, a City University of New York humanities professor lambasted Israel for, as Dermer wrote, “having the temerity to champion its record on gay rights.”

That piece, he wrote, “set a new bar that will be hard for you to lower in the future.”

Dermer’s letter came a day after NYT columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that the resounding ovation Netanyahu received in Congress when he spoke there in May had been “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

With Friedman clearly – but not solely – among those in mind, Dermer wrote that “the opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known. They constantly distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and virtually every Israeli official, somehow reflect government policy or Israeli society as a whole.”

Dermer also took the paper to task for running an op-ed piece by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May that asserted that shortly after the UN voted for the partition of Palestine in November 1947, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.”
Those lines, Dermer wrote, “effectively turn on its head an event within living memory in which the Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan accepted by the Jews, and then joined five Arab states in launching a war to annihilate the embryonic Jewish state. It should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.”

That it did find its way into the op-ed pages of the “paper of record,” he wrote, showed the degree to which the paper had not internalized former senator Daniel Moynihan’s admonition that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but... no one is entitled to their own facts.”

Furthermore, Dermer wrote, the paper’s sole positive piece about Israel since September – the Goldstone piece rejecting the apartheid charges – “came a few months after your paper reportedly rejected Goldstone’s previous submission. In that earlier piece, which was ultimately published in The Washington Post, the man who was quoted the world over for alleging that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza fundamentally changed his position. According to The New York Times op-ed page, that was apparently news unfit to print.”

Dermer wrote that the paper’s refusal to run positive pieces about Israel was not because they were in short supply. In fact, he said he understood that in September the paper had turned down a piece cowritten by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), expressing bipartisan support for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and opposition to the PA’s statehood gambit at the UN.

“In an age of intense partisanship, one would have thought that strong bipartisan support for Israel on such a timely issue would have made your cut,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) called on Friedman to apologize for saying the congressional ovation Netanyahu received in May was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Rothman said he gave Netanyahu a standing ovation not because of “any nefarious lobby,” but because it is in the US’s vital strategic interest to support Israel.

“Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish state of Israel is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the US,” Rothman said. “Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the US-Israel relationship and its American supporters.”

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