Tom Friedman doesn’t let facts get in his way

Tom Friedman doesn’t let facts get in his way

Tom Friedman’s New York Times op-ed, “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir” (Dec. 13), is filled with falsehoods and omissions of important facts seasoned with the classic anti-Semitic canards that all too often appear in anti-Israel writings. Unfortunately for Friedman, John Adams was right when he said facts are stubborn things.

Friedman falsely characterizes Newt Gingrich’s interview with The Jewish Channel as “suggesting the Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people and not a real nation entitled to a state.” Gingrich did say, “I think we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs,” and this can and has been much debated. However, nowhere in the interview does Gingrich say that the Palestinians are not entitled to a state. In fact, in subsequent remarks Gingrich stated that he is in favor of a two-state solution.

While Friedman states that he would “never claim to speak for American Jews,” he goes on to do just that and falsely so. He writes that “the minority” of secular American Jews still care about Israel and many are just drifting away. A recent poll of American Jews commissioned by CAMERA indicates just the opposite. In the American-Jewish community, there is continuing, deep support for Israel, a strong belief in Israel’s commitment to peace, and apprehension about its existential situation and its Palestinian adversaries with their “culture of hatred.”

Next, Friedman claims that the standing ovation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received in Congress last May was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This suggests that the American people, and therefore their elected representatives, do not naturally support Israel. This is another falsehood. A recent Gallup poll shows that American support for Israel is on the rise and that Americans are nearly four times as likely to side with the Israelis as with the Palestinians.

Beyond a mere falsehood, it is impossible to overlook the grossly offensive nature of Friedman’s phrase “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This one expression contains numerous anti-Semitic allusions.

First, the phrase echoes the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. This book charges that the “Israel lobby” has distorted the foreign policy of the United States in favor of Israel to the point of serious damage to U.S. interests. Fraught with shoddy scholarship and roundly criticized, the book updates the classic anti-Semitic slander that Jews are a fifth column with, at best, dual loyalties and, at worst, a secret unpatriotic agenda. Friedman’s op-ed suggests the same.

Of course, Friedman’s remark also brings to mind the fiction of the all-powerful Jew pulling strings from behind the scenes, a libel most effectively promulgated by the notoriously anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “Bought and paid for” also evokes the money-grubbing Jewish stereotype brought to life by such literary villains as Shylock and Fagin. It is nearly impossible to believe Friedman did not intentionally evoke this hateful imagery.

The next flat-out falsehood involves the gender-segregated buses offered to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community by Israel’s bus company Egged. Friedman takes his ideas about these bus lines from the website of the New Israel Fund, repeating their claim that “women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus.” This is false.

While it is true that ultra-Orthodox Jews have asked for this service, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation came out against it and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that mandated gender separation is illegal. The bus lines in question serve a predominantly observant community which, the Supreme Court ruled, may self-segregate voluntarily.

That is what the brouhaha is all about: men and women who, for whatever personal or religious reasons, want to sit separately. Friedman also omits the fact that the same practice has been in place for years on buses in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in New York.

It must be noted that women’s rights are far more constrained in every country surrounding Israel than in the Jewish state and that citizens of those countries have little if any access to an independent judiciary to adjudicate their rights. There can simply be no comparison between the rights enjoyed by women in Israel and those denied to women in Arab countries, where so-called “honor killings” are still common and largely unpunished. The fact that Friedman ignores this obvious truth is clear evidence of his intent not to “love” Israel but simply to smear Israel.

Whether he twists them, gets them wrong, or omits them altogether, Tom Friedman clearly has a problem with facts. Fortunately for him, as an opinion writer, he is entitled to his own opinion. But in the oft-quoted words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he is not entitled to his own facts.

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