Ground control to Major Tom, your circuits dead,
there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you...

– Radio transmission to a fictional astronaut as he drifts into space, losing contact with Planet Earth... and his grasp on reality – Lyrics from David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity”

In many ways, Barack Obama’s UN address on Wednesday was a catastrophic blow to Tom Friedman’s credibility as an authoritative, well-informed political commentator. Indeed it is difficult to imagine how anything could make it look more like he was caught in an alternative universe, detached from earthly events, than the US president’s resounding endorsement of Israel’s position against the Palestinians’ unilateral attempt at statehood.

It demonstrated that Friedman either gravely underestimated Binyamin Netanyahu or misconstrued Obama – or both.

Over the weekend, Friedman reverted to his old anti-Israel rant-mode. After a welcome break of several weeks in which he was distracted by the Arab Spring, the Syrian bloodbath, the Euro-debt crisis, US-deficit problem and so on, the New York Times superstar has relapsed into his derogatory diatribes, condemning Israel – or more precisely the Netanyahu government – for every conceivable woe besetting the Obama administration in the Mideast.

Baseless Bibi-bashing

Friedman is a journalist of undoubted talent. He has produced numerous thought-provoking columns on both US domestic politics and on international affairs.

Regrettably, when it comes to Israel – and particularly the Israel-Palestinian question – his writing morphs from the lucid to the ludicrous. Given his wide readership and considerable influence, it is important not to allow his penchant for baseless Bibi-bashing to go unchallenged or to masquerade as insightful analysis of international affairs.

Since the beginning of the Obama administration in early 2009, Friedman has sallied forth with series of articles that have not only been harshly critical of Israel, but also decidedly haughty and hostile. But as irritating as his condescending and contemptuous style may be, what is far more troubling is how the substance of his writings has become so divorced from reality and/or so devoid of context.

Sadly, it appears that the passage of time only exacerbated these flaws – for Friedman’s vision of reality seems increasingly blurred and his views increasingly incoherent.

His latest opinion piece, “Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone” (September 17), was a jumbled, frothing- at-the-mouth tirade of self-contradictory hysterics, unsubstantiated accusations, demonstrable untruths... and, yes, anti-Semitic innuendo that would do the Mearsheimerand- Walt adherents – and other proponents of “Elders-of-Zion”-compliant invective – proud.

He sets out with feigned concern for Israel, declaring “I’ve never been more worried about Israel’s future.” It soon becomes clear, however, that he is not really worried about the fate of the Jewish state, but about that of the Obama administration. He berates Netanyahu for “mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and... encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote.”

Friedman published the article barely three days after the stunning Republican victory in the special election in New York’s 9th District, which with its large Jewish population, had been convincingly won by the Democrats for the past 88 years! Accordingly, one might have expected him to realize that the notion “that Obama... is losing the Jewish vote” is somewhat more substantive than a figment of fiendish fiction cunningly inculcated into minds of public by the diabolical Netanyahu and his pliant “US Jewish leaders.”

He might also have been expected to concede that the perception of the administration’s hostility towards Israel has extended well beyond the adversarial Republican camp and has been robustly endorsed by powerful Democrats such as former New York mayor Ed Koch. But why adhere to reality if it doesn’t fit the narrative...

Perfecting the use of the non sequitur

Friedman seemingly admits that “Israel is not responsible for the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or for the uprising in Syria or for Turkey’s decision to seek regional leadership by cynically trashing Israel or for the fracturing of the Palestinian national movement between the West Bank and Gaza.”

But then, elevating the art of the non sequitur to unprecedented levels, he suggests that in fact Israel is largely responsible for them – or at least for not preventing their repercussions. Indeed, he suggests that Israel’s diplomatic ineptness and strategic incompetence in dealing with “[t]he crumbling of... the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan... has left the US government fed up with Israel’s leadership.”

So the US government is fed up with Israel’s leadership? Really? Not much sign of that at the UN on Wednesday. Could it be that Obama is getting what Friedman is not?

But even before Obama’s surprisingly robust pro-Israel address, Israel enjoyed warm appreciation in significant segments of the US government which Friedman seems to ignore.

This is certainly true with regard to the legislative branch, which expressed its effusive esteem for Israel’s leadership with almost 30 standing ovations for Netanyahu during his address to a joint session of US Congress last May. Indeed, judging from outspoken declarations of support and pro-Israel legislative initiatives in recent weeks, it would appear that in important sectors of the corridors of US governmental power, folks are anything but “fed up with Israel’s leadership.”

But of course Friedman’s concern and rancor arise from the implications that developments in the Mideast allegedly have for the executive branch and the apple of his jaundiced eye – the Obama administration.

He complains bitterly that Netanyahu is “get[ting] the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration... who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack.” He castigates Netanyahu for failing “to put forth a strategy to respond” adequately to the cataclysmic regime-change in Egypt, the bloody turmoil in Syria, the sudden enmity of Turkey or the divisive split in Palestinian national movement between Fatah and Hamas.”

This “bellyaching” is of course breathtakingly baseless. For all these regrettable events were largely the outcomes of ill-advised US action or inaction. Nearly all of them occurred on Obama’s watch. Mubarak was toppled because Obama endorsed it; Assad was not, because he didn’t. According to some pundits, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was emboldened to embark on his current bellicose course because of US reticence in constraining him, and the ascent of Hamas was greatly accelerated by the Bush administration’s insistence – chiefly by Condoleezza Rice – to permit the organization’s participation in the 2005 Palestinian elections, which it won.

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

So Friedman’s rather arrogant jibe that a bungling Netanyahu not only constantly undermines American Mideast policy but then ungratefully “call[s] on the US to... help Israel out of every pickle” is both wildly inaccurate and unfair. Indeed, in large measure the “pickles” in which Israel (and the US) now find themselves are the result of American blunders.

So when Friedman whines that Netanyahu that has been miserly and remiss in helping Obama address these tribulations (by not making more concessions to the Palestinians), one could be forgiven for concluding he is actually calling on Israel to help the US out of a morass of self-made “pickles.”

We are left to wonder what would be appropriate to demand from the Palestinians who are so dependent on US largesse for their much heralded aid-driven economy. Judging for his last article – nothing! So much for “balance.”

His reference to the Iranian issue is equally malevolent and misleading. Reading his article, one might get the impression that Israel’s “call[ing] on the US to stop Iran’s nuclear program” serves solely a narrow, egotistical Israeli need, and not vital interests of the US and the wider international community. Indeed, what could be more detrimental to US interests than a nuclear-empowered Ayatollah regime extending a protective umbrella to a myriad of anti-American jihadi organizations?

Friedman would do well to remember that the Iranian nuclear program is another “pickle” created by another US blunder. In all likeliness, it would never have materialized if not for the Carter administration’s deserting the shah – much as the current administration did to Mubarak.

The absurdity of Friedman’s insinuation that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are a Isracentric concern and that the efficacy of Washington’s foreign policy is contingent on wringing concessions from its allies, was vividly underscored by the WikiLeaks exposé.

According to leaked US diplomatic cables, Arab regimes, including the Saudis, had little inhibitions about pressing the Obama administration to “cut off the head of the [Iranian] snake” before it was too late, despite the absence of any progress on Palestinian statehood.

Acute amnesia or deliberate distortion

Friedman’s attempt to depict Netanyahu as obdurately intransigent is as mendacious as it is malicious. His claim that the prime minister is determined to “[d]o nothing that will require him to go against his base, [and] compromise his ideology...” is demonstrably untrue.

Not only did Netanyahu renege (unwisely) on his electoral pledge when in 2009 he accepted the idea of Palestinian state, but he agreed (equally unwisely) to an unprecedented 10-month Jewish construction freeze in the territories across the Green Line. These were both clear cases of Netanyahu’s willingness “to go against his base, [and] compromise his ideology.”

It will of course be recalled that the settlement freeze elicited little response from the Palestinians – other than a demand for it to be extended. So when Friedman chides the “prime minister for mak[ing] sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return – like halting Israeli settlements,” we are left to wonder whether this is a symptom of acute amnesia or a display of deliberate distortion.

Apparently oblivious of the glaring selfcontradiction, Friedman displays Netanyahu as a bungling buffoon on the one hand and an omnipotent political supremo on the other. Thus he tries to disparage Netanyahu as someone who is grossly inept diplomatically and gravely incompetent strategically, but at the same time ascribing to him awesome acumen and ability that enable him to bring the government of the most powerful nation on earth to heel, bend it to his will and coerce it to adopt a policy that is contrary to its interests. How incompetent of Friedman! You have to read it to believe it.

But perhaps the most distressing element in his confused torrent of frenzied invective is Friedman’s endorsement of the anti-Semitic slander reminiscent of the “Jews rule-the-world” themes in the Elders of Zion. You have to read it to believe it.

He makes the barefaced accusation that the US government is hostage to the Israeli leadership, “because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the UN, even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.”


These perfidious US Jews! They are so wicked – and apparently stupid – that they will, for the sake of their kinfolk, force their own country to adopt policies that are not only detrimental to its national interest but also to that of their kinfolk in whose name they are allegedly acting. Go figure.

This, of course, begs the question of how these treacherous US Jews attained positions of such formidable power when they are so dumb that they cannot – unlike Friedman – differentiate between policies that are in their interests and those which are not.

Perhaps the good Tom can elaborate in his next piece – one hopes without invoking blood in the matza.

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