The brouhaha over the recent New York Times column by journalist Thomas Friedman highlights the newspaper’s increasing hostility against Israel. Today, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the editorial policy of The New York Times towards the Jewish State is virtually indistinguishable from the blatant anti-Israel hostility promoted by the UK-based Guardian or the BBC.
Fortunately, the broader American public opinion has never been more supportive of the Jewish State than today. The only exceptions are the liberals, some of whom have become increasingly disenchanted with Israel and now tend to identify with their European counterparts and their excessive bias against Israel. This manifests itself on American college campuses and, to some extent, in far-left sectors of the Democratic Party. It represents the source of the tensions which have evolved between Israel and the United States following the election of US President Barack Obama and his administration.
One of the principal long-term contributing factors to the erosion of liberal support can be attributed to increasingly vitriolic hostility towards Israel displayed in the pages of The New York Times. This trend climaxed with the election of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who has been subjected to a constant and unprecedented barrage of fierce personal and political condemnations from its editorials and leading columnists.
Despite Jewish ownership, throughout its history, The New York Times has rarely displayed affection or sensitivity toward Jewish issues. As far back as 1929, during the Arab riots in Palestine, the local Times correspondent Joseph Levy boasted that he was a committed anti-Zionist.
There is ample evidence that during the Holocaust, news of the slaughter of the Jews was relegated to the back pages allegedly out of cowardly concern that undue clamor about the plight of the Jews might reinforce the anti-Semitic claim that the war against the Nazis was a Jewish war.
Since the creation of Israel, The New York Times could be said to be "fairly objective." But from 1967 onward, this evolved into sharp criticism. However, it was with the election of Netanyahu that the editors embarked on a determined all-out campaign to undermine and demonize the Israeli government whilst invariably providing the Palestinians with a free pass.
A constant stream of unbalanced editorials blasted Israel for the impasse and mercilessly attacked the government. It continuously "put the greater onus” for the failure of peace negotiations on Netanyahu "who is using any excuse to thwart peace efforts" and" refuses to make any serious compromises for peace."
Its columnists and op-eds have mimicked that behavior. For a newspaper purporting to provide diverse opinions, it rarely publishes dissenting viewpoints from its editorials and in-house columns which only find fault with the Israeli government. One notable exception was Likud MK Danny Danon, to whom The New York Times provided a column in which he expressed a viewpoint far to the right of the government which simply amounted to a cheap effort to discredit the government by conveying a far more hard-line position than that of reality.
Its principal columnists Friedman and journalist Roger Cohen, both Jews, as well as journalist Nicolas Kristof have been leading the charge in castigating Israel and unabashedly praising the Arab Spring.
In a recent column, Kristof described a dinner with a PR savvy group of Muslim Brotherhood activists. Kristof approvingly quoted them claiming that their support was strong "for the same reason the Germans support Christian Democrats or Southerners favor conservative Christians.” He also postulated that "conservative Muslims insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-discriminatory and the perfect home for pious Christians – and a terrific partner for the West."
Kristof concluded that "it's reasonable to worry. But let's not overdo it… Our fears often reflect our own mental hobgoblins.” Kristof did not meet the Muslim Brotherhood chief cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al Kardawi, the organization’s most powerful religious leader, a malevolent anti-Semite who supports the murder of Jews.
Roger Cohen is another regular columnist whose undisguised hostility towards Israel led him to condemn the Jewish state's "obsession with the [Iranian] nuclear bogeyman" and praise Turkey's anti-Semitic Prime Minister Recep Erdogan whilst condemning Israel for not apologizing to the Turks over the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident.
Virtually every op-ed published was hostile to Israel. Last month, The New York Times published a piece which went to the lengths of challenging Israel’s position on gay rights. In May, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas published an op-ed falsely accusing Israel of initiating the war in 1948 by expelling Palestinians Arabs and obligating Arab armies to intervene. Initially, The New York Times refused to publish former South African judge Richard Goldstone’s withdrawal of apartheid and war crimes charges against Israel, only doing so some months later after it had appeared in The Washington Post.
But it is Friedman's most recent column, which is the most outrageous.
Over the past few years, in his uniquely arrogant manner, Friedman has been consistently mirroring The New York Times’ editorials, castigating Netanyahu and alleging that the current Israeli government has become "the most diplomatically inept and outrageously incompetent government in Israel's history." He accused Netanyahu of choosing to protect “the Pharaoh,” referring to exiled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, rather than support Obama who aided the “democratization” of Egypt. He went so far as to say that Netanyahu was "on the way to becoming the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process."
Last February, after visiting Tahrir Square, the rallying point of the Egyptian revolution, Friedman exulted that the “people” had achieved "freedom" and were heading toward democracy. He dismissed concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood would become a dominant party.
In his latest column he broadly condemned all aspects of Israeli society, even quoting Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy, who most Israelis regard as being more aligned with the Palestinian campaign against Israel than his own country. Friedman described Levy as "a powerful liberal voice" and quoted him alleging that Israel is becoming a failed democratic state.
What provoked the greatest indignation was his remark "I sure hope that Israel's prime minister understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That motivation was bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby."
For a Jew who purports to be a friend of Israel, to effectively endorse the distorted thesis promoted by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer relating to the Israeli lobby is unconscionable. Friedman is effectively parroting a hoary anti-Semitic libel asserting that Congress has been "bought" by American Jews who represent 2 percent of the population and that the vast majority of the American public supporting Israel and Congress are simply stooges, manipulated or bribed by the Israeli lobby.
It places him on a par with the anti-Semitic attitudes promoted by political commentator Pat Buchanan and one may rest assured that Israel’s enemies will fully exploit his remarks as a means of discrediting American support for the Jewish State.
Friedman continued, suggesting that Netanyahu should test genuine American public opinion by speaking at a liberal campus, like the University of Wisconsin, absurdly implying that far-left liberal campuses are more representative of American attitudes than the democratically elected Congress.
The New York Times editorials and columns like that of Thomas Friedman should not be treated lightly. They must be viewed in the context of the recent condemnations of Israel emanating from higher echelons of the Obama administration. Unless vigorously repudiated, these critiques will have a drip effect with the potential of undermining the hitherto prevailing bipartisan consensus over Israel.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.